Zulgad: Motzko wants to eliminate “cuteness” from Gophers’ play after ugly loss

MINNEAPOLIS — Bob Motzko opened his postgame press conference Friday by stating the obvious. Nonetheless, the blunt assessment by the new Gophers men’s hockey coach was appreciated.

“We weren’t a very good hockey team tonight,” Motzko said. “If you were at the game, you saw it.”

What the announced crowd of 8,296 at Mariucci Arena saw was a sloppy and lethargic performance by the eighth-ranked Gophers in a 5-1 loss to No. 4 Minnesota State in the opening game of a home-and-home series that will conclude on Saturday night in Mankato.

There were two options to consider after the Gophers lost their second consecutive game, following a 3-1 setback against North Dakota last Saturday in Las Vegas. The first is that Motzko has a lot of work in front of him in his first year at the University of Minnesota after 13 seasons at St. Cloud State. The second is that the Gophers (as Motzko brought up Friday) played only five games in October and are just now getting on a regular schedule.

Obviously, Motzko has to be hoping that it’s latter,  but it is going to take time to know for certain. The Gophers opened the season with a 1-1 tie at top-ranked Minnesota Duluth, and followed with an impressive 7-4 victory over the Bulldogs at Mariucci before winning a couple of exhibition games. But erasing the memory of Friday’s loss to the Mavericks (6-1-0) won’t be easy.

Brent Gates’ power-play goal at 14 minutes, 33 seconds of the first period tied the score at 1-1 after Dallas Gerads opened the scoring at 5:56. But Minnesota State took complete control thereafter, despite being outshot 25-23 in the game. The Mavericks scored the final four goals, including back-to-back scores by Marc Michaelis in the third period.

“It was a mix of frustration, and I felt like guys just getting down,” Gates, a senior captain, said when asked about the third period. “There was no energy. There was no fight to come back it seemed like. I’m disappointed in our effort.”

Michaelis’ final tally proved to be a fitting synopsis for the evening. With the Gophers on a power play, Rem Pitlick made a poor pass that Michaelis intercepted and turned into a breakaway. Minnesota goalie Eric Schierhorn attempted to race out and poke the puck away from Michaelis in the high slot, but Schierhorn was unsuccessful and the Mavericks center easily tucked the puck into an empty net.

While unhappy with his team’s performance, Motzko was careful to avoid questioning the Gophers’ work ethic.

“It starts with mentality,” he said. “They want to work. It’s just a mentality and understanding. It really hurt us not playing for the better part of a month, and that’s what has shown now in these (past) two games. That was (Minnesota State’s) seventh game in a row. You start to get dialed in. I’m not going to be down right now on our guys. We weren’t prepared or ready to play tonight with the mistakes we made, but let’s get out there again tomorrow and then we’ve got to roll out again next week. We have to have a team that works to get through it.”

Motzko had replaced starting goalie Mat Robson with Schierhorn during the third period — Motzko said it was because he wanted to get Schierhorn playing time — but it also might have had to do with the fact that Robson took pity on Robson. Yes, the goalie only stopped 17 of 21 shots but he did not play poorly.

Rather, the Gophers gave up far too many quality chances. Motzko said his team handed Minnesota State “three goals on mistakes that you’d sure like to take back if you could.”

Motzko pointed to the fact the Gophers struggled in the transition game and the forwards only sustained pressure in the second period. This meant the Gophers defenseman faced too much pressure in the first and third periods. But that group also had a rough night as the quality chances just kept coming at Robson.

“What gets us in trouble is when we go one-on-one,” Motzko said. “We missed the net tonight about nine times. We threw it in on their goalie who just gloved it a half-dozen times, instead of putting pucks where you can go after (them). There’s just a real cuteness to our team that doesn’t belong in hockey and that has to be eliminated. … We can’t be a popcorn play, we can’t just pop up every once in a while. We have to be sustain things much more. … Thank goodness we get to play again (Saturday) because we need to keep running out there right now and having to work our way through it.”