MINNEAPOLIS — Some believe that the true test of a relationship is to take a trip together. On the road is where the bonding happens. Some coaches feel the same way about putting a team together — that going on the road early in the season is the way to build cohesiveness.
“I’m one of those coaches,” said Minnesota Gophers bench boss Bob Motzko on Tuesday, Oct. 8, as the team prepared to leave Wednesday for its first road trip of the season, at Colorado College. “This couldn’t come at a better time.”
The team generally departs for road trips on Thursday, but is taking a west-bound plane roughly 18 hours earlier than normal this week. Motzko has been known to surprise his teams with unannounced excursions, like a bowling alley trip at Ohio State last season. With that in mind, one wonders if a surprise may be coming to fill the extra time while on the Front Range. The coach also acknowledged the idea that it generally takes a day or two for athletes to adjust to the thinner air at 7,000 feet-plus on the edge of the Rocky Mountains.
“When I’m walking up to my room in the elevator it hurts. It takes me a while to adjust to it when I get out there,” he joked. “You grow through the weekend. You feel it Thursday. You feel it a little bit Friday. You don’t feel it Saturday.”
There’s potential snow in the forecast both in Colorado and Minnesota this weekend, but for the Gophers players — with a dozen new faces on the roaster — there’s an extra incentive to get out of town and get to know each other.
“We’re all excited. We’re trying to get some team bonding going, and I know the coaches are excited,” said junior forward Brannon McManus. “We’re leaving a little bit earlier to have some fun with the boys a little bit, hang around the hotel and play some card games or whatever. We’re excited for it and it’s good to get out of Minnesota for a little bit.”
NHL eyes on future Gophers
Three future Gophers made the four-page list of players to watch released by NHL Central Scouting this week, meaning that trio is expected to be selected in June 2020 when the next NHL Draft is held in Montreal. As opposed to previous years where players were given a numerical ranking, the 2019-20 list features letter grades, with an A indicating that a player is expected to go in the first round, B meaning they’re a projected second- or third-rounder, and C indicating a player expected to go in the fourth round or later.
Scouts are highest on Jake Ratzlaff, a defenseman from Rosemount, Minn., who is a three-sport standout in high school. Ratzlaff skated for Team USA in Europe over the summer in the Hlinka Gretzy Cup tournament and plays football and baseball at Rosemount High School. He was given a B grade.
Earning a C from the scouts were defenseman Jake Boltmann and center John Mittelstadt. Boltmann, from Edina, was part of the Hornets state title last season and will skate with the Lincoln Stars this winter. Mittelstadt, from Eden Prairie, is the younger brother of former Gopher and current NHLer Casey Mittelstadt and will skate for Eden Prairie as a senior this season.
Of note on the list of potential first-rounders was Wisconsin freshman Dylan Holloway, a center who is part of the Badgers’ highly-touted class of rookies.
Two more TV games
When NBC Sports, which holds the rights to broadcast Notre Dame games exclusively, announced its winter schedule this week, there was good news for Gophers fans. The game at Notre Dame on Feb. 14 will be nationally televised on NBC Sports Network, and the rematch on Feb. 15 will be carried by two regional NBC affiliates that are available on most cable and satellite networks.
With those two additions, 30 of the Gophers’ 34 games will be available for fans in the Twin Cities and elsewhere, and others may be added at a later date.