The St. Cloud State University hockey program has a link to Oxford in the form of Bob Motzko.
Motzko, the Huskies’ eighth-year head coach, was an assistant at Miami for six years. He was the associate head coach under George Gwozdecky when MU made its first NCAA tournament appearance in 1992-93.
“It was a wonderful university,” said Motzko, who will lead St. Cloud into the NCAA Midwest Regional semifinals against Notre Dame on Saturday at the Huntington Center. “I had a great experience at Miami. I really believe that’s what got my career jumpstarted at the collegiate level, and now to watch where that program is today.
“So proud of it and dear to my heart. I met my wife down there in the Cincinnati area. Three kids later and six houses later and a bunch of states where we’ve moved, I still have the fondest memories of my time at Miami.”
Motzko, who directed the Huskies to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association regular-season championship this year, said his team is similar to the MU squad of 1992-93. Current RedHawks coach Enrico Blasi and Bowling Green coach Chris Bergeron were part of that unit.
“Chris was our captain, and he’s one of the best captains I’ve been around,” Motzko said. “There’s been a couple guys that I knew would be coaches, and Bergeron was it. You just knew once he was done with the pro thing that he was going to make it.
“Now Rico, I didn’t think that would happen,” he added with a smile. “But he’s made the statement. He’s one of the best coaches in college hockey. It tells you my age that former players are now head coaches and doing a fantastic job.”
Perhaps the toughest: Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson believes the Midwest foursome of his Irish, Miami, St. Cloud and Minnesota State Mankato constitutes the strongest NCAA regional this year.
Said Blasi, “Since we’re in this regional, it’s pretty tough. I’m not going to speak for the other regionals, but I’m pretty sure the other teams are saying the same thing. I never want to contradict coach Jackson, so I’ll just agree with him.”
Jackson also said he was disappointed to have the Central Collegiate Hockey Association’s only two teams in the same regional. “It would’ve been nice for us to have been separated just so we had a better opportunity to get a team to the Frozen Four,” he added.
Minnesota boys: Miami has three Minnesota players on its roster — freshman defensemen Michael Mooney (Eden Prairie) and Taylor Richart (Blaine), and senior defenseman Joe Hartman (St. Cloud).
“It’s kind of cool to be able to see some familiar faces from my home state,” said Hartman, whose brother Matt played at St. Cloud from 2004-08.
Richart said he knows MSU sophomore defenseman Brett Stern from the days when they were high school rivals.
“We were probably battling when we were 6 years old going up to high school,” Richart said. “I’m always checking on those college teams back home. My dad played for Minnesota. Everyone looks at the Gophers and St. Cloud and Duluth, but Mankato has a good team. I’m really looking forward to playing these guys.”
Super Stephon: MSU fought through a 1-5 stretch early in the season, but surged when Mavericks coach Mike Hastings chose to go with freshman goalie Stephon Williams on a full-time basis. The WCHA Rookie of the Year has a .925 save percentage and a 1.96 goals-allowed average.
“All successful teams have a certain catalyst you have to build around,” Hastings said. “In baseball, it’s pitching. In football, it might be your quarterback or your defense. In hockey, it’s between the posts. We were looking for somebody that would give us an opportunity every night and stop the ones they should and maybe steal a couple they shouldn’t.”
Shaking his head: St. Cloud is leaving the WCHA and starting play (along with Miami) in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference next season. Motzko said realignment has created some bitter feelings in the WCHA.
“We have a gentleman’s agreement in college hockey when you get outside of your league play, you don’t share secrets with opposing (teams),” he said. “Well, with the breakup of Western College Hockey, there are a lot of enemies because we got every report you could imagine about Notre Dame, and I’m sure Notre Dame got every report from our league about us.
“Maybe we are going in a new direction that’s going to be good for college hockey. We’re going to have to wait and see. But I don’t think it’s crystal clear right now. It’s spooky which direction we’re heading in the West with the breakup. The WCHA and the CCHA were two magnificent hockey conferences. Now we’re all going to try to duplicate that.”
Quick hitters: Minnesota State senior forward Eriah Hayes was asked if there was a team the Mavericks faced this year that reminded him of Miami. “Providence was a really fast team. They pushed the pace,” he said. “I guess that’s as close a comparison as I could find.”
Blasi on the Mavericks: “I kind of watched them all year. It was hard not to take notice of a team like that. Their speed up front is real good. Their forwards are as dynamic as any group of forwards we’ve seen all year.”
The RedHawks are 1-0-1 in the series against Minnesota State, winning 4-2 in Mankato (when the school was called Mankato State) on Dec. 30, 1996, and tying 3-3 at the Ohio Hockey Classic in Columbus on Dec. 30, 2004.
Second-seeded MU is 0-2 as an NCAA No. 2 seed, losing 5-0 to Boston College in 2006 and 4-3 in overtime to Massachusetts Lowell last year.
Miami is 19-0-1 when scoring three or more goals, 14-0 when scoring four or more goals and 20-2-1 when scoring first this season. The RedHawks are 7-1-2 following a loss.