MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota Gophers hockey coach Bob Motzko was kidding on Monday when he said some of his players are so eager to get out of town and onto the team’s first road trip that they probably already have their bags packed three days before they head east on a four-game swing.
Sophomore defenseman Matt Staudacher — the only Michigan native on the roster — was not kidding.
“I’m probably one of the most excited guys because I get to be back in that pure Michigan air,” said Staudacher, who has three assists in the team’s first four games. “My bag has been packed for a little while now. I think everyone should be excited. The first road trip of the year is always the best one because you kind of find new habits about the guys that you didn’t know before, and you get closer as a team.”
Staudacher painted a picture of the team’s life inside their own bubble with the pandemic still raging in Minnesota and other Big Ten teams getting hit hard by players not being available. He and five other hockey team members who are roommates in a house near campus live what Staudacher called a “simple life” and are rarely apart. They go to the arena to work out and skate, they go home, they play cards and do their schoolwork.
“I think everybody is buying in to the fact that we need to stay socially distanced from other people and be smart about our decisions,” he said. “At the end of the day, all we want to do is to play hockey, and to win.”
What everyone is trying to avoid is the situation that hit Wisconsin last weekend, when four Badgers were scratched from the lineup, reportedly due to COVID-19 tests, and their team lost twice to Arizona State.
“We’ve been really good about it as a team, kind of staying in our own little bubble,” said Gophers defenseman Jackson LaCombe. “We’re all on top of each other and no one is taking unnecessary risks.”
While not giving any specifics on his injury, Motzko said that they will get senior forward and leading scorer Brannon McManus back at some point, but they do not expect him on the ice for the games at Michigan State on Thursday and Friday. McManus suffered an apparent leg injury late in the second period of the Gophers’ 2-0 win over Ohio State on Tuesday, Nov. 24 and did not play the rest of the game.
“He won’t play the (Michigan State) series for sure,” said Motzko, who is generally tight-lipped about injuries. “We’ll have him back for sure.”
Motzko also indicated that defenseman Robbie Stucker would be available to play in the next four games. He was unavailable for reasons that were not disclosed for the Gophers’ first four games.
The two upcoming series at Michigan State (Dec. 3-4) and at Michigan (Dec. 7-8) are all that remains on the first phase of the Big Ten schedule that was released in November. All teams in the conference will play 28 games, meaning the Gophers’ final 20 are still to be announced. Motzko said he expected a schedule update prior to Thanksgiving, but has not gotten any official indication from the conference as to when they might see the next phase of the slate.
“We’d better see it this week. I think it will be out this week. We’ve got players that, if they are allowed to go home (for the holidays), we’ve got to make some plans,” Motzko said. “I was told that it will be this week and I know that there are some coaches that are a tad frustrated that we don’t have it yet, because we’re planners. But we are up against something that we’ve never been up against.”
The Gophers have 12 home games — four versus Arizona State and two each with Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame and Wisconsin, still to be scheduled, and will play road series at Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin in the yet-to-be-revealed portion of the schedule.