Minnesota tourney to unite former WCHA teams

The annual event, which the Gophers will host, is in its naming phase.

by Dane Mizutani

Herb Brooks was one of the most influential men the sport of hockey has ever seen.

He coached Team USA to an unlikely gold medal at the 1980 Olympics, coached the University of Minnesota to three national titles in the 1970s and forever shaped the culture of college hockey in the state of Minnesota.

So it’s fitting that Bob Motzko, head coach at St. Cloud State University, thinks the new annual tournament featuring Minnesota’s five Division I hockey programs should be named in honor of Brooks.

The tournament, which is currently unnamed, will start next January at the Xcel Energy Center. The Gophers will host the tournament every year, and the other four schools will rotate every four years to fill the three remaining spots.

Minnesota State-Mankato, St. Cloud State, and Minnesota-Duluth will participate in the first tournament with the Gophers while Bemidji State will sit idle.

The Gophers announced the list of eight potential names for the annual tournament last week, and “The Herb Brooks Classic” is one of the finalists. 

“That’s a name that I feel like would stick and fully represents the history of college hockey in Minnesota,” Motzko said.  

Motzko served as an assistant coach under Brooks at St. Cloud State in 1986-87. At that time, the state boasted only two Division I hockey programs — Minnesota and UMD.

Brooks aimed to change that.

“His mission was to grow the college hockey presence in the state,” Motzko said. “It drove him crazy that both Michigan and Massachusetts featured more D-I programs than Minnesota.”

Two years after Brooks’ only season coaching at St. Cloud State, the program made the jump to Division I.

A few years later, MSU-Mankato and Bemidji State followed suit.

That birthed the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, featuring all five Minnesota schools.

The WCHA got a facelift this year, as many of its teams left for the Big Ten Conference or the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.

Minnesota, St. Cloud State and UMD left the WCHA last season much to the chagrin of many coaches involved. Minnesota will join the Big Ten Conference, and St. Cloud State and UMD will join the NCHC.

MSU-Mankato and Bemidji State will remain in the WCHA.

“It was really disappointing at first,” Gophers head coach Don Lucia said. “I’ve spent almost half my life in the WCHA, and it was tough to watch it dissolve.”

Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore said breaking up the WCHA lost a lot of tradition and history, but the silver lining is that the five Minnesota squads will play each other in the annual tournament.

Serratore said the tournament hopes to eventually emulate the cultural significance the Beanpot Tournament has in Boston.

Lucia said he’s confident the Minnesota tournament has laid the foundation to thrive.

“We understand the first year isn’t going to be like we have 20 years of tradition, but 10 years down the line this could be something the fans really look forward to,” Lucia said. “I don’t think it will take long because we have the ingredients.”

Though the historic presence of the WCHA shifted at the end of last season, Motzko said, this tournament allows teams to keep the tradition alive. 

“We were a league, and all of us prospered,” Motzko said. “We have to maintain the tradition.

“It doesn’t just revolve around one school,” he added. “It revolves around all five, and this tournament is a great way to show that.”