Patrick Reusse
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Sports writers of my ancient generation, and even previously, had a tendency to take ahold of a saying and twist it to fit their narrative.

One of these was "voice in the wilderness," which gets a mention in the Bible, I'm told, and in proper English literature refers to someone expressing an opinion that is not popular.

Those of us reading sports sections starting in the late 1950s were likely to see references to the "voices in the wilderness" that were grumbling to a point that a coach was in danger of being fired.

For sure, the voices in the wilderness — meaning thousands — were out to get Murray Warmath as the Gophers football coach after a combined record of 3-15 in 1958-59.

Murray survived that by going to two straight Rose Bowls. By the time he "resigned" in 1971, the Vikings owned the autumn and the Gophers' football wilderness was much smaller than was the case a dozen years earlier.

I've been partial to that phrase, and have been of the opinion that no coach (per percentage of fan base) was more subject to voices in the wilderness than the Gophers hockey coaches that followed in the skates of Herb Brooks.

Brooks was beloved for winning the Gophers' first three NCAA titles (1974, 1976, 1979), and then sainted after his 1980 Olympic team rode Jim Craig's hot goaltending to a gold medal in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Brad Buetow followed Herbie with a .689 winning percentage in six seasons, reached what's now the Frozen Four twice (losing to Wisconsin in the 1981 final), and the voices got him fired.

Doug Woog was phenomenal for a dozen seasons, went to six Frozen Fours, never won a title, and then two losing seasons got him "reassigned" in 1999 with a .662 winning percentage.

Don Lucia replaced Woog, won back-to-back titles in 2002 and 2003, and then heard the voices for most of the remaining 15 seasons of a tenure that concluded with 457 wins and a .634 winning percentage.

This was a coaching job in Minnesota for three decades post-Brooks where the only way to truly silence the voices was to win it all.

When Lucia's club lost, 7-4, to a crusty collection of undrafted 24-year-olds from a place called Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., in the 2014 national title game, it became my opinion that reality finally had started to settle in for the Gophers hockey fan base:

College hockey had become too much a game of roulette to have the "Frozen Four or lost season" attitude that had sent Buetow, Woog and finally Lucia head-shaking into the wilderness. Lucia in actuality, since he moved to Alaska.

Lucia left by mutual consent with athletic director Mark Coyle after a 19-17-2 season in 2017-18. Coyle then went against what's been his coach-hiring form and brought in Bob Motzko, then 57 and successful at St. Cloud State, rather than a wunderkind.

In his third season, shortened as it is by the pandemic, Motzko could be sitting on the best team in the country.

Lucia won his first title in 2002 with Jordan Leopold, Paul Martin and Keith Ballard as defensemen. Motzko has three defensemen ­— sophomores Ryan Johnson and Jackson LaCombe, freshman Brock Faber — who were on the gold-winning U.S. Junior team earlier this month.

Broadcast/Gophers legend Pat Micheletti, straight shooter in discussing all things hockey, said: "The only reason this kid wasn't on that team is because they couldn't take four Gophers defensemen."

Micheletti was pointing at Mike Koster, another freshman, on the Gophers' lineup sheet on Friday night. Notre Dame turned out to be quite the scrappy visitors and sprung a 3-2 upset of the No. 1-rated Gophers (now 11-2).

This home-ice hiccup aside, Motzko and chief recruiter Garrett Raboin have turned the talent advantage back to the Gophers in a hurry, and there's also this:

Much less pressure than Buetow, Woog and Lucia faced. There are many fewer voices second-guessing Gophers hockey than was the case a decade ago.

The excuse used most often is that people stopped caring as deeply when the Big Ten hockey conference started in the fall of 2013. Hogwash.

As this sports market became more crowded, and reality replaced the Frozen Four as the only option for success, Gophers hockey fans lost their exaggerated sense of self.

"I would say one reason there's less pressure on the coach right now is Gophers hockey gets a lot less coverage in the local market," Micheletti said.

"I think what you have today is people saying, 'Motzko has a really good club; the Gophs could win it.' But there won't be the old level of complaints if that doesn't happen."

More like a "voice in the wilderness," than a gigantic plural.