When the Minnesota Wild acquired former Gophers defenseman Jordan Leopold on Monday, he became the fifth Minnesota alumnus on the Wild’s roster.
“Well, that’s probably why I’m still coaching,” head coach Don Lucia joked on Monday.
In addition to successfully developing players like Leopold, Lucia’s win total with the program puts him near the top. With one more victory, he’ll break Minnesota’s record for most wins as a coach.
The Gophers’ victory last Thursday night against Michigan State moved Lucia into a tie for the program record in wins with former head coach Doug Woog at 390. One victory against Ohio State over the upcoming weekend would give Lucia the record.
“We haven’t really talked about that much, but everyone knows that’s on the line,” sophomore forward Vinni Lettieri said. “He deserves it, so I think we’re going to play as a team, and we’ll get it for him.”
Lucia said he hasn’t spent time thinking about the record, and instead, he’s focused on the season’s outcome. His attention is on the team winning games, he said, and the time to reflect is when the season is over.
Lucia’s success has stemmed from his longevity, with head coaching gigs at Alaska-Fairbanks and Colorado College before coming to Minnesota.
“It’s hard to believe this is my 28th year as a head coach,” Lucia said. “To be honest, I doubt I thought I’d be coaching when I was 35. It just kind of evolved.”
When Lucia first arrived at Minnesota, he said the man he replaced, Doug Wood, helped him transition.
“Doug’s been a great supporter. He’s a great mentor,” Lucia said. “He’d stop by the office, and we’d talk. He knows what I’m going through, and, you know, not a lot of people do.”
Since his early days at Minnesota, Lucia said a few things about the game and his coaching style have changed, but one major belief has not.
“It’s about the kids; it’s about helping them grow and mature,” Lucia said. “Some will get the opportunity to play in the National Hockey League, most won’t. For me, it’s about seeing them 10 years later, with families and having good jobs and being real good people.”
Senior forward Seth Ambroz said chasing the record for his head coach is exciting.
“It’s a great thing to be a part of,” Ambroz said. “Obviously, coming here since my freshman year, we’ve had some good success. Being a part of [Lucia’s record] is special, and I’m just happy I can contribute in some way or the other.”
Senior forward Sam Warning said the team wants to break the record as quickly as possible and then move on to finishing the regular season.
“[Lucia has] obviously put a lot of time and effort into this program, so any time we can get that win for him, it’ll be a huge success for us,” Warning said.