Letter: Don Lucia’s resignation comes at the right time

Letter to the Editor

Entering the final day of the men’s hockey conference tournaments, Minnesota looked like a lock to make the NCAA Tournament. To fall far enough in the Pairwise Rankings (the rankings which determine the at-large bids for the tournament field), the Gophers would need the outcomes of six games to go against them. The odds of that happening were slim, yet in a stroke of misfortune that could only be inflicted on perhaps the unluckiest sports communities in the world, exactly that happened. 

But before we can cast off this season’s shortfall as bad luck, it is worth wondering why the “Pride on Ice” needed to rely on a series of outcomes in the first place, however unlikely the fatal combination seemed. While injuries to star players may have held the Gophers back at the beginning of the season, the team went on a 6-1-1 tear heading into the final weekend of Big Ten play. A top 10 ranking in the Pairwise almost guaranteed a tournament bid, regardless of how the Big Ten tournament played out. But the Gophers were whipped in four consecutive games by Penn State, a program that celebrated its inaugural season a mere five seasons ago, including a sweep in the Big Ten quarterfinal. The season’s outcome underscores the inconsistency that has hit the program of late. 

This type of inconsistency has plagued coach Don Lucia’s squad the past several years. Despite winning each of the first four Big Ten regular season championships, the Gophers’ last NCAA Tournament success came in 2014 when they advanced to the Frozen Four, eventually losing to Union in the title game. Before that, Minnesota’s only Frozen Four appearances since their last championship in 2003 came in 2005 and 2012. Since entering the Big Ten, having left the more competitive WCHA (now broken to the NCHC and WCHA), the Gophers have lost ground in competitiveness and recruitment to the other hockey powers in the state of Minnesota. 

Prior to his resignation, there was speculation that, after this year’s disappointing end, Lucia may be fired by athletics director Mark Coyle. While Lucia’s teams have only finished below .500 once in his 17 seasons at the helm, progress can become stagnant after a long enough tenure for any coach. The winningest coach in Minnesota hockey history, Lucia will stay on as an adviser to Coyle, who has shown very few qualms with shelling out big money to hire and retain big-name coaches. There should be no doubt about the attractiveness of the head coaching job at a historic program nestled in the greatest breeding ground of hockey talent in the United States, and Lucia may be uniquely equipped to aid the search for a new bench boss. 

Lucia will be remembered for the team’s success throughout his career, but as Gophers athletics start fresh with the opening of Athletes Village, it’s a good time to turn the page to a new chapter in men’s hockey history.

This letter has been lightly edited for clarity and style.

Christian Rosenow is a 2017 University of Minnesota graduate with a degree in genetics, cell biology and development.