Gophers name Lucia men’s hockey coach

Aaron Kirscht

Less than 72 hours after Doug Woog ended his 14-year tenure as Gophers men’s hockey coach, the University introduced his replacement.
After meeting with the search committee on Thursday night, Don Lucia accepted the job Friday morning, bringing an end to a whirlwind search process that was over nearly as soon as it started.
“It goes fast when the best guy out there has an interest in the job,” said men’s athletics director Mark Dienhart. “The process drags on when there are a lot of people out there who might be number one or when there isn’t much interest in the job.
“But I can honestly tell you that the guy sitting beside me was my number one choice from the time Doug told me he wasn’t coming back.”
Lucia, 40, comes to Minnesota after six seasons at Colorado College. He posted a 166-68-18 record with the Tigers, tying current Wisconsin coach Jeff Sauer as Colorado’s all-time winningest coach.
Lucia’s career coaching record stands at 279-155-28, including a six-year stint at Alaska-Fairbanks. He grew up in Grand Rapids, Minn., and played college hockey at Notre Dame.
“When I left college, decided I wanted to be a coach and drove my old bomb of a car up to Alaska, never could I have imagined that 18 years later I’d be sitting here as the newest coach at the University of Minnesota,” Lucia said. “It is a dream come true.
“When I got the phone call from Mark, I knew this was a great job, maybe the best job in all of college hockey. You only get one shot in life, and this is mine.”
But Lucia’s had his shots before, and he’s been on target.
In Lucia’s first season at Colorado College in 1994-94, he turned a program that had won only eight games the year before into a WCHA regular season champion for an unprecedented three straight years. The Tigers went without a winning season in the 13 years prior to Lucia’s arrival.
The situation at Minnesota isn’t nearly as dire, but the program has been on a downturn. The Gophers finished below .500 in each of the last two seasons, the first back-to-back losing seasons in more than a quarter century.
Lucia said he’ll start the turnaround by trying to make the game fun again for Gophers players, a strategy that clearly worked well at Colorado College.
“What we want to do is try to create an environment where this is the place to play college hockey and the kids want to come here,” Lucia said. “They like the other players on the team, they like the coaches, they like the style of hockey we’re playing and they want to play here.”
Lucia’s first step will be to assemble a coaching staff, a process he said he hopes to wrap up “as soon as possible,” probably within a week. Lucia is expected to bring at least one assistant over from Colorado College, and another assistant might take over the Tigers program.
Gophers associate head coach Mike Guentzel, who also interviewed for the job, said he will apply for a spot on Lucia’s staff.
“I think I have an outside chance to stick around,” Guentzel said. “I know that Don is comfortable with the idea, and that he’s ready to deal with it.”
Lucia wouldn’t discuss any specific personnel issues, saying he’s just trying to ease into the position.
“This has been such a wild week for me personally,” Lucia said. “It’s all come down in four or five days, and I haven’t really had a chance to catch my breath yet.”