Lucia hopes to turn around team

by David La

Gophers hockey fans entering Mariucci Arena will probably notice the large banner hanging outside promoting the upcoming 1999-2000 season. Right smack in the middle is the handsome mug of new head coach Don Lucia.
Lucia, who hails from Grand Rapids, Minn., comes to the University from a six-year tenure with WCHA heavyweight Colorado College. He was brought in to bring back the punch lacking in the Gophers’ recent teams under former coach Doug Woog.
Like the layout of the banner, Lucia will be a focal point of the Gophers faithful this season. But the new coach is ignoring the writing on the wall, looking ahead to adding banners on the inside of the arena.
Lucia recently sat down with the Daily to discuss the many aspects of the upcoming season:

Q: Having some background in Minnesota, has that made this move easier than others your family has made?
A: I think it has a lot. It’s not like you’re moving to an area you’ve never been before. My wife and kids have been coming back here every year for 16 years, so they’re used to it. I think that helps in the transition much, much more so than if you’re moving to an area you’ve never been before.
Q: What goes through your head when you have to let your family know it’s time to move again?
A: Well, I think that’s the hard part. When you make a decision on a job, there is so much more that becomes involved. If you’re single, you don’t have anyone else to think about. But for me, I’ve got four children and a wife that I have to think about and uproot.
I don’t think there is ever an easy time to move, but the one positive for me was the standpoint that my youngest is only in kindergarten, my second son is going into sixth grade, which is a new school, and my one daughter was going into ninth grade, which is a new school. So three of my four children are going to a new school. My oldest is going to be a sophomore so she’d only been in school one year, and that’s a point in high school where you can still transition.
I’m not as concerned about my transition because on a daily basis I’m meeting new people. I’m more concerned about the transition for my wife and kids. Their transition I think has gone pretty well; we just moved into our new house in the last three days and the people in our cul-de-sac have been extremely friendly, brought us over things, and that’s really nice to see.

Q: Coming to the University, how much did it play in your mind that you’re replacing a Minnesota hockey institution in Doug Woog?
A: I have tremendous respect for Doug. I think Doug did a great job in this program. I mean, you look back, he was an outstanding hockey player and an outstanding coach. As (men’s athletics director Mark Dienhart) talked about him, in a lot of ways Doug is a legend of Minnesota hockey. I think that’s part of the lure when you look at the people that have been a coach here at the University, there are a lot of legends that are among them, and having an opportunity to be part of that tradition in a lot of ways is a real honor.
That’s why I looked at this as one of those opportunities that come along once in a career and you’re either going to jump into in and go for it or you’re not. Doug did a terrific job — like I said, he’s a legend — and in a lot of ways I’m fortunate that he’s still going to be around, that I can give him a phone call and ask, “Hey Doug how does this work?” He’s been very helpful and very friendly, and it’s nice that he could go out on his own terms. I think he deserves that, and I think he’s looking forward to the challenges of what he’s going to be doing, as well.

Q: How much of the Gophers hockey operation are you going to be allowed to reshape? For example, recruiting, style of play, inherited players and so on.
A: I think it’s totally up to me what I want to do. It’s up to us how we’re going to recruit. I don’t think it’s any secret that we’re not going to just recruit Minnesota kids, we’re going to go and see what’s out there. Not only to try to attract maybe a real good elite player every year, but just to go out and see what other people are getting and compare to what their crop of talent is within the state. I think it’s good to know that.
I know we made a phone call to somebody outside the state this year and the response was, “Yeah, you’re the team that only recruits in the state of Minnesota.” That’s a perception that has to change a little bit. It’s not only going to be within the state, there’s going to be athletes that we do take from outside.

Q: How have the meetings with your new players been going? What sorts of vibes are you getting from them?
A: The meetings have been very positive. I think anytime there’s a change, kids have to start all over in a lot of ways, and I told them they can start over. I don’t want to talk to anybody to find out what they were like last year; I want them to be able to show me what they’re all about.
My first impression will be when I see them in September, what type of shape they’re coming in in. When they get on the ice, they’ll again have an opportunity to give me a first impression because I’m not watching any videotape from last year. I don’t want to. I want every player to come in with a clean slate, and the only way to do that is if I don’t have any preconceived notions on how a kid is.

Q: You had numerous Minnesota natives on your CC roster last year. What has to be done to make sure you keep the best local talent local?
A: I think that’s a difficult question because it’s easy to say three years from now who you should have taken. The problem arises when two kids are 18, 19 years old and one kid improves and one doesn’t, so you are always going to have some of that. It’s impossible to hit on every kid, you can’t do that. What you want to do is minimize your mistakes, and if you do make a mistake you know the kid can play somewhere within your team. I think we want to try to recruit a couple of junior players now and then to get an older, more mature player.
Some of our philosophies of what we’re looking for in a type of player is as much speed and skill as we possibly can. I’m not going to change my philosophy, because I’m here now. We have a pretty good philosophy on how a successful program is going to run. It’s not just the hockey, but finding good students and good people that want to work and listen and be part of a group.

Q: When one University program comes under academic scrutiny, how does that affect the other school’s programs?
A: It really doesn’t have an effect on how I do things. My background has always been pro-academic, to graduate kids. That’s why a large number of our kids are in summer school this year to try to catch up. I told them that if you’re behind after your sophomore year, you’re not going to have a choice — summer school is mandatory. If they’re on track after their sophomore year, they’ll graduate. It’s the first couple years you usually have to worry about.
I was the same way, I was a “C” student my first two years , and a “B” student my junior and senior year. You learn how it works, you learn time management a little bit better, and you’re a little more mature.

Q: Talk a little about your hockey career. You were drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers.
A: I think I was an average college hockey player (at Notre Dame), played regularly and was more of a player that achieved what I did through hard work. I was more of a defensive defensemen, killed penalties, never played power play.
I think I was realistic enough to know when I was graduating that I didn’t see myself as ever being good enough to ever play in the NHL, so what was the point of going that route? That’s why I chose to get involved in coaching rather than beat my head in the minors.

Q: You were an All-State linebacker in high school. Who were some of your gridiron favorites?
A: I was a big time Vikings fan growing up. I remember when they lost their first Super Bowl, I cried; I was just a little kid. I still am a big fan. I think it’s unfortunate that the Vikings never won a Super Bowl, because I think a lot of players never got their due.

Q: What do you expect the first CC series in November to be like for you?
A: To be honest it’s not going to be something I’m looking forward to. I think playing CC will be very difficult for about three years, until all the players have cycled out. You have a vested interest in those kids and I want them to do well, I do. You recruit those players, you work with them; it’s going to be very strange going there to play this year, very strange.
I have nothing but wonderful memories there. The people were very good to me, the kids were great, but that’s a weekend I’m not looking forward to at all.

Q: How much patience do you think you will be afforded by hockey fans?
A: I’m not a savior. I always say coaches don’t get stupid over the summer, but sometimes personnel changes a little bit. All I want to do is try to put in some of our philosophies this year, not only just in hockey, but in the classroom. It’s really important for me to try to get these kids to graduate in four years; that’s what you’re here for. It’s important to me that they go to classes, and it’s important to me that they be good citizens.
I think for the most part they’ve been that way throughout the years and we want that to continue. Those are the parts of your program you want to put in place so you have your foundation. We’re not going to change necessarily the wins and losses overnight, I understand that. What we want to do is put things in place so we can be better down the road. The decision that I’ve always made with the program is what’s better in the long run, not necessarily what’s good for today.

David La Vaque welcomes comments at [email protected].