Old teammates face off when Gophers open season in St. Paul

David La

The Saturday meeting between the Minnesota and Notre Dame men’s hockey teams temporarily weaves the careers of Don Lucia and Dave Poulin together again.
Lucia and Poulin played together at Notre Dame for three seasons (1978-81), where Poulin set and still holds the record for points by a freshman.
Poulin finished his Irish career in 1982 as a team captain and finalist for the Hobey Baker national player-of-the-year award.
In his first NHL game, Poulin scored two goals on his first two shots for the Philadelphia Flyers. Poulin went on to play for Boston and Washington during his 12-year career, winning the Selke Trophy in 1987 as the NHL’s top defensive forward.
By his own admission, Lucia was a role-player in college whose primary job was killing penalties. Lucia rarely made an impact, let alone the immediate kind Poulin did.
Lucia turned to coaching after college, with his own break-out coming in 1987-88 at Alaska-Fairbanks. The rookie coach led the Nanooks to the Great West conference championship.
Later in his 13-year career, Lucia brought Colorado College three-straight WCHA championships and consecutive berths in the NCAA Frozen Four.
Last season, Lucia coaxed the Gophers to their first winning season since 1996-97.
Poulin took over in South Bend five seasons ago — a local hero whose homecoming became complete last season. Poulin took the Irish to the CCHA tournament, their first appearance since the Poulin-led team in 1982.
“Each year in the last five we’ve done something to progress,” Poulin said. “What’s left now is to improve our record and make the NCAA tournament.”
While Poulin’s steady coaching rise at Notre Dame belies his playing career, Lucia is looking to continue his penchant for the quick-fix he implemented at Alaska and Colorado.
Though he turned in a winning record with Minnesota last year, Lucia is eyeing more.
“If we’re going to improve,” Lucia said, “we have to beat the top teams.”
Both teams enter Saturday’s game after one week skating, and without prior knowledge of one other.
“We’ll just have to adjust on the fly,” Lucia said. “But there’s only so many ways you can play this game.”
Nevertheless, Poulin predicts, “…a high-speed game. We’re both skating teams that like to attack, so you’re going to see a quality offensive game.”
The key then, is who gets off to the faster start. The Notre Dame team led by the impact player-turned coach on a methodical rise, or the Minnesota team lead by a top coach who was a lunch pail player.

ù Lucia will face his alma mater for the fifth time. Lucia’s Alaska-Fairbanks teams went 3-1 against the Fighting Irish, but his Colorado College teams never faced Notre Dame.

ù The Fighting Irish have eight Minnesota natives on their current roster. The program has produced 79 all-time letterwinners from Minnesota, including Lucia.

ù Lucia is 31-23-0 all-time against teams in the CCHA.

David La Vaque covers men’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]