Woog’s departure marks end of era for Gophers hockey

Aaron Kirscht

With the spotlights glaring and tape recorders rolling, Doug Woog hesitated for a moment before joining men’s athletics director Mark Dienhart at the table where he would announce his retirement as Gophers men’s hockey coach.
Perhaps Woog was savoring the last few seconds of his 14-year Minnesota career, or perhaps he was unsettled by the 100 or so people who showed up to witness the end of an era.
“I’ll try not to have much emotion,” Woog said.
But Woog’s emotional attachment to the Gophers program was undeniable. His comments ranged from sarcastic to bittersweet, as he let loose with a laugh one moment and suppressed tears the next.
Dienhart detailed the specifics of the assistant athletics director position Woog will assume with the University. Woog will work as a fund-raiser for improvements to Mariucci Arena and compliance with Title IX gender equity standards.
“For 14 years, (Woog) fit in perfectly for us as our head hockey coach,” Dienhart said. “Today, he has decided there is a better fit for him, and I’m excited about that because it means I get to work with him for a long period of time in this capacity.”
Woog then gathered himself before the mass of microphones and thanked his family, players and fellow coaches, as well as University staff members and administration. He said the decision to leave the Gophers was his own, and that he was given the option of a one-year contract extension to return as coach.
“This is an end, and yet a beginning,” Woog said. “It’s important for me to leave and let people know that it was a volunteer decision. I could have come back and coached. But the opportunity here, I think it’s challenging.
“Everything about the hockey job was great, but when you’ve got to answer, ‘Are you going to be back?’ every year, it’s hard. Eventually, the answer is, ‘No.’ You make that decision and you move on.”
In his 14 seasons at Minnesota, Woog became the program’s all-time winningest coach (389-187-40) and guided the team to NCAA appearances in his first 12 seasons. The Gophers advanced to the Final Four six times in his career and came within a few inches of a national championship in 1989, when a shot glanced off the goalpost in overtime against Harvard.
Woog coached two Hobey Baker Award winners, goalie Robb Stauber in 1988 and forward Brian Bonin in 1996, five first-team All-Americans and four WCHA players of the year.
But the coach’s greatest legacy might be his policy of recruiting only Minnesotans to play for the Gophers. Woog was often criticized for shunning out-of-state talent, but “Minnesota’s Pride on Ice” became one of the program’s strongest selling points, and Woog said he stood behind the policy.
“I was able to help Minnesota kids as much as anybody, and I feel very good about that,” Woog said. “It was our charge — it wasn’t anti-Canadian, it wasn’t anti-Alaska or anything. It was a pro-Minnesota venture, and I think we’ve helped young kids aspire to be better players by watching the models we’ve had.”
Minnesota-Duluth coach Mike Sertich, who was a candidate for the Gophers job before Woog was hired in 1985, called Woog “a good hockey man” and wished him well in his new position with the University.
Woog will also reportedly work in some capacity with Midwest Sports Channel, the cable outlet that broadcasts Gophers games.
The coach choked up when he talked about the players he’s had the opportunity to work with throughout the years and said his connection to Gophers hockey will remain strong.
“He cares about the program and he cares about the kids,” Gophers senior Nate Miller said. “You could see that it was a tough move for him. But it’s something where he made a decision, and I’m sure he’s happy with it, or he wouldn’t make it that way.
“It’s a different day, a sad day. But we’ve also got to look at the big picture and say we still have to play hockey, get ready for next year and whatever happens next,” Miller said.
What will happen next is still uncertain. Two high-profile names have surfaced to replace Woog: Colorado College coach Don Lucia and North Dakota coach Dean Blais.
Blais and Lucia are both Minnesota natives and led their respective teams to a one-two finish in the WCHA regular season. Officials at both schools are reportedly trying to sign the coaches to long-term contracts.
Dienhart said he’s not allowed to publicly talk about possible candidates for the position, but did say that a search committee will be created and the job will be posted as soon as possible.
Lucia confirmed Tuesday afternoon, shortly after Woog announced his retirement, that the University has contacted him about the opening.
“I will meet with them this week,” Lucia said. “We’ll see if there is a match.”
Current Gophers associate head coach Mike Guentzel said he will apply for the open position as well. His current job is not in jeopardy, but he said if someone else gets the head coaching job it will be up to the new coach to decide whether Guentzel will stay.
Blais could not be reached for comment.
Woog will leave the Gophers as one of the more revered — and perhaps reviled — coaches in Minnesota sports history. His colorful character will no doubt be missed around the confines of Mariucci Arena, but Woog said the time was right to leave.
“The first time I got on the rink, they announced my name and the fans went, ‘Wooooog,'” he said. “I wasn’t sure if it was a ‘boo’ or a ‘Woog,’ but I was convinced at the end that it was a ‘Woog.’ It’s nice to go out that way.”

— Staff reporter Scott Larson contributed to this report