In-state ideology

There are 25 players on the Minnesota men’s hockey team and for the first time in quite a long time, all 25 are homegrown talent.

Not since coach Don Lucia’s first year with the Gophers in the 1999-2000 season have all team members come from Minnesota – although an all-Minnesota squad was never a goal for Lucia and the ninth-year Gophers coach doesn’t see the trend continuing past this season.

“We have a number of kids from outside the state that we’ve recruited for the future,” Lucia said. “It’s just going to be a one-year thing for sure.”

The Gophers (8-7-1 overall, 4-6-0 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) could almost be called the all-metro team with 18 players coming from the metropolitan area and just seven skaters coming from Greater Minnesota.

Five players come from Plymouth, Lucia’s hometown, while the Academy of Holy Angels lists three graduates on the Gophers roster – the most from any high school.

Having just Minnesota players on the Gophers roster isn’t anything new, it used to be a policy under Lucia’s predecessor Doug Woog.

Woog said he decided to give Minnesota hockey players a shot in the same way John Mariucci gave American hockey players a chance to play college hockey in the mid ’60s when Woog was playing.

“People don’t understand that 30 or 40 years ago when I played, 90 percent of the players were Canadian and 90 percent of the coaches were Canadian,” Woog said. “It was kind of a breakthrough that John Mariucci let us play as high school graduates.”

And the unwritten rule appeared to work for the most part. In Woog’s 14 seasons behind the bench, the Gophers appeared in six Frozen Fours, although the team never took home college hockey’s top prize.

The tactic didn’t always work out picture-perfect though, Woog admitted.

“Sometimes it could cause some issues. You may need a right wing or a power-play guy and they aren’t quite developed,” Woog said.

Woog also said that several times during his tenure recruits would hold out for a larger scholarship knowing that the coaching staff was only looking at in-state players.

But sometimes the recruiting worked out great, such as the case of 1996 Hobey Baker Award winner Brian Bonin, a White Bear Lake native.

In recent years, however, some of Minnesota’s biggest talents have come from out of state.

Thomas Vanek from Graz, Austria, Kellen Briggs from Colorado Springs, Colo., Phil Kessel from Madison, Wis. and the Potulny brothers from Grand Forks, N.D., just to name a few.

Vanek was Lucia’s only international recruit and the first European to play for Minnesota, although the Buffalo Sabres forward had already immigrated to North America before joining the Gophers.

“Don Lucia is trying to stay as much with Minnesota kids as he can because he’s got good ones,” Woog said. “But he’s supplementing them when he feels he has the need.”

Minnesota already has one out-of-state recruit inked for next year in Sewickley, Pa. native Grant Scott.

Scott, who is playing forward on the U.S. National Development Team this year, will be the first Eastern-born player to join the Gophers.

Lucia said he doesn’t necessarily care where his players come from as long as they can help the team win.

“I buy into having the best players we can to help us have a successful team,” Lucia said.

But the jury is still out on Lucia’s team this year.

Even with 15 NHL Draft picks, Minnesota began the season with its worst start ever in WCHA play – starting the year 0-4 in conference play and currently sitting at seventh in the conference.

One thing is for sure though, the last time the Gophers had only Minnesotans on its roster was the team’s worst year under Lucia.

“There’s always going to be lapses like that,” sophomore forward Kyle Okposo said of this year’s team. “I’ve never been on a perfect team, and I don’t think anybody ever has.”