Good afternoon from the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls, home of the NCAA West Regional hockey tournament. Top-seeded St. Cloud State plays No. 4 Air Force 3 p.m. Friday, and No. 2 Minnesota State Mankato faces No. 3 Minnesota Duluth at 6:30 p.m. Saturday’s final is at 8 p.m.
Today’s events include practice and news conferences, and the always witty Air Force coach Frank Serratore just finished holding court. Here are some of his highlights:
On Sioux Falls and being in the NCAA tournament: “People walking here, you get that greeting, ‘Good to see you.’ My response is, ‘This time of year, it’s great to be seen.’ Because it’s way better than the alternative. I told my coaches before the third period of the [Atlantic Hockey] championship game last week, ‘After this period, we are either going to be the busiest guys in college hockey, or we’re going to be lonelier than the Maytag man.’ Thank God our boys came through.’’
On the St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko, who was an assistant under Serratore at Denver: “I offered him a four-year contract, but we only lasted one year. I gave him a ticket on the Titanic. He took it, but he got a life raft and he’s survived and doing pretty well right now.’’
On Minnesota State Mankato coach Mike Hastings: “Mike played for me with the Austin Mavericks of the USHL. What a good little player he was. I used to have to follow him home from practice [because of his mischievous ways.]’’
On Air Force being a thorn in other teams’ side in the NCAA tournament: “That’s what we are. We’re a very difficult team to play against.’’ He pointed to the Atlantic Hockey quarterfinal series again Army, in which his Falcons won in three games, with the last one 1-0 in overtime. “If you’re Americans, you want Army and Air Force to be tough teams to play against. That’s the kind of people you want representing you and serving your country and defending our freedom.’’
On Motzko wanting to play Air Force: “He’s been trying to get us to play him for years. I said, ‘I’ll play you, but I ain’t playing you on that great, big lake in St. Cloud [the Olympic ice sheet at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center]. I’ll play you on a neutral site.’ We both win. He gets to play us, and we get to play him on a neutral site.’’
On Don Lucia, who stepped down Tuesday as Gophers coach and is a friend of Serratore: “Don’s not a really openly public guy, but Don is a good guy. If you get to know Don, you’ve got to love Don. He called me the night before and said, ‘I’ve agreed to the terms of surrender.’ … This guy’s an icon. He’s won a pile of hockey games. He’s a great husband, a great father.
“When he recruited my son to Minnesota, I didn’t want Tom to go there. There’s too many glamour queens there, and Tom wasn’t a glamour queen. When I was on the recruiting visit with Tom, and I sat down in Don’s office and said, ‘What’s the deal, Looch? He ain’t a glamour queen.’ Don said, ‘He ain’t a glamour queen, and that’s why we want him. We’ve got enough glamour queens.’ That’s the greatest testament to the Minnesota program is that I let my son go there.’’
Motzko was the second coach to hold a new conference Friday afternoon. Some highlights:
On being in the NCAA tournament after missing it last year: "When it goes away from you, you want to get back. Our older guys have really come to appreciate the hard work it takes to get into an NCAA tournament. ... We're an exited group, I can tell you that.''
On Air Force coach Frank Serratore: "Who? Who? Who are you talking about?'' When told it was Serratore, Motzko replied, "I never heard of him.''
Motzko continued: "It's always fun to see him. ... It's a cloud of dust wherever he leaves. He's a ball of energy. He's been a dear friend of mine forever.''
On playing on returning to Sioux Falls, where he was coach and GM of the Sioux Falls Stampede, and landing in the West Regional: "I wanted to be here, I really did. I'm not sure if I wanted to be here with a lot of green people [North Dakota was regional host but didn't make the field]. It worked out. We would've been out east [had North Dakota made the field]. It turned out we got to come here, and it is special. This is just a phenomenal facility.''
On Lucia, with whom he coached from 2001-05: "First, the press conference, I thought, was outstanding. ... My wife taped the press conference, because we're really good friends with Don and Joyce. I played it when I got home. You got to see Don as a person. He's one of the true gentlemen in our game. ... His legacy is going to grow greatly as we go through time, as it should.''
On keeping the focus on hockey, with so many ties between the coaches in this tournament: "If we weren't playing hockey, we'd all have a good time this weekend. Problem is, we all have hockey games to play. I know it's a great story. ... The four staffs, they'll have a little fun, but it's all business behind the scenes. ... We're here to play some hockey.''
MSU Mankato coach Mike Hastings had the third news conference Friday. Some highlights:
On having the regional in close proximity to Mankato: "When the the pairings came out, it was good to know that we'd be getting on a bus, not a plane.''
On Frank Serratore, his former coach in the USHL: "I told my dad when I came back [home], that's who I learned to swear from,'' Hastings joked. "That's what Frank taught me.''
On Lucia, for whom he worked with the Gophers in the 2008-09 season: "It was interesting to see how much care and love after the fact that everybody put out about Don and his career. Sometimes you need to lose something before you miss it. You look at the 19-year career and what he has done, now that he's moving on to a different stage of his life, we can all appreciate what he's done. He's the one who gave me an opportunity to get back into the college game. That was a big step for myself trying to become a college head coach. Don was the one who afforded me that, and I'm very appreciative of that. ... He's helped elevate Minnesota to what it is. Great history, and there's going to be a new sheriff at the University of Minnesota.''
Minnesota Duluth coach Scott Sandelin was the fourth and final coach to speak. Some highlights:
On his team: "With a young team, we've grown through the year. Our second half was a lot more consistent, and I thought our guys played some really good hockey in the second half. That was the reason we are here today.''
On so many Minnesota ties among the coaching staffs in the regional: "It's exciting to be in any regional, but there's three other coaching staffs that I have a lot of respect for that are here, with Mike's team, Bob's team and Frank's team. Just good people, and they do tremendous jobs with their teams.''
On Lucia: "I have a lot of respect for Don. ... He's done a tremendous job. I won't call him an Iron Ranger, but he's close. He's a northern guy. It's good that he got the chance to go out on his own, and I certainly wish him well.''