The No. 1 ranked Gophers face the No. 2 ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Tuesday night at Mariucci Arena.
The Gophers held availability today and coach Don Lucia addressed a number of subjects, including the injury to leading scorer Erik Haula, how the Gophers plan to overcome the loss, playing his alma matter and his son, Mario.
On Haula’s injury, it’s an upper-body injury and he’ll miss at least the next three games, most likely. The hope is he will return vs. North Dakota on Jan. 18-19. Haula was slashed across the right hand early in the third period against Boston College.
It appears as if Nate Condon will move from first-line right wing to second-line center. Condon played center for much of his life before coming to the U and played there at times during his freshman year.
“It impacts us in every phase,” Lucia said of Haula, the team’s most consistent forward this year, being out. “It impacts the power play, penalty killing. Really, every situation, he’s a key guy. But the good thing it’s not something that’s going to be two months or three months.”
Lucia said the Gophers are experimenting in practice whether or not to use Condon or maybe Christian Isackson there, but it certainly sounds like it’ll be Condon.
I will be doing a big Don Lucia-Mario Lucia story for Tuesday, but I’ll provide a few quotes from Don below (Mario Lucia, after being named CCHA Rookie of the Week recently, was named CCHA Rookie of the Month today). Here is Lucia on a number of subjects:
Freshman Mike Reilly will play in Saturday’s gold-medal game at the world junior championships in Ufa, Russia, against Sweden. Will Reilly play Tuesday against Notre Dame? “He gets back Sunday night, which is the following morning Ufa time. It’s something we’re wrestling with right now whether to play him or not. Originally when we set this up, we thought it’d be three guys (also three guys for Notre Dame) and that was a concern. Now that it is only one, I don’t feel the same necessity. I want to do what’s best for our team, but also what’s best for him. So we’ll gauge that. The good part is we have six good defensemen that can play, so the question becomes, he gets back Sunday night, he’s going to be fatigued, we play Friday, Saturday league games [against Alaska Anchorage]. Is it going to help him and help our team more not to play him on Tuesday and we’ll give him Wednesday and Thursday to get some rest? I mean, this is a long grind they’re going through, the travel as much as anything, not the mention they’re only back Sunday night. It’s a 12-hour time change, so what are his legs going to be like? I don’t know. Maybe we’ll gauge that when he gets back on Monday. We have not made a decision one way or the other. It’s a hard decision to make to be honest. … They leave Sunday morning and they get here Sunday night, but that’s really 8:30 Russia time the next day. So what’s your sleep going to be like the first couple days? It’s not like he’s just coming back from Edmonton or Ottawa.”
Will Mario play? “That’s their call what they end up doing. That’s their decision. One reason why we set this up [against Notre Dame] was because he was going to be playing there, but at the same time we knew we’re setting up to play a good opponent, too. If he plays, great. If he doesn’t, I understand it.”
(Russo note: Trust me, Mario Lucia is playing vs. the Gophers on Tuesday).
Have you watched the world juniors? “I’ve taped them. I have not gotten up at 3 o’clock in the morning. That’s a little bit too early for me. If it was 5 or 6 I can handle that. It’s been a great experience for [Mario]. He’s in a whole new role he probably hasn’t been in, but that’s all part of the growth. The team’s done great and now they can play for a gold medal.”
(Russo note: Don Lucia is referring to the fact that his son has become the 13th forward, meaning he hasn’t played the past two games. Lucia sent an email to his son this morning to keep his head up and to let him know this is all part of the growing process, how three months ago, who knew he’d even be in the tournament after breaking his leg. I will write a world junior advance for our web site and this blog on Friday. I will have more on Mario Lucia in there).
What’s Mario Lucia think of Russia? “He says the food’s getting better. We sent him over with some protein and peanut butter and some things. He and Mike Reilly are roommates. They lived together in Penticton, so it’s nice he’s got a roommate he’s familiar with and gets along with. They’re like Oscar and Felix.”
On Condon: “He’s played center all of his life. … So this will be an easy transition for Nate to make to move back to center. Notre Dames got two [high-end centers] in [Edina’s Anders] Lee and [T.J.] Tynan and Nate’s speed can help us defend there.”
On playing Notre Dame: “It’s always your alma mater. I’m looking forward to play an elite program. I’m still trying to figure out how they were ranked ahead of us, they don’t play and now we’re ahead of them. [Assistant coach] Andy [Slaggert] texted me after our [8-1] win [over Boston College] and said, ‘You’re going to be No. 1,’ and I said, ‘No, not a chance.’ That doesn’t matter. We’re playing a top team, the best team at least right now in the CCHA, a team that obviously will be contending at the end. It’s another good opportunity for our team to play an elite opponent.”
How they Irish compare to BC: “They’re more methodical in how they play, they don’t beat themselves, they’re a very difficult team to play against, they haven’t given up more than three goals in a game all season long, they’re scoring a little more than they did at the beginning. They’re a big, strong, physical team. I’m looking forward to it.”
By the way, Lucia reminded that in 1977, the Irish won the national title in football during his freshman year, so maybe they’ll do the same during Mario’s freshman year.
I’ll have a lot more on Don and Mario Tuesday, but Lucia said, “The ideal scenario: he has a great game and we win.”
Nate Condon: “Going from wing to playing center, I’ve got to play a lot more defense. Lot of puck movement, you see a lot more of the ice going up the middle, keep your head up in the neutral zone, faceoffs. Not too much changes. Played with Budish before.”
Captain Zach Budish says it’s been a great few days around the program after creaming BC and they’re looking forward to the Irish. On losing Haula: “He’s a big player for us, he plays in every situation, he’s one of our top guys, and it’s definitely a loss, but it’s an opportunity for someone else to step up.”
Also, Nick Bjugstad was named WCHA Offensive Player of the Week after scoring six points, including a career-high four in the BC win, as the Gophers won the Mariucci Classic. Adam Wilcox, who stopped 50 of 51 shots, was named WCHA Rookie of the Week.
Lastly, not a good day in NHL/NHLPA bargaining. There was no formal bargaining session, and the NHLPA will begin a two-day vote tonight to again authorize the union to file a disclaimer of interest.
I've been all Gophers today. Here is the TSN story with today's events.
More from Star Tribune
More From Russo's Rants
The Wild's five-day bye ends with a 5 p.m. practice Sunday.
The Wild minor-league enforcer could be facing discipline from the American Hockey League.
The Wild made it a game in the end, but it was outplayed for good chunks of Tuesday's 5-3 loss to Chicago
With a win over Chicago, the Wild would leap over Washington for the most points in the NHL before a five-day break. Expect a playoff-type atmosphere at the X.
Coach Bruce Boudreau said the medical staff will decide if Dumba's injury is such that he can play Tuesday or if another six days off would be smarter.