PHILADELPHIA – Don Lucia finally made it to Philadelphia. Thirty-seven years ago the Gophers coach was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers. The journey to the city and the organization’s NHL ice took a big detour along the way, though.
Instead of taking his chances in the Flyers’ developmental system, Lucia pursued coaching. The career change still managed to fulfill the outdated goal of one day suiting up in front of Flyers fans. Lucia will be in a suit and tie, though, making his fifth Frozen Four appearance with the Gophers.
“It’s kind of funny. Actually I was drafted by the Flyers in 1978, but like any good man you have to know your limitations, so I got into coaching instead,” said Lucia, who was selected in the 10th round, 168th overall, as a Notre Dame freshman defenseman.
The move from player to coach paid off. Lucia picked up his 650th collegiate victory in the NCAA tournament West Regional final. He has won 371 games as the Gophers coach, including two NCAA championships.
Philly warming to college hockey
Philadelphia loves the Flyers and the NHL. The grass roots of hockey in the area don’t go much deeper than that. The Frozen Four’s field of historically rich programs offers a showcase for college hockey in the first-time host city.
Penn State and Vermont got the ball rolling when they drew 17,000 fans to the Flyers’ venue in October. With Penn State now sponsoring varsity hockey, there’s an emphasis to draw more talent from the area.
“I grew up watching plenty of pro hockey to know how big and how passionate the Flyers fans are,” Lucia said. “And hopefully a number of those will certainly be in the building this weekend, because they’re going to see four tremendous college hockey teams out there.”
Four players in this year’s Frozen Four are from the Philadelphia area. One is Hobey Baker Award favorite Johnny Gaudreau, whose hometown of Carneys Point, N.J., is 30 miles southwest of downtown Philadelphia.
Union’s coach honored
Union coach Rick Bennett was named winner of the Spencer Penrose Award as the top coach in Division I hockey on Wednesday. The Dutchmen are 30-6-4 and won the ECAC regular-season and tournament titles, along with a trip to the Frozen Four.
Thi is Union’s second trip to the Frozen Four and third NCAA tournament appearance since Bennett took over in 2011-12. The Dutchmen are 78-27-16 in his three years at the helm.
“I really do believe it’s a staff award, and should be a player award,” Bennett said. “The players are the ones playing the game, and they make you look good.”
The Dutchmen own a 15-game unbeaten streak heading into Thursday’s semifinal against Boston College.
North Dakota junior defenseman Nick Mattson of Chanhassen was given the Elite 89 Award as the top student-athlete to compete at the national championship level of their sport on Wednesday night. He holds a 3.966 grade-point-average, the highest among all Frozen Four athletes, and is tied for the most points (23) among UND defensemen.