Like most Minnesotans, Gophers men’s hockey coach Don Lucia made sure he got all his tasks done early Sunday so he could watch the Vikings’ divisional playoff game against the New Orleans Saints. He attended Mass in the morning – “I always feel better [after Mass], and I needed it after the weekend [when the Gophers were swept by Michigan] – and completed his video work in the afternoon.
Then, he settled in to watch the Vikings game from start to the incredible finish of Stefon Diggs hauling in Case Keenum’s desperation pass and finishing a 61-yard scoring play that sent the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game and Minnesota into a state of euphoria.
“I was by myself, and didn’t have anybody to go, ‘Aaaahhh!’ with,’’ Lucia said Tuesday during the Gophers’ weekly media availability.
The fantastic finish took Lucia back to his youth and watching the 1972 Pittsburgh Steelers-Oakland Raiders playoff game. “It kind of reminded me when I was a young kid and saw Franco Harris and the Immaculate Reception.’’
The Vikings’ improbable win also took Lucia back to the night of April 6, 2002, at Xcel Energy Center, when his Gophers first forced overtime in the NCAA championship game on Matt Koalska’s goal with 53 seconds left in the third period, then beat Maine 4-3 in overtime on Grant Potulny’s power-play goal.
“You play to the end, that’s the bottom line. There’s some crazy finishes. … You’ve gotta have belief to the very end,’’ Lucia said. “Sometimes you need a little luck and somebody on the opposing team to make a mistake. That’s what sports is – a game of opportunity and a game of mistakes.’’
Lucia will be rooting for the Vikings again on Sunday, when they play the Eagles in Philadelphia for a spot in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“It would be great, especially for all the Vikings die-hards, and I’m one of them,’’ he said. “I lived through the ’70s. I still remember crying on my coach when they lost to the Kansas City Chiefs [in Super Bowl IV].’’
Novak cleared to play
Lucia said forward Tommy Novak, who is tied for second on the team with 18 points, has been cleared to play, but the coach hasn’t decided yet if the junior will play in Thursday’s series opener at Michigan State.
“He’s feeling better every day,’’ Lucia said of Novak, who has an upper-body injury. “… Now the question is, is he ready to play?’’
The Gophers conclude the series against the Spartans on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden in New York as part of the Big Ten Super Saturday Doubleheader. The Gophers men’s basketball team plays Ohio State on Saturday afternoon in the historic arena.