Gophers coach Don Lucia said facilities are just as important in hockey as they are in other sports, citing Denver and Boston University as proof. Both schools won national titles, he said on his weekly radio show on Monday, after new arenas were built.
"The Kohl Center certainly helped Wisconsin's program," Lucia said. "Now they are building a new practice facility and women's hockey arena that is attached to the Kohl Center. They are going to have that to be able to practice in when the basketball teams play.
"Kids want to see what you have. And they are going to compare it from one school to the next. You want to be able to have kids come in and look through your arena and have a little bit of that of that 'wow' factor.
"Mariucci was built in 1993, it was probably the top facility in college hockey [then]."
About 12 new facilities or more have been build since that time, Lucia said, suggesting Mariucci, approaching its 20th birthday, isn't the best arena anymore. Just last Saturday, Lucia went to a game at Notre Dame's new arena.
"Kids go on a recruiting visit, and you know what, facilities are extremely important," Lucia said. "Let's face it, for a lot of the kids, [the facility] is probably more important than anything you will see academically on the visit. The sport they play in, for them at that age, is the biggest reason why they are going to go to a school."
Asked about his wish list for Mariucci, Lucia suggested these improvements:
* renovate the downstairs for the players
* upgrade the weightroom
* modernize the coaches' offices ... "I think we have the same carpet in our offices from 1993 when Mariucci opened"
* replace the scoreboard with "an HD scoreboard that we can do so many things in-game to make it better for our fans, to show replays and hype up the crowd a little bit. That is a really must thing"
* improve the sound system ... "so you can hear a little bit better"
"So there is definitely things we can use, like every sport could use," Lucia said. "Hopefully, we can reinvest especially with the upcoming time when we are going do priority seating within the arena to make more money.
"I think the fans would have less complaints about [priority seating] if they know it [the additional money] was being re-invested in the hockey program."
DU MAYBE WCHA'S BEST TEAM
Lucia said the Denver Pioneers, the team his Gophers play this weekend, may have the most talent in the league.
"[But] they have been hit by a lot of injuries this year," Lucia said. "Their goaltender [Sam] Brittain got hurt in the last game last year. [He] had an absolutely phenomenal freshman season, had knee surgery, now he is back playing.
"He has played the previous two weekends, the front game of the series. At some point, he is going to take over and be playing every night, whether that is this weekend or another week or two down the line, remains to be seen."
Brittain is 1-1-0 with a 2.02 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage.
"They have had some other players out with injuries," Lucia said. "They are getting as healthy as they have been in a while.
"I am not sure of Beau Bennett's status, if he is back. Makowski, one of their defensemen, he has been hurt, he is close to getting back. They got Ryder back last weekend for the first time."
Bennett, a sophomore forward who was a first-round draft pick of Pittsburgh in 2010, had wrist surgery on Dec. 9 and was supposed to be out six to eight weeks. It will be nine weeks since his surgery this Friday.
Makowski is one of DU's top blue line players. Ryder, another defenseman, was out with a knee injury.
"But I like their team," Lucia said. "They are deep, they are talented, they can skate, they are very good in their own arena. And so it will be a great test for us to see if we can continue to have success on the road and get points on the road because that is going to be critical."
Denver is 9-4-2 at home this season, 6-5-2 away.
"We are up by six" points over fourth-place Denver in the WCHA race, Lucia said. "If we can get some points this weekend and keep that distance that would be great for us."
Lucia said Denver's program has been strong the last decade or so partly because of Magness Arena, which opened for the 1999-2000 season.
"Coincided with that new facility, they won a couple of national titles," Lucia said. "And they have great history, great tradition at Denver University. It is a nice, small school sitting in Denver, Colorado. They have had a great pipeline over the years to western Canada and some non-traditional areas as well.
"They have been able to tap the California market, the St. Louis market. They get the odd Minnesota kid here and there. They do a good job of recruiting and they have been very stable with their staff over a number of years. But that new facility, more than anything else really jump-started them over the past 10 years."
DU is 15-9-4 overall this season, 10-6-4 in the WCHA. The Pioneers were on a five-game winning streak until a loss and a tie with archrival Colorado College last weekend. They are 8-2 in their past 10 games with the Gophers.
* On Denver defenseman Joey LaLeggia, who has 10 goals and 19 assists for 29 points to lead all NCAA freshman in scoring: "He had a great year last year out at Penticton [of the BCHL]. He had about 80 points last year. He is very good on the power play. He is a very offensive defenseman.
"[Gophers recruit] Michael Reilly is playing at Penticton and putting up the same numbers. So I think you will see him come in and be a similar-type player for us" next season.
Reilly is also a defenseman for Penticton, a team with eight Minnesotans including his two older brothers, forwards Connor and Ryan, also Gophers recruits coming in next season. The Reillys have helped the Vees have an incredible season so far. They will try to win their 30th consecutive game -- which would break a BCHL record -- on Tuesday at Chilliwack.
* On DU forward Jason Zucker, the Wild prospect: "He is the type of kid that draws fans out of their seats. Because of his speed, No. 1. He can really go. He is probably as fast a player as there is in college hockey. He can shoot it. He has a very hard shot. He is very competitive. He has played three years on the [U.S.] World Junior team. He made it as a 17-year-old, that shows his talent level. He is a very dynamic player."
* On Denver's power play: "[It] leads our league and they put their top-end guys out there."