Gophers coach Don Lucia was about to take a nap last Friday afternoon in Denver when his phone rang in his hotel room.
It was Chuck Fletcher, the general manager of the Minnesota Wild. He called him to inform Lucia about the Wild trading Nick Leddy, the Gophers' freshman defenseman, to Chicago in a three-player deal.
"I really appreciated the call," Lucia said. "He told me, they throught [Kim] Johnsson -- they didn't want him to go for nothing. Get a player that could help them right now. They think Nick is going to be a really good player and they are happy with what has transpired during the course of the season.
"But that's the business side of hockey. They didn't wnt [to trade] him, but Chicago insisted. So it was probably a trade that made sense for both sides."
The Wild obtained Cam Barker, a young NHL veteran defenseman.
"That's the business side. I told [Nick] Keith Ballard got traded twice before he ever left our program over the course of three years," Lucia said. "Usually when these deals get made at this time of the year by the trade deadline, if you are getting a player you have to package the future. So you got to package a player you drafted."
The Wild took Leddy with the 16th pick in the first round of the 2009 NHL draft.
"If you look at the Wild, it seems that their best prospects are defensemen, and that's the guy Chicago wants," Lucia said. "Nick took it really well. As a matter of fact, I thought he was outstanding. I was worried how he would play on Friday, knowing that [trade] had transpired. I thought he might have been our best [player] -- s as good a game as he has played all season long on Friday night. That's how he has responded."
It hasn't been an easy season for Leddy, Lucia admitted. He broke his jaw in the third series of the season against Alaska Anchorage and missed a month. "He has really come on and [is] starting to assert himself more in games,," Lucia said. "That is what we are starting to see more with him the second half of the season.
"He took it really well and, like he said, it might even be better for him. You go away some day and, when you start your professional career, you don't have that added pressure of being a hometown kid."
THOMPSON'S QUOTES UPSET LUCIA
The day after Leddy was traded a story in the Star Tribune quoted Tom Thompson, the Wild's assistant general manager/player personnel, as saying he was disappointed watching the Gophers play in a 4-3 loss at St. Cloud State. He said the team lacked passion.
Lucia said old quotes from Thompson were used for the story, making it seem one reason the Wild traded Leddy was their unhappiness with player development at the U.
"He seen our team play one time so far this year and actually the game he was talking about, I thought we played pretty well," Lucia said. "We had 40-some shots on goal up at St. Cloud. Should he have made some of those comments? Probably not.
"Did it have any reflection as fas as where he thought Nick was at and why they traded him? It had absolutely nothing to do with it," Lucia said. "We are pretty proud of the fact that we had 20 players play in the National Hockey League. We are pretty proud of the fact that we have 11 right now on [NHL] rosters, more than any other team in the WCHA since I have been here.
"The perception that kids are not developing or all that, it's simply not true. There is a reason why we had three kids named to the Olympic team," Lucia said. "I think we have a pretty good track record of that. I thnk Tommy is actually in Sweden so he wasn't aware of the article."
LUCIA HIGH ON CC GOALIE
Lucia said Joe Howe, the freshman goalie from Wayzata High School, has played well for Colorado College. He stepped in to replace Richard Bachman, the starter the past two seasons who signed with the Dallas Stars.
"The burden has fallen on [Howe's] shoulders. He has played well," Lucia said. "They got a good team. They've got a good defensive corps in front of him. But he has had a really good year. He is a great kid, comes from a great family.
"I'm happy he has done as well as he has. I just hope he doesn't have a great weekend this week."
Lucia said the Gophers tried recruiting Howe but .. "The cycle with how goaltenders are. He was going to go to college and we have two goalies on scholarship this year."
Lucia actually played with Howe's father, Dick, in college at Notre Dame. "My freshman year at Notre Dame, [Dick] was the senior captain," Lucia said. "He was actually my defense partner for a lot of that year.
"We knew his kid was going to be a good goaltender. Like I said we would have liked to -- the cycle of goaltenders didn't work for us. But he is a quality and I'm really happy he is doing as well as he is."
WACKY SCHEDULE A PROBLEM
This season Gophers fans have had to check their pocket schedules more than usual. Dates and times for home games have often been different than usual. There have been a few Sunday games, even a Friday-Sunday split series over Halloween weekend.
This weekend, the game times are on. Friday's game will start at 6 p.m., despite the WCCO-radio promo I heard for the pregame show starting at 6:30 p.m. Tune in then and it will be near the end of the first period.
Saturday's game is 3 p.m. because of time change in Gophers men's basketball, forced by TV. The Gophers vs. Indiana game at Williams Arena was recently moved from afternoon to 7 p.m. on Saturday.
"It's less than ideal, let's put it that way," Lucia said. "It has been kind of a messed up schedule this year. Like this weekend -- the Big Ten Network comes in two weeks [ago] and changes the basketball game time.
" CC didn't want to play on Sunday. We really didn't want to play on Sunday, so we were forced to play Saturday afternoon and that's why we are moving up the game an hour early on Friday. I know that when we have talked for the future that if the Big Ten [Network] is going to have this flexed scheduling at the end February that all we have to do is say. Like next year we have two Saturday [home] games in February, Friday-Saturday series. All we have to do is tell the Big Ten we can't have a home basketball game that Saturday and play on Thursday or play on Sunday. So in the future, it is not going to be so messed up.
"Same thing with football with the new stadium. In the future, if we have a home football game, we are going to be on the road those wekeends. When we look at next year's schedule, I think every [home] weekend will be a Friday-Saturday series, the way it should be.
"Because in hockey our fans and the players are so attunded to playing Friday and Saturday night. The afternoon games, the atmosphere is just not the same. It was a messed up deal with the Wisconsin weekend [[March 5 and 7] because [of] making a mistake with our building."
The Gopehrs, for the last regular-season series of the season, will play the Badgers at Target Center on Friday, then return to Mariucci for a 1 p.m. Sunday matinee. Why? Mariucci is booked that week through Saturday for the national synchronized skating championships.
HOME STILL SWEET DESPITE RECORD
The Gophers have struggled at Mariucci Arena, going 7-8-1 with three games left. Even so, Lucia said he would still rather play at home in the first round of the WCHA playoffs rather than go on the road.
Minnesota is tied for seventh in the WCHA standings, and only the top five teams host playoff games.
"All things being equal, we would much rather be at home," Lucia said. "We have had to go on the road a couple times and have been able to win those series. Every year somebody on the road seems to be able to win that first round. We got six games to go. We just want to see what we can do in the last six games before we get ready for the playoffs."
Two years ago, the Gophers beat Minnesota State in Mankato in a three-game playoff series during which each game went into overtime. Last season UMD went to Colorado College and won the there and won the Final Five, too.
Lucia said he wants a roster of 28 players next season, including several walk-ons.
"It just seems the last few years we have been nicked by injuries," Lucia said. "Guys are gone for extended periods of time. It is not like the guy is out for two weeks, we are losing guys for the year. We want to have more players for practice."
The Gophers will lose five seniors to graduation after this season. Sophomore defenseman Sam Lofquist left early this season, so that's a sixth roster spot. And sophomore Jordan Schroeder is expected to leave early for the pros.
That's seven open roster spots. Let's add one more, in case somebody else despites to bolt early for the pros or out of unhappiness. That's eight. But the roster this season had only 26 players and Lucia has said he wants 28.
So it appears Lucia will be bringing in at least 10 freshmen, a huge class in what will be a make or break year for Lucia after three subpar seasons and with his contract expiring after 2011-12.
Sure incoming recruits:
F Erik Haula, Omaha, USHL
F Seth Ambroz, Omaha, USHL
F Nate Condon, Fargo, USHL
D Nate Schmidt, Fargo, USHL
F Nick Bjugstad, Blaine High School
F Jared Larson, Fairbanks Ice Dogs, NAHL
G Joel Vienneau, Kingston, OJAHL
That's seven players. Still need at least one or two more defensemen, probably one more forward. There's lot of possibilites. Gophers have committed high school and junior players to sift through, including defenseman Mark Alt of Cretin-Derham Hall. He is looking at football offers as well. Has size U lacking on blue line.