Gophers coach Don Lucia was on 1500ESPN, the new radio station for Gophers hockey this season, last Friday. And he dropped a little news the morning of his team's season opener against Sacred Heart.
He said he signed a three-year contract extension. His present contract goes through this season.
"I did my portion [Oct. 6]," Lucia said. "All it needs is a few signatures now."
Presumably two would be the names of AD Joel Maturi and U of M president Eric Kaler. It certainly seems strange in hindsight that Maturi, a couple days after the Gophers' season ended last March in the first round of the WCHA playoffs, came out publicly supporting Lucia and saying his hockey coach would be back.
That was like waving the proverbial red flag in front of a full. His remarks touched off a lot of unnecessary protests on blogs and twitter.
Why not let things calm down a bit? Especially if the signing process is going to drag out for seven months -- like it has -- after Maturi's vote of confidence.
"I am excited and I am appreciative," Lucia said. "I think they will see good results in the near future."
The Gophers have not advanced to the NCAA tournament the past three seasons. What makes that even more painful is that the U of M has hosted two regionals and, this past spring, the Frozen Four. One regional was at Mariucci Arena, the other regional and the Frozen Four at the Xcel Energy Center.
COMPETITION GETS TOUGHER
"It didn't matter who we played this past weekend," Lucia said on Wednesday at the team's weekly media day. "Now we are going to go on the road. We are going to play on a smaller sheet, so it is going to be a different ballgame."
The Gophers opened the season by sweeping Sacred Heart 9-0 and 6-0 at Mariucci Arena. This weekend they play at UMD, the defending NCAA champion.
"The last few years we had great games with UMD," Lucia said. "They all seem to be one-goal games [that] can go either way."
Here are the scores from 2010-11:
Dec. 10, Gophers 3, UMD 2
Dec. 12, Gophers 2, UMD 2, ot, tie
Feb. 4, Gophers 2, UMD 2, ot, tie
Feb. 5, UMD 6, Gophers 4
"Last year we were 1-1-2," Lucia said. "I thought we played pretty well at Amsoil [Arena] last year. But it is going to be a whole new experience for our kids. And we have a lot of young guys. We don't have a lot of juniors and seniors we can rely on when things get difficult. So we are going to have to keep throwing the young guys over the boards. They will get some experience and we will see how they react in a difficult environment."
Lucia said the Gophers will be a work in progress in a very good league.
"Look at Bemidji [State]," he said. "[They] went down to Miami, the preseason top team [and split]. UMD just split with Notre Dame, which is another top team. Our league is going to be very good. It doesn't matter who you play. You have to play well, you have to play smart to give yourself a chance. And that is what makes the league fun. It makes it fun for the players and the fans
"We also have to look at this weekend as our first round trip. We have to look at it as we are going to do some good things and we are going to do some things that aren't very good. That's the teaching part and that is the improvement we have to see. We are only in the second week of practice right now."
Lucia said UMD has nine of the 12 forwards back who played in the NCAA championship game last April as well as "three of their D, their goaltender.
"So they have a great nucleus of players they have won with and [who] know how to win. That will be a great challenge for us."
The Gophers have been practicing this week at Ridder Arena, which has a smaller ice sheet than Mariucci Arena and is similar to the rink at Amsoil.