A day after the disappointment of losing to Colorado College in the WCHA Final Five semifinals, Gophers coach Don Lucia got to enjoy a happy moment at Xcel Energy Center when he was introduced as the head coach of the U.S. team that will play in the 2014 World Junior Championships.
Lucia’s appointment was announced at a USA Hockey news conference before the Final Five championship game. His assistants for the world junior tournament, which will begin Dec. 26 and run through Jan. 5 in Malmo, Sweden, include St. Cloud State head coach and former Gophers assistant Bob Motzko.
Lucia said he has long wanted to coach a U.S. team in a major international tournament. Last year, he told USA Hockey that he was interested in the world juniors job. He participated in the evaluation camp for the 2013 team last summer in Lake Placid, N.Y., to get a feel for the process, and he was offered the position in January.
USA Hockey executive Jim Johannson, general manager of the U.S. junior team, said he had spoken to Lucia over the years about being part of the U.S. junior coaching staff. Lucia was chosen, Johannson said, because of his experience in coaching young players on Olympic-size ice in the up-tempo, high-skill style played at the world junior tournament.
“I’m so excited to have this opportunity,’’ Lucia said. “When it was offered, I jumped at it. These are the best players in the world under 20 years old.’’
Lucia said he expects to miss only the two games the Gophers play in their holiday tournament while coaching the U.S. junior team. He said that associate coach Mike Guentzel and assistant coach Grant Potulny will lead the Gophers in his absence and that the university fully supports his participation.
The Gophers will find out Sunday evening where they will play in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Lucia said they will be the No. 2 overall seed and are likely to be assigned to the West Regional in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Friday and Saturday.
The Lutefisk Bowl?
Minnesota’s five Division I hockey teams will play in an annual tournament at Xcel Energy Center beginning next season. The Gophers will be the permanent hosts of the event, with three of the other four programs — St. Cloud State, Minnesota Duluth, Bemidji State and Minnesota State Mankato — participating on a rotating basis over the first four years.
All five programs have been members of the WCHA, but the Gophers will move to the Big Ten next season, while the Huskies and Bulldogs will go to the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference. The tournament will enable them to maintain their rivalries. The first edition will be Jan. 24 and 25, with Bemidji State the idle team. The Gophers will play the Beavers during the regular season.
There will be a contest to name the tournament, which will include two semifinal games, a championship and a consolation game. Gophers associate athletic director Tom McGinnis said details regarding sponsors, a TV contract and a trophy will be finalized in the future.
Though the Gophers led the way, all five schools participated in creating the tournament.
“The impact of the Beanpot hockey tournament in the Boston area is unbelievable, and I think this tournament will be as good, if not better,’’ Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore said. “We’re enhancing the long-standing rivalries our fans have grown to love by inserting them into a tournament setting and putting hardware on the line.”
The WCHA announced it will hold its playoff championship at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 2014 and 2016. The reconfigured 10-team league previously had said the 2015 and 2017 championships will be at Xcel, while the Big Ten will hold its league championships at Xcel in 2014 and 2016.
The Big Ten will partner with the WCHA to do joint marketing for the two league tournaments.