Roman Augustoviz spends Minnesota's winters covering college hockey, specifically the Gophers, and other University of Minnesota sports. During the summer, he writes about the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, with a dose of U sports sprinkled in. Follow him on Twitter @RomanStrib.

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'Blame me,' Lucia tells fans upset with Gophers' early NCAA exit

Posted by: Roman Augustoviz under Gophers, Men's hockey, Gophers roster moves Updated: April 2, 2013 - 8:46 AM

Gophers coach Don Lucia always says he understands that passionate fans sometimes get upset  when his team loses.

If you read the message boards or the comments on recent stories in the Star Tribune on the Gophers, some are upset now.

"Don't blame the players, if you want to blame somebody. blame me," Lucia said on his final Monday radio show of the season. "That goes with the territory.

"You still have to look at the big picture and what the kids accomplished. ... It was a pretty good run for our guys."

And now it's over for some of them.

"Obviously, we will miss Seth Helgeson," Lucia said.

Helgy was the lone senior on the team this season. A big defensive defenseman. He was part of a class of four, including Zach Budish who had a medical redshirt year and is considered a junior now eligibility-wise.

But Helgy won't be the only Gopher leaving. Some will turn pro early, before their college eligibility is up.

"Now we have to wait to see what happens," Lucia said. "Some kids will make decisions over next week or so."

Lucia talks to all of his players after the season ends. And those who want to leave, he won't try to persuade them otherwise.

"We can't talk kids into staying, and we shouldn't," he said. 

Lucia said he wants his players to have both feet in the program, not one foot out the door.

"And the last few years, the guys that stayed had both feet in," Lucia said.

Lucia said he also plans to watch a few USHL games soon to see how the players the Gophers recruited -- some of whom signed last November -- are looking.

"We will have a  little injection of offense with some incoming freshman forwards, which I think we will need," Lucia said.

The Gophers  needed some extra offense this season, too, as it turned out.

Freshman Connor Reilly, the Gophers most exciting offensive prospect coming into the season, didn't play a game. He suffered a preseason injury (torn ACL) at a team party and needed surgery.

He has started to skate with the team the last month. "He will be fine next year," Lucia said.

But he expects there won't be a next year for several of his top junior forwards.

After Friday's 3-2 overtime loss to Yale, team captain Budish said he will be back next season. But Lucia is not even sure about Budish, a redshirt junior who has been at the U of M for four years.

"Zach graduates this spring," Lucia said. "Nashville does want to sign him. It would be great if he comes back [as a grad student], but we understand if he doesn't. ... We will lose some good players, good kids."

The Predators drafted Budish several years ago.

The big risks of going early are Nick Bjugstad, who went well into the summer a year ago before deciding not to sign with the Florida Panthers. The NHL lockout was looming at the time. There is no such threat this year.

Erik Haula, the Gophers leading scorer with a career-high 51 points,  is a Wild prospect and the team has seen him play a lot.

"Honestly, Bjugstad, Haula and Budish up front are  juniors who have had good years, and [NHL] teams want them," Lucia said.   "And [defensman] Nate Schmidt, being a free agent, people are knocking on his door."

THE NEXT WAVE

Expected to replace those forwards will be players like Taylor Cammarata and Justin Kloos of the Waterloo Black Hawks.

Cammarata. of Plymouth, is only 5-7, 156 but he has made a big impact on the USHL this season. In 53 games, he has 34 goals and 48 assists for a league-leading 82 points. He is a plus-32.

He has 24 points on power plays, including 10 goals, and has five game-winning goals.

This is Cammarata's second full season in the USHL. He turns 18 on May 13.

Only five points behind him, in second in USHL scoring, is Kloos. He finished high school at Lakeville South before playing in the USHL.

In his first full season of junior hockey, Kloos has 26 goals and 51 assists for 71 points. He is a plus-27 and has 28 points, including 10 goals on the power play.

Kloos is a litlte bigger, 5-9, 170, and older, at 19,  than Cammarata.

Their team is in fourth place in the Western Conference of the USHL, still fighting for a playoff spot with two weeks and six games, four on the road, left in the regular season.

Waterloo is 33-21-4 (four overtime losses) this season, which adds up to 70 points. The Black Hawks are the highest scoring team in the USHL with 242 goals, but have given up 203, the third most in their conference.

Gabe Guertler, of Plantation, Fla., is another USHL forward that Lucia expects to be on the Gophers' roster next season.

He is about Kloos' size, 5-9, 178, and turns 18 on May 3. He has 31 goals and 20 assists for 50 points for Fargo in 58 games.

He is a plus-22, and has five shorthanded goals and seven on power plays. His goal total jumped from nine last season at Fargo to 31 this season.

A recent story on Guertler is here.

Then there isHudson  Fasching, of Apple Valley. He is a fourth forward who will join the Gophers next season. He plays for the the U.S. national development team in Ann Arbor, Mich. He has 11 goals and 18 assists for 29 points in 57 games.

He has size. Fasching, who is 18, is 6-2, 214.

Lucia also mentioned Vinnie Letteiri as another possible forward next season. Lettieri is a scorer, too. He has 22 goals and 28 assists for 50 points in 57 games for Lincoln. He and Guertler are tied for 25th in USHL scoring.

Letteiri, who played high school hockey for Minnetonka, is a grandson of Lou Nanne's. He is 5-8, 170 and 18 years old.

So the Gophers will get younger and smaller up front.

But Lucia is optimistic. "Those guys will be able to bring it ... And four or five of them will come in," he said.

The Gophers will also bring in one defenseman for sure, Lucia said, and move junior Justin Holl back to that position, his normal position. He has played forward a lot this season.

THE DON SAYS

* On the Big Ten Conference: "It is going to be a little different. Going into a new conference, you don't have great feel for your opponents." The Gophers did sweep a series from Michigan State this season and played Wisconsin four times. The other three teams in the new conference will be Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State.

* On how to increase scoring in college hockey: "If you saw the Yale game, there were 25 blocked shots. ... I don't think it would hurt to make the goals a little bigger." He suggested putting the pipes on the outside of the present pipes. "[So] every time it hits the pipes now, [the puck] is in the net."

 MOTZKO: NEUTRAL REGIONALS TOO COSTLY

St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko does not want NCAA regionals to return to campuses -- at least not quite yet.

Regionals at neutral sites have not drawn well,  Motzko said, but that is because tickets are over-priced.

He wants the NCAA to try regionals his way at least once. Cut ticket prices for everybody, Motzko said, then let youth in for $5. Give each school 250 tickets for students, then bus them in for more atmosphere.

"We were a fourth seed [in Toledo, Ohio]," Motzko said. "It wold have been very difficult for us to win at Notre Dame."

The Irish were the No. 1 seed and, under a plan being suggest by many, would have hosted the regional if the NCAA had gone back this year to campus sites.

ETC.

* The Huskies leave for Pittsburgh, the site of the Frozen Four, on Tuesday of next week.

* Motzko is currently batlting a cold. And Motzko on SCSU going to Frozen Four: "There is nothing like the first time."

 


 

 

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