Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Posts about Gophers coaches

Lucia on Gophers injuries, goalie situation; lockout update

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: October 24, 2012 - 2:50 PM

The Gophers held media availability this afternoon and are currently on the ice practicing in preparation for Friday’s exhibition game against the U.S. Under-18 National Team and Sunday’s 1 p.m. game against Canisius of the Atlantic Hockey Association.

Former Gophers national champions Keith Ballard and Paul Martin are around town because they’ve been locked out of their NHL teams. Good thing, too, because the Gophers are suddenly banged up on the blue line. Ballard practiced yesterday; Martin today.
Coach Don Lucia said freshman Brady Skjei is out for the weekend because he is banged up. Lucia said he should be fine to practice by early next week. Junior defenseman Mark Alt is also dinged up. He definitely will be held out Friday and is questionable for Sunday. If unable to play this weekend, Lucia said next weekend vs. Minnesota State is a likelihood.
That means, I’m assuming, that Justin Holl and Jake Parenteau, who have played some forward this season, will play the blue line at least Friday. Lucia did say that barring injuries this weekend, they are leaning toward redshirting sophomore defenseman Blake Thompson.
Also, Kyle Rau has an ankle injury. He won’t play Friday, but Lucia said he is probable for Sunday.
The Under-18 team, (1-4-1 against college teams) which plays at St. Thomas University at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, boasts Hudson Fasching, who has committed to the Gophers, and promoted for the game because of injuries is Vinni Lettieri, the son of Tino Lettieri (Minnesota Kicks and Strikers) and grandson of Lou Nanne, and Connor Hurley. Lettieri has committed to the Gophers, and Hurley is a Gophers recruit. Karson Kuhlman, who hails from Cloquet, is also on his way up.
Thatcher Demko will be starting in net against Minnesota on Friday. Hunter Miska, the son of well-known goalie maskmaker Todd Miska, will be playing against St. Thomas on Saturday. Demko shut out Oswego (fun to say out loud) on Saturday.
Here’s Lucia on a number of subjects:
How do you get ‘up’ for a weekend like this after playing their first road series and first conference series? “There’s still a lot to play for. We’re going to play some guys that haven’t played on Friday night for awhile. They’re going to get their opportunity, and it’s a big opportunity for them because if they don’t show well, they might not get in. … We have our exhibition on Friday and the game counts on Sunday. People say, ‘Well, who’s Canisius?’ You look at their scores, they’ve played four road games so far and tied Alaska, which beat North Dakota this past weekend. They lost to Anchorage, 3-0, and Western Michigan was 2-1, [3-0], and at Western Michigan, who won the CCHA playoff title a year ago. So, they’ll be a good test for us.”
Why have they been so good defensively? “Their goaltending numbers are really good, and I think that’s where it starts (Tony Capobiano and Inver Grove Heights’ Keegan Asmundson). And the one thing you’ve seen is how much that league has improved over the year. We’ve already seen RIT go into Michigan and win. Usually the teams in that league keep their kids for four years, they’re older – a lot of 22-, 23-year-olds – and they’ve played a lot of junior hockey, so they’re seasoned. They’re looking forward to our trip. They’re going to fly in Saturday, go to the football game and play us Sunday and go home, so it’s a great trip for them.”
Winning 600th game? “The talk of 600, you go down memory lane a little bit and you think back to how you did get started and how fun it was. Not many coaches had to run the first half of practice, take off their skates, drive the Zamboni, put their skates back on and run the second half of practice (Alaska-Fairbanks). But those are the things that kind of make it all worthwhile. Obviously you hope to rise up through the ranks. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve had great timing and walked into some good situations. I’ve had a chance to experience it all pretty much at every level and I think that’s what makes it enjoyable, too. You get highs, you get lows, you get the great wins, the devastating losses.”
Most satisfaction? “Just hearing from some of my former players, I think that’s what makes it the most enjoyable. From kids I coached in Alaska, to Colorado College, to here, when you get a little email or a little text from somebody, you hope when it’s all said and done that you’ve had a positive impact on their life and that you help them along the way. Sometimes when you’re coaching kids they don’t quite understand that because maybe they think you’re too tough on them. Then when they get done playing and they look back maybe seven, eight, 10 years later, they grow to appreciate things a little bit more.”
Lucia talked about his great relationship with the late Lefty Smith, his coach when he played defense at Notre Dame.
On the Under-18 team, Lucia is not allowed to talk about any of those players publicly, especially Fasching, Lettieri and Hurley. It’s against NCAA rules.
But generally on getting to see players who may one day play at the U, Lucia said, “There’s no question the U.S. team has got some real high-end talent. They’ve got some guys that are probably going to be first-round draft choices, they’ve played their college teams very strong so far this year, outshooting most of who they’ve played. So, it’s an exhibition, it doesn’t count, but obviously we’re playing to win. We don’t have a lot of extra guys right now, so we’ll probably play 21 players in the game. [Michael] Shibrowski is going to play Friday and [Adam] Wilcox will go Sunday. We’ll keep with the rotation we’ve done all season long. Then after this weekend we’ll sit back and evaluate which direction we want to go.”
Where do you see the goalie situation now after Shibrowski was pulled at Michigan Tech? “They’ve both played well here. Obviously Wilcox outplayed Mike last weekend. So now we’re back home, and we’ll wait and evaluate how they do this weekend.”
Would you lay off your recruits? “No, it’s game on. I don’t think it’s going to be as physical like league action. But hey, it’s a real game. I’m sure their guys are going to be excited to play here, [especially] the couple Minnesota kids that will be playing and the couple kids that aren’t on the team that are from Minnesota that are going to be playing that they’ve brought in because of the injury situation that they do have. I’m sure it’ll be a thrill for those kids, some of who we’re recruiting.” 
In lockout news, at the news conference today to announce the Islanders will move to Brooklyn in 2015, Commissioner Gary Bettman addressed why the league is unwilling to meet with the union and how negotiations will become a lot more difficult after Thursday.
Here is the report from Devils beat writer Tom Gulitti, who was on the scene.

Gophers' Lucia on polls, goalie situation, taking Budish off Bjugstad-Rau line

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: October 10, 2012 - 2:53 PM

The Gophers open the season against Wild prospect and former Shattuck-St. Mary’s star defenseman John Draeger and the Michigan State Spartans this Friday (6 p.m.) and Saturday (8 p.m.).

The Gophers are 101-44-13 all-time against the Spartans, although they’re just 4-4-5 since 2000-01. They were 0-1-1 in East Lansing last season.
Check out Thursday's paper for a feature on Nick Bjugstad.
The Gophers held media access this afternoon, and veteran coach Don Lucia, in search of career win Nos. 598 and 599 this weekend, addressed a few subjects:
On this weekend’s lineup: “We’ll do a lot of experimenting this weekend and probably try to play quite a few guys from Friday to Saturday night before we go to Michigan Tech the next weekend and we’re limited to who we can take. Both goalies will play this weekend, and this is the first weekend we can start to find out more about our team.”
Do you expect to rotate goalies Michael Shibrowski and Adam Wilcox the first couple weeks? “At least that’s the plan right now. You look at October with this weekend, going to Houghton and then I think we have the U.S. [Under-18 Team] and Canisius, I think if you asked me today, more than likely we’d probably split the first three weekends and then head into November and see where we’re at. But I think it’s important to see your goaltenders at home, it’s important to see how they react on the road and then if they both play well, they’ll continue to play. I’ve had teams where we’ve rotated goalies all season long – I mean, right to the end – and I’ve had other years like last year where the goalie played every night. We’ll have to wait and see how that plays itself out.”
Do you look at Zach Budish playing with Erik Haula this year as opposed to last year when he played with Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau, and if so, how’d you come to that decision? “We looked at it as Erik’s a good player, too, and sometimes Erik gets kind of forgotten. Everybody talks about Nick, but Erik did lead our team in scoring a year ago. When we looked at our team this year and who we felt the top four forwards were, we felt with Rau and Bjugstad and Haula and Budish. Well, if we can do it, it’d be nice to have two on two different lines rather than three on one. We could move [Nate] Condon up, but I liked the way Condon and [Travis] Boyd played together at the end of last year. It gives us a lot of comfort if we can spread the guys out a little bit with three lines that we can go into a game and really not worry which line’s out against who. So that’s why we’re trying Christian [Isackson] up there with [Bjugstad and Rau]. Obviously it worked well in that first game [with a hat trick], but he’s a guy that has to step forward and show us that he can play with those two. He’s got the skill. He can make some plays. He has to continue to learn to play at a pace and compete on pucks. He did a nice job of that in Game One, but now he’s got to continue to do that.”
(Lucia said he may continue to juggle things around, but right now, Sam Warning will play with Budish and Haula; Lucia noted that Seth Ambroz played with Haula in junior hockey, so that’s always a possibility, too).
Have you made a decision if you’ll redshirt Blake Thompson? “No, we have not. We don’t have to make a decision yet. We’ve talked to him about that, so it is an option. But it’s an option we don’t have to worry about for a few weeks. We’ll see where we’re at injury-wise, we’ll see where we’re at personnel-wise. Today, I think we feel comfortable with nine or 10 of our forwards in our lineup. Now the question becomes what else do we do with Forward 11 and 12? We got some freshmen, we’ve got Jared Larson, do we move a defenseman up? Those are some things that we’re going to keep experimenting with because I don’t want to have a guy sitting out that could help us even if it’s a defenseman that has to move up.”
On being the preseason No. 1? “Last year we were No. 6 in the league, so what does it really mean? I think they should start taking polls after Thanksgiving when people have actually had a chance to play a game. You don’t see preseason polls in the NHL, ‘Here’s 1 through 30.’ You know, how do you know? Let’s play some games. Some teams are going to get rated higher than they should and others lower than they should because you really don’t know. We’re rated where we are because of how we finished last year – good or bad. But we have to prove it. We haven’t proven anything yet.”
On his health: “I just got my last thing back from the Mayo today that I’m good to go, and everything came back great.”


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