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.
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.
Mike Guentzel was away from the Twin Cities much of the time the past three years, coaching hockey in three different states. But his family never left.
His wife Sally and youngest son Jake stayed behind when Mike's 14-year coaching career at the U of M seemingly ended in the spring of 2008.
But with Guentzel seemingly settled at Nebraska Omaha for a while, he put his house up for sale. Sally and Jake, who will be a junior on Hill-Murray's hockey team this fall, had planned to lived in a rented home this next school year.
The Guentzels' home sold on July 8.
Now everything is different, of course. Mike is coming home.
The week of the NHL draft, which was June 24, 25, Gophers coach Don Lucia called UNO and asked for permission to talk with Guentzel about returning to the U of M.
Guentzel had played for the Gophers and been on the team's coaching staff for five season under Doug Woog and nine under Lucia.
Guentzel comes back as the staff's clear No. 2 man. He even has the title, associate head coach. Grant Potulny is the second full-time coach under Lucia, but this will be only Potulny's third season on the bench.
"It will be a mentoring situation with Grant," Guentzel said. "I can work with him, develop him to better himself. I looked up to Doug Woog and Kevin Hartzell."
Guentzel began his coaching career in 1986 as an assistant under Hartzell with the old St. Paul Vulcans of the USHL.
* Lucia'statement on Guentzel's hiring: “I wanted to hire a Minnesota alumnus, someone who could work with the defensemen, and someone familiar with the WCHA. Mike has all the qualities I was looking for and it was an easy decision. Mike knows the league, Gopher Hockey, and also has a tremendous relationship with Grant Potulny and Justin Johnson [the volunteer goalie coach]. He is also energized and excited to be a part of the transition to the Big Ten.”
* Guentzel's two older sons have played college hockey. Ryan was a senior forward for Notre Dame last season and will play in Europe this winter. Gabe will be a senior defenseman for Colorado College this season.
Jake is a college prospect, too. Last season as a sophomore for the Pioneers, he had 19 goals and 30 assists for 49 points in 28 games. He recently was at a select 17 development camp in Rochester, N.Y. His dad traveled there to watch.
* Only one Minnesota player at that camp made the U.S. team which will play in the under 18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament from Aug. 8-13 in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
That state player is forward Louie Nanne of Edina High School. His grandfather, Lou, is the former Minnesota North Stars player and general manager.
Defenseman Teddy Doherty of Shattuck-St. Mary's also made the U.S. But like many Shattuck players, he is not a Minnesotan. His hometown is Hopkinton, Mass.
So Hill is gone. He looks very much like a scapegoat for the the Gopher program's recent struggles.
Was he fired? Resigned? Release doesn't say.
Does he have another job? Again, who knows. If he doesn't late June isn't the best time for a hockey coach to be searching for a job. The first practice for the Gophers and most college teams, I suspect, is Oct. 1. How many unfilled openings are there?
According to a source close to one of the parties involved, university officials are talking to ex-Gophers coach Mike Guentzel about returning.
He left in April 2008, resigned supposedly, because he wanted to be a head coach. Actually, he was fired to create a spot for Omaha Lancers coach Mike Hastings who stayed one season. Hastings was replaced by Grant Potulny, an ex-Gophers player with limited coaching experience.
Guentzel has wandered far and wide in the three years he has been gone. There was one season as a Colorado College assistant, his son Gabe is a Tigers defenseman, one season as head coach and general manager of the Des Moines Bucs of the USHL and one season as a Nebraska Omaha assistant.
But his wife and youngest son never left the Twin Cities. Jake was a sophomore forward this past season for Hill-Murray. He had 19 goals and 30 assists for 49 points in 28 games.
Guentzel probably welcomes the chance to return to the Gophers. Most likely with a better contract than he has before and maybe a title, associate head coach. And the chance to be the clear No. 2 man on the staff.
He has some leverage in the negotiations because he already has a WCHA job, with a program at UNO that seems to be on the rise.
Still, the guess here is he will back on the Gophers' bench this season. And the Gophers defensemen will be better because of his return.
UMD men's hockey coach Scott Sandelin has to be a happy man today.
Sandelin, 46. has signed a five-year contract extension though 2016-17 paying him a base salary of $235,000 -- $65,000 more than he received this past season.
The Bulldogs, of course, beat Michigan 3-2 in OT in the title game of the Frozen Four last month.
Sandy, his nickname, had one year left on his contract. His overall record at UMD is not impressive, 192-200-46, but the Bulldogs have been 71-40-15 the past three seasons with forwards Jack and Mike Connolly and Justin Fontaine.
Only Jack Connolly returns for the 2011-12 season.
"We are very pleased with the leadership Scott has provided to our men's hockey program and are encouraged about what lies ahead for the Bulldogs," said Bob Nielson, UMD's athletic director. "He's continually demonstrated the ability to bring in top quality student-athletes -- young men who excel both on the ice and in the classroom. The extension represents a commitment to him and to UMD hockey."
The 2011-12 Bullogs will have 16 returning lettermen, including three of the top five scorers and both goalies from a team which finished 26-10-6 overall, 15-8-5 in the WCHA.
"I'm excited about the future of this hockey program and on building on what we've done," Sandelin said. "It's a great time to be here."
Lucia watch: There's another WCHA coach with one year left on his contract negotiating for an extension. That is the Gophers' Don Lucia. He said recently he anticipates signing an extension sometime this summer. He expects no problems in reaching an agreement with the U.
Gophers AD Joel Maturi has said repeatedly he wants Lucia back despite some pressure from Gophers fans who are unhappy with the team's struggles the past four seasons. The U has finished seventh, fifth, seventh and fifth in the WCHA those years and has missed the NCAA tournament three consecutive years.
Kyle Schmidt scored 3:22 into overtime to give UMD its first national title, a 3-2 overtime victory over Michigan at Xcel Energy Center tonight.
The Bulldogs outshot Michigan 37-24 and had nine power plays, scoring on one.
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