Chip Scoggins: For Don Lucia, WCHA loss is a bearable burden

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 24, 2012 - 1:01 AM

A Final Five loss left fans edgy, but Gophers coach Don Lucia made a point of turning the page and meeting the next challenge unburdened by history.

hide

Pressure, what pressure? Gophers coach Don Lucia was able to share a light moment or two at practice Friday with Boston University coach Jack Parker.

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Don Lucia appeared remarkably at ease this week, especially for a coach whose team unraveled in a third-period collapse against its hated rival just a few days earlier.

The Gophers hockey coach jokingly proposed a "fireside chat" with reporters, and he wasn't exactly breathing fire over his team's meltdown in a 6-3 loss to North Dakota in the Final Five last weekend.

"In what we do," he said, "you better have short memories."

And a thick skin. Lucia knows better than anyone that expectations for his program never change and the microscopic scrutiny isn't accepting of substandard results. The outside perception is that Gophers hockey should never struggle with its inherent advantages, storied tradition and stature within the sport.

Lucia felt that mounting pressure in recent years. If he wasn't on the hot seat with university administrators, he certainly saw his equity from back-to-back national championships evaporate in the minds of many diehard fans who fumed over the Gophers' third consecutive absence from the NCAA tournament last season after qualifying the previous eight years.

That's like Kansas missing the NCAA basketball tournament for three consecutive years. Or Ohio State not qualifying for a bowl game for three seasons in a row. It's unfathomable, and it left you wondering whether Lucia could survive it.

Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi reacted by delivering Lucia a three-year contract extension, an unpopular decision in some circles.

"Criticism of me comes with the job," Maturi wrote in a text message. "I never hesitated offering him an extension."

Though grateful, Lucia realized his new contract would not calm the waters. Only winning can do that.

"Let's face it, there was a lot of heat on Joel when we didn't make it [to the tournament] last year to do something," Lucia said. "But Joel knew me and what we stood for and doing things the right way and that you're going to have a little of this [ups and downs]. We had some. But it's important to get back to where we wanted to go."

That place is here, the NCAA tournament, their first appearance since 2008. Playing in their backyard at Xcel Energy Center, the Gophers must survive Boston University and possibly North Dakota this weekend to make their 20th trip to the Frozen Four.

Lucia admitted this Gophers team -- players and coaches -- felt pressure to get back to this spot. The seniors didn't want to conclude their careers without experiencing the tournament. And despite being armed with a new extension, Lucia couldn't afford to see his team stumble again.

"There's no question that this was an important year going in for our program and that we had to have success this year," Lucia said.

It's been a tough, emotional few years for Lucia. On the ice, his teams have fallen short of expectations. At the same time, he suffered from and overcame a debilitating disease called sarcoidosis, which caused a mass on his brain. Lucia's father died last July, and his granddaughter was born two weeks later. He also made changes to his coaching staff, bringing back Mike Guentzel to replace John Hill.

"That run of emotion that you go through reinforces what is important," he said. "When the year began, you've got to get to the NCAA tournament. But at the same time, I'm just going to do the best job I can. That's all I can do. I don't want the players to feel like the coaches are all stressed out."

Everyone understood the urgency, though. Lucia thought highly of his core of young talent and knew Zach Budish's return from injury would provide a boost. Guentzel's handling of the defense helped the Gophers post a 2.20 goals-against average, the lowest in school history in the modern era (since 1950).

Picked to finish sixth in the WCHA this season, the Gophers won the league title outright, perhaps validating Lucia's belief that he didn't need to overhaul his entire operation because of a few difficult seasons.

"It's been a pretty successful formula over the years," he said. "For a couple of those years, it's not like we fell off the map."

It just felt that way, no matter how close they came to qualifying for the tournament. That's life in a premier program. Every slip feels seismic.

The Gophers are back in the tournament, but Lucia knows his program is judged by more than just getting here. That's a minimum expectation, not the finish line. That bar was established long ago and isn't moving.

"I feel good, [but] it's not about, 'OK we got here. Exhale and breathe, it's over,' " Lucia said. "No, you want to try and take advantage of the weekend."

Chip Scoggins • ascoggins@startribune.com

  • related content

  • UND won't be complacent playing at X

    Saturday March 24, 2012

    North Dakota, the top seed in the West Regional of the NCAA men's hockey tournament, has an 8-1 record at the Xcel Energy Center since the 2009-10 season.

  • NCAA West Regional capsules

    Saturday March 24, 2012

    WEST REGIONAL AT XCEL ENERGY CENTER, ST. PAULTickets: $94 for two-day package; $57 for single-session.No. 4 seed Western Michigan (21-13-6)...

  • Which U hockey team will show up in St. Paul?

    Saturday March 24, 2012

    The Gophers have had their highs and lows this season; they know they can't have any more slip-ups.

  • MEN'S NCAA HOCKEY TOURNAMENT (2) GOPHERS VS. (3) BOSTON U.

    West Regional semifinals: 4 p.m. today • Xcel Energy Center • TV: FSN-Plus (1500-AM)

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Minnesota 16 FINAL
Buffalo 17
Atlanta 7 FINAL
Baltimore 29
Tennessee 17 FINAL
Washington 19
Seattle 26 FINAL
St. Louis 28
Cleveland 6 FINAL
Jacksonville 24
Cincinnati 0 FINAL
Indianapolis 27
Miami 27 FINAL
Chicago 14
New Orleans 23 FINAL
Detroit 24
Carolina 17 FINAL
Green Bay 38
Kansas City 23 FINAL
San Diego 20
Arizona 24 FINAL
Oakland 13
NY Giants 21 FINAL
Dallas 31
San Francisco 17 FINAL
Denver 42
Houston 7:30 PM
Pittsburgh
San Diego 10/23/14 7:25 PM
Denver
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Atlanta
Boston 95 FINAL
Brooklyn 90
Minnesota 112 FINAL
Oklahoma City 94
Golden State 83 FINAL
Houston 90
Charlotte 96 FINAL
Chicago 101
Utah 91 FINAL
LA Lakers 98
Minnesota 1 FINAL
Los Angeles 2
San Jose 0 FINAL
NY Rangers 4
Calgary 4 FINAL
Winnipeg 1
St. Louis 0 FINAL
Anaheim 3
TX-San Antonio 20 FINAL
Louisiana Tech 27
Syracuse 30 FINAL
Wake Forest 7
Purdue 38 FINAL
Minnesota 39
Western Ky 38 FINAL
Fla Atlantic 45
(12) Baylor 27 FINAL
(22) West Virginia 41
(11) Kansas State 31 FINAL
(17) Oklahoma 30
Iowa 31 FINAL
Maryland 38
So Florida 38 FINAL
Tulsa 30
Tulane 13 FINAL
UCF 20
Virginia 13 FINAL
Duke 20
Akron 20 FINAL
Ohio U 23
Western Mich 26 FINAL
Bowling Green 14
Eastern Mich 14 FINAL
Massachusetts 36
Appalachian St 53 FINAL
Troy 14
(25) UCLA 36 FINAL
California 34
Texas A&M 0 FINAL
(4) Alabama 59
Army 17 FINAL
Kent State 39
Kansas 21 FINAL
Texas Tech 34
UAB 22 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 34
Rutgers 17 FINAL
(13) Ohio State 56
(8) Michigan State 56 FINAL
Indiana 17
New Mexico 31 FINAL
Air Force 35
NC State 18 FINAL
Louisville 30
(21) Clemson 17 FINAL
Boston College 13
Ball State 32 FINAL
Central Mich 29
Cincinnati 41 FINAL
SMU 3
(9) Georgia 45 FINAL
Arkansas 32
Oklahoma State 9 FINAL
(10) TCU 42
San Jose St 27 FINAL
Wyoming 20
Miami-Ohio 41 FINAL
Northern Ill 51
New Mexico St 17 FINAL
Idaho 29
Colorado 28 FINAL
(20) USC 56
(23) Marshall 45 FINAL
FIU 13
Southern Miss 30 FINAL
North Texas 20
Georgia Tech 43 FINAL
North Carolina 48
Tennessee 3 FINAL
(3) Ole Miss 34
Utah State 13 FINAL
Colorado State 16
Missouri 42 FINAL
Florida 13
Kentucky 3 FINAL
(24) LSU 41
(16) Nebraska 38 FINAL
Northwestern 17
Georgia State 27 FINAL
South Alabama 30
Washington 20 FINAL
(6) Oregon 45
Iowa State 45 FINAL
Texas 48
(7) Notre Dame 27 FINAL
(2) Florida State 31
Nevada 42 FINAL
BYU 35
Stanford 10 FINAL
(14) Arizona State 26
Hawaii 10 FINAL
San Diego St 20
Arkansas State 10/21/14 7:00 PM
Louisiana
Connecticut 10/23/14 6:00 PM
(18) East Carolina
Miami-Florida 10/23/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
So Florida 10/24/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Troy 10/24/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
BYU 10/24/14 8:00 PM
Boise State
(6) Oregon 10/24/14 9:00 PM
California
North Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Rice
UAB 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Arkansas
Rutgers 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Wisconsin
Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
Memphis 10/25/14 11:00 AM
SMU
North Carolina 10/25/14 11:30 AM
Virginia
San Jose St 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Navy
Northern Ill 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Colorado
Akron 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ball State
Massachusetts 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Toledo
Ohio U 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Kent State 10/25/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Oregon State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Stanford
Fla Atlantic 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
Louisiana Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Georgia Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Pittsburgh
(22) West Virginia 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(10) TCU
Michigan 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Boston College 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Central Mich 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Vanderbilt 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Missouri
Old Dominion 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Western Ky
UNLV 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Utah State
Temple 10/25/14 4:00 PM
UCF
(15) Arizona 10/25/14 5:00 PM
Washington St
Texas-El Paso 10/25/14 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 10/25/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(3) Ole Miss 10/25/14 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 10/25/14 6:30 PM
Tennessee
So Carolina 10/25/14 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 10/25/14 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 10/25/14 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 10/25/14 9:45 PM
Washington
Nevada 10/25/14 10:59 PM
Hawaii
Columbus 3 FINAL
Red Bull New York 1
Seattle 2 FINAL
Los Angeles 2
Ottawa 6 FINAL
Hamilton 16
Montreal 20 FINAL
Toronto 12
Calgary 33 FINAL
Winnipeg 23
Edmonton 24 FINAL
Saskatchewan 19
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.X24-7
Sep 27 - at Michigan 2:30 pmX30-14
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern 11 amX24-17
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 amX39-38
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 am
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa TBA
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State TBA
Nov 22 - at Nebraska TBA
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin TBA

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How will the Vikings and Gophers do this weekend?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close