Don Lucia’s Gophers face his son’s Notre Dame team this weekend in South Bend.
Forget Mario Lucia’s sandy blond hair and the similarities are obvious. Mario not only looks like his father, Don, but also the two share similar personalities and priorities. One is obviously hockey.
Don Lucia coaches the top-ranked team in men’s college hockey, and Mario is a Notre Dame hockey standout and a Wild second-round NHL draft pick. Their teams will face off this weekend in South Bend, Ind., when the Gophers meet the No. 4-ranked Irish in a nonconference series.
Away from the rink, the father and son tend to avoid hockey talk. Don’s goal is simply to be a dad. Mario said he appreciates the relationship boundaries as he works to create his own identity at Notre Dame.
“It’s kind of nice being a dad instead of coach. I’ve been on both sides of it,” said Don Lucia, who coached his older son, Tony, at Minnesota. “We truly do try to keep the relationship more father-son, not a coaching situation. I want to try and be there for support as much as I can.”
The 502 miles separating Minneapolis and South Bend haven’t hindered the father from providing regular support. Most nights Mario and his parents see one another through their smartphones.
The topics they discuss include school, girls and upcoming tests. Mario said there is hardly any mention of hockey.
That doesn’t mean the passion that drives Don’s coaching doesn’t make an occasional appearance. Mario said his dad is sometimes disappointed with a bad grade and will excuse himself from the conversation.
Mario, 20, knows such reactions are, and is used to hearing more encouragement than disappointment.
“That’s what parents do,” he said.
The close relationship with his father has taught Mario that family is most important — even above hockey.
“We have a really good relationship,” Mario Lucia said. “Me and my dad put family in front of everything. That’s something I learned from dad growing up. Being a good family man. My family is really close. I talk to my parents and brother and [two] sisters on a daily basis. I don’t know too many people that do that.”
The conversations are short, Mario said, but “as long as we can see faces and hear voices” the Lucias are happy.
The “Lucia” Notre Dame jersey will be hard to ignore for the man in charge of the Gophers’ bench Friday and Saturday. The Gophers undoubtedly will have their coach’s full attention, but “there are times when all of a sudden you see a glimpse and you see your own son out there,” Don Lucia said.
He won’t get caught up in it, though, because the Gophers’ No. 1 ranking is on the line, and family bragging rights.
Gophers defenseman Mike Reilly, who roomed with Mario at the World Junior Championships in Russia, and while playing for Penticton in the British Columbia Hockey League, said he has seen the Lucias’ father-son relationship change the past two years.
Reilly said in the BCHL days, the regular phone calls between Mario and Don centered around improving on the ice. Now, Reilly said, Don is being more of a dad than a coach. Not that the competitiveness of the Gophers coach has been affected.
“Obviously he’s his dad, but at the same time he’s going to be playing against him this weekend. So we’re going to do everything we can go stop [Mario],” Reilly said.
|Boston - WP: M. Ott||4||FINAL|
|Minnesota - LP: M. Hoffman||3|
|San Francisco||8:05 PM|
|Houston||34||2nd Qtr 4:21|
|Milwaukee||34||2nd Qtr 8:47|
|LA Lakers||8:30 PM|
|Phoenix||0||2nd Prd 13:31|
|Buffalo||1||2nd Prd 14:51|
|San Jose||1||2nd Prd 16:55|
|Florida||2||1st Prd 5:25|
|NY Rangers||0||1st Prd 19:33|
|UC Santa Barbara||38|
|San Diego St||73|
|Utah Valley U||83|
|Cal State Fullerton||56||FINAL|
|Long Beach State||66|
|Ohio||64||2nd Half 7:15|
|Penn State||38||2nd Half 7:54|
|Northern Colorado||60||2nd Half 3:23|
|Duquesne||42||2nd Half 6:21|
|Troy||36||2nd Half 19:00|
|DePaul||31||2nd Half 18:23|
|Baylor||47||2nd Half 19:22|
|Texas-El Paso||0||1st Half 20:00|
|Savannah State||7:25 PM|
|Oral Roberts||7:30 PM|
|Sam Houston St|
|Alabama A&M||8:00 PM|
|Eastern Mich||8:00 PM|
|UC Riverside||8:00 PM|
|Georgia Tech||8:00 PM|
|Rhode Island||8:00 PM|
|Portland State||8:00 PM|
|Fresno State||8:00 PM|
|Miss State||8:25 PM|
|West Virginia||8:30 PM|
|Boise State||10:30 PM|
|New Mexico St|
|Miss Valley St||68||FINAL|
|(22) Middle Tennessee||69|
|William & Mary||65|
|Alabama State||51||2nd Half 6:50|
|Louisiana Tech||30||2nd Half 17:49|
|Southern Ill||7:07 PM|
|Idaho State||7:30 PM|
|Old Dominion||8:30 PM|
Poll: How many games will the Gophers win in the Big Ten tournament?