Gophers' Lucia answers the call for U.S. world juniors team

  • Article by: JASON GONZALEZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 25, 2013 - 8:32 PM

The Gophers coach will try to guide Team USA to gold.

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It took 10 years for the phone to ring again. The timing finally was right.

Don Lucia waited patiently over the past decade for another chance to coach on the international stage.

The longtime Gophers men’s hockey coach has held a variety of USA Hockey coaching positions — but he passed on one major role. Lucia’s responsibilities in the stretch of back-to-back national championships kept him from accepting an assistant coach position for the World Championship in the early 2000s.

USA Hockey finally called back.

Lucia will lead the U.S. National Junior Team this week in its attempt to repeat as gold medalist at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship in Malmo, Sweden.

Twenty-three of the country’s top under-20 players, including Gophers defenseman Brady Skjei and forward Hudson Fasching, open the tournament at 10:30 a.m. (CST) Thursday against the Czech Republic.

“Years ago, he was going to be a World Championship assistant coach and it never came out in the public. … I remember him calling and saying ‘I can’t believe I have to do this … But I know that the phone is going to ring again,’ and it did and it worked out,” said Jim Johannson, general manager of the U.S. National Junior Team. “We both felt we found the right time.”

Identifying Lucia as a candidate for head coach wasn’t difficult. He had been in regular discussions with Johannson and former director of player personnel Tim Taylor over the past several years. The topic of upcoming coaches came up, and Lucia said he jokingly threw his name up for the job.

Johansson and Taylor invited him to participate and observe at the U.S. National Junior Team’s summer camp in 2012. Not long after, it was determined Lucia and his 27 years of college coaching experience were the right fit.

“Any time you have an opportunity to represent a national team, it’s special for everyone involved,” Lucia said. “I’m excited. I’ve been through a few years where the [Gophers] team wasn’t successful, and I was sick. I was able to get through it. With an opportunity like this, I feel re-energized.”

The timing couldn’t be better for Lucia. His Gophers are entering the Christmas break ranked No. 1 in the country. He also has helped his large class of freshmen quickly adapt to the college game and their new teammates.

This sort of immediate chemistry will be necessary for Lucia’s USA Hockey bunch. The team had only 11 days together before competition begins Thursday.

Skjei rebounds

Stuck in an airport on Christmas Eve is a memory Skjei can begin to forget.

The Gophers standout sophomore defenseman spent last year’s Christmas Eve delayed in New York for 10 hours. He was en route to Minneapolis after being sent home on the last day of the U.S. junior team’s training camp in Finland.

Skjei was one of two final cuts from the preliminary roster and was packing within minutes of learning he hadn’t made the team. This year, he’ll be expected to play a big role on the Team USA blue line.

“It was tough for me last year getting cut at the end. It made me realize how bad I wanted to be a part of the team and make a difference,” Skjei said. “It was a bummer but kind of fueled my fire to make the team this year. It was tough to hear and tough to watch games.”

Johannson said most of these star players never have been cut from a team, and the experience can either be harmful or beneficial. The experience taught Skjei he needed to be better.

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    World Junior Hockey ChampionshipThursday-Jan. 5 • Malmo, SwedenU.S. Preliminary Round ScheduleDate, Opponent, Time (all times are Central)Thursday, Czech Republic, 10:30...

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Buffalo 17 FINAL
New England 9
Cleveland 10 4th Qtr 3:44
Baltimore 20
Dallas 27 4th Qtr 6:39
Washington 17
Indianapolis 27 4th Qtr 2:19
Tennessee 10
Jacksonville 17 4th Qtr 3:08
Houston 23
San Diego 7 4th Qtr 3:28
Kansas City 19
NY Jets 27 4th Qtr 4:03
Miami 24
Chicago 9 4th Qtr 1:36
Minnesota 13
Philadelphia 31 4th Qtr 9:12
NY Giants 26
New Orleans 23 4th Qtr 1:05
Tampa Bay 20
Carolina 3:25 PM
Atlanta
Detroit 3:25 PM
Green Bay
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Denver
Arizona 3:25 PM
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St. Louis 3:25 PM
Seattle
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Pittsburgh
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TBA
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TBA
TBA 1/4/15 2:00 AM
TBA
TBA 1/4/15 2:00 AM
TBA
Detroit 3:30 PM
Cleveland
Houston 6:00 PM
San Antonio
Oklahoma City 6:30 PM
Dallas
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Portland
Toronto 8:00 PM
Denver
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Drexel 62
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Eastern Mich 100
Harvard 46 FINAL
Arizona State 56
Longwood 58 2nd Half 1:12
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UNC Greensboro 50 FINAL
East Carolina 71
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Lafayette 65
Cincinnati Christian 58 FINAL
Liberty 78
Morgan State 53 2nd Half 0:50
Marquette 78
Campbell 56 2nd Half 1:26
Samford 62
Bucknell 64 2nd Half 1:04
Siena 67
Long Beach State 62 2nd Half 5:50
Syracuse 75
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Evansville 76
UMKC 53 2nd Half 1:16
Indiana State 54
Hofstra 59 2nd Half 11:21
Long Island 37
Coast Guard 24 1st Half 0:26
Army 63
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High Point 39
Texas Southern 19 1st Half 0:09
Kansas State 23
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Monmouth 31
NC Wesleyan 22 1st Half 0:01
NC A&T 27
South Dakota St 30 2nd Half
Northern Iowa 39
Central Penn College 24 1st Half 3:08
Radford 55
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South Florida 34
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SE Missouri St 36
Robert Morris-IL 25 2nd Half
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Northland College 31 2nd Half
North Dakota St 46
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South Dakota 33
Northwestern St 15 1st Half 11:49
Arkansas 20
Saint Peters 3:00 PM
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Oral Roberts
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Bradley
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Fairfield
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Houston
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UMBC
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Temple
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Butler
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Fordham
NW Christian 5:00 PM
Nevada
UC Davis 5:00 PM
Washington St
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Grand Canyon
UCLA 5:30 PM
Alabama
Stony Brook 7:00 PM
Washington
Buffalo 7:00 PM
Wisconsin
CS-Bakersfield 9:00 PM
California
Cincinnati 17 FINAL
Virginia Tech 33
(15) Arizona State 36 FINAL
Duke 31
Miami-Florida 21 FINAL
So Carolina 24
Boston College 30 FINAL
Penn State 31
(25) Nebraska 42 FINAL
(24) USC 45
Texas A&M 12/29/14 1:00 PM
West Virginia
Oklahoma 12/29/14 4:30 PM
(18) Clemson
Arkansas 12/29/14 8:00 PM
Texas
Notre Dame 12/30/14 2:00 PM
(22) LSU
(13) Georgia 12/30/14 5:45 PM
(20) Louisville
Maryland 12/30/14 9:00 PM
Stanford
(9) Ole Miss 12/31/14 11:30 AM
(6) TCU
(21) Boise State 12/31/14 3:00 PM
(12) Arizona
(8) Miss State 12/31/14 7:00 PM
(10) Georgia Tech
(19) Auburn 1/1/15 11:00 AM
(17) Wisconsin
(7) Michigan State 1/1/15 11:30 AM
(4) Baylor
(16) Missouri 1/1/15 12:00 PM
Minnesota
(2) Florida State 1/1/15 4:00 PM
(3) Oregon
(5) Ohio State 1/1/15 7:30 PM
(1) Alabama
Houston 1/2/15 11:00 AM
Pittsburgh
Iowa 1/2/15 2:20 PM
Tennessee
(11) Kansas State 1/2/15 5:45 PM
(14) UCLA
Washington 1/2/15 9:15 PM
Oklahoma State
East Carolina 1/3/15 11:00 AM
Florida
Toledo 1/4/15 8:00 PM
Arkansas State
Drexel 71 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 54
Holy Cross 63 FINAL
Norfolk State 62
East Carolina 62 FINAL
South Florida 69
(10) Oregon State 63 FINAL
(8) Tennessee 74
Providence 51 FINAL
Boston College 79
Florida A&M 47 FINAL
Miami-Florida 83
Oakland 69 FINAL
Central Michigan 74
Chattanooga 59 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 49
Fairfield 59 FINAL
La Salle 73
New Hampshire 58 FINAL
Manhattan 54
(14) Georgia 51 FINAL
Seton Hall 70
American Univ 64 FINAL
Wake Forest 77
Lafayette 49 FINAL
Saint Peters 34
Duquesne 82 FINAL
Lehigh 75
George Washington 72 FINAL
Loyola-Maryland 49
(24) Green Bay 66 FINAL
Dayton 72
St Francis-PA 54 2nd Half 2:45
Pittsburgh 92
Milwaukee 66 2nd Half 1:32
IUPU-Ft Wayne 73
Gardner-Webb 59 2nd Half 1:52
Longwood 58
Bucknell 61 2nd Half 2:00
Binghamton 47
Northeastern 68 2nd Half 0:27
Albany 67
George Mason 62 2nd Half 0:26
Towson 68
Richmond 51 2nd Half 2:31
William & Mary 51
Tulane 32 2nd Half 18:58
Cincinnati 20
North Florida 44 2nd Half 1:46
Florida 61
Tennessee St 63 2nd Half 6:04
(12) Kentucky 73
Massachusetts 76 2nd Half 1:00
Boston U 54
Quinnipiac 62 2nd Half 3:47
Saint Josephs 59
Northwestern 57 2nd Half 1:23
(20) Michigan State 54
(17) Rutgers 64 2nd Half 1:17
Indiana 47
Western Mich 36 2nd Half 14:15
Stony Brook 36
Davidson 53 2nd Half 8:01
Virginia 40
UNC Greensboro 19 1st Half 4:20
LSU 30
Denver 24 2nd Half
North Texas 25
VA Commonwealth 34 2nd Half
Coppin State 30
Huston-Tillotson 9 2nd Half
Houston Baptist 43
Lamar 33 2nd Half
Rice 41
Miss Valley St 22 2nd Half
Alabama 29
Saint Louis 35 2nd Half
Eastern Illinois 20
Middle Tennessee 40 2nd Half
Tenn Tech 32
Penn State 24 1st Half 1:25
(23) Iowa 37
Purdue 28 2nd Half
Illinois 18
DePaul 48 1st Half 2:20
Illinois State 29
Sam Houston St 13 2nd Half
Wichita State 36
South Dakota 14 1st Half 10:19
TX-San Antonio 14
(4) Notre Dame 3:00 PM
UCLA
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Jackson State 4:00 PM
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Temple 7:30 PM
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