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.

view larger photos


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.

  • related content

  • Chart: World Junior Championship at a glance

    Wednesday December 25, 2013

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

  • Don Lucia

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions


San Francisco 4 Top 6th Inning
Pittsburgh 0
Minnesota 10/2/14 7:25 PM
Green Bay
Buffalo 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Chicago 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Cleveland 10/5/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Atlanta 10/5/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
Tampa Bay 10/5/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Houston 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Arizona 10/5/14 3:05 PM
Kansas City 10/5/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
NY Jets 10/5/14 3:25 PM
San Diego
Cincinnati 10/5/14 7:30 PM
New England
Seattle 10/6/14 7:30 PM
Washington 1 FINAL
Buffalo 6
Carolina 3 FINAL
Columbus 6
Pittsburgh 2 3rd Prd 3:28
Detroit 0
Montreal 0 2nd Prd 6:26
Chicago 0
Arizona 1 2nd Prd
Edmonton 1
Fla Atlantic 10/2/14 6:00 PM
UCF 10/2/14 6:00 PM
Arizona 10/2/14 9:30 PM
(2) Oregon
Louisville 10/3/14 6:00 PM
San Diego St 10/3/14 9:00 PM
Fresno State
Utah State 10/3/14 9:15 PM
(18) BYU
(6) Texas A&M 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(12) Miss State
Ball State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(21) Oklahoma State
Marshall 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Old Dominion
Southern Miss 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Middle Tennessee
(20) Ohio State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Purdue 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Florida 10/4/14 11:00 AM
SMU 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(22) East Carolina
Virginia Tech 10/4/14 11:30 AM
North Carolina
Eastern Mich 10/4/14 1:00 PM
North Texas 10/4/14 1:30 PM
Massachusetts 10/4/14 1:30 PM
Tulsa 10/4/14 2:00 PM
Colorado State
New Mexico 10/4/14 2:30 PM
TX-San Antonio
(3) Alabama 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(11) Ole Miss
(14) Stanford 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(9) Notre Dame
(17) Wisconsin 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Navy 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Air Force
(7) Baylor 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(4) Oklahoma 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(25) TCU
Wake Forest 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
NC State 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Bowling Green
Ohio U 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Central Mich
Oregon State 10/4/14 3:00 PM
Vanderbilt 10/4/14 3:00 PM
(13) Georgia
Kansas 10/4/14 3:00 PM
West Virginia
Kent State 10/4/14 4:00 PM
Northern Ill
South Alabama 10/4/14 5:00 PM
Appalachian St
Texas-El Paso 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
(15) LSU 10/4/14 6:00 PM
(5) Auburn
UAB 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Western Ky
Texas Tech 10/4/14 6:00 PM
(23) Kansas State
Michigan 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Hawaii 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Toledo 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Western Mich
ULM 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas State
Georgia State 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Idaho 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Texas State
Memphis 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Arizona State 10/4/14 6:30 PM
(16) USC
So Carolina 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Pittsburgh 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Miami-Florida 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Georgia Tech
(19) Nebraska 10/4/14 7:00 PM
(10) Michigan State
UNLV 10/4/14 7:00 PM
San Jose St
Ga Southern 10/4/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico St
California 10/4/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
Utah 10/4/14 9:30 PM
(8) UCLA
Boise State 10/4/14 9:30 PM
Winnipeg 10/3/14 6:00 PM
Calgary 10/3/14 9:00 PM
Edmonton 10/4/14 3:00 PM
Brt Columbia 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters





question of the day

Poll: Which local pro team are you most excited about?

Weekly Question