Mario Lucia took his last final exam of his junior year Thursday at Notre Dame.
It won’t be the last final exam of his college career.
After weeks of contemplating what was a torturous decision with the Wild willing to sign him, the 21-year-old forward has decided to return to Notre Dame for his senior season.
“That was where my heart was at,” Lucia, a native of Wayzata who will return to the Twin Cities on Friday, said. “I feel like I have a lot of hard work to do before I’m ready to play professionally.”
Lucia, a 2011 second-round pick by the Wild, said, “I still have an opportunity to get better here and I want to have an opportunity to help my team win a championship and I want to enjoy one more year of hockey and playing the game you love before it becomes your job.”
The Wild maintains Lucia’s rights and he said he has no plans to pursue free agency next summer.
“The Wild has a lot of interest in me,” Lucia said. “It’s my hometown team, and if I want to play in the NHL, I want to play with the Wild, for sure. I don’t anticipate not signing with the Wild when I’m ready. I just feel I should return to school, graduate and keep developing as a player.”
Lucia, who tied for 13th in the nation with a team-high 21 goals and had a .210 shooting percentage, believes the Irish has a chance to do something special next year with a good core group of players returning, a good senior class and their No. 1 goalie.
He did lose linemate and Notre Dame’s leading scorer Vince Hinostroza to a contract with the Chicago Blackhawks, but Lucia says that may actually help his game mature for the next level.
“I had a lot of goals last year, but I didn’t have as many assists as I would like,” Lucia said. “Vinny made me better. Next year, not having Vinny, I think it’s up to me to try to make other players better. As a senior, I’ll be playing 20-25 minutes a game hopefully and play in all situations, and that’s what makes you better to really help get me to the next level.”
Lucia, the son of Gophers men’s hockey coach Don Lucia, consulted with his family over Easter break. But in the end, Mario’s parents let him make the final decision.
After this summer, Lucia will have 15 credits until he graduates. He plans to take four classes in the first semester and one in the second.
“I really feel we have an opportunity to do special things here [in South Bend], and also I will really have an opportunity to focus on hockey next year, and that can only help me mature as a player and help the Wild in the long run,” Lucia said.