As the Gophers men’s hockey team prepared for a critical series this week against Michigan, coach Don Lucia had plenty of things on his mind. His contract status, however, was not one of them.
Lucia said Tuesday that he anticipates discussing a contract extension with university officials after the season ends. Though no talks have happened yet, Lucia said he is not concerned, citing the “state of flux” in athletic department leadership in the wake of Norwood Teague’s resignation last August. His current deal runs through the 2016-17 season, the result of a 2013 extension.
“I have one more year on my contract,” said Lucia, Gophers coach since 1999. “I’m sure we’ll be discussing it when the season ends. … I would think end of our season, April [is when talks would start].”
Lucia said he does not expect negotiations to be tabled until a permanent athletic director is named — though he added he can’t be sure, given the uncertainty surrounding the AD search timeline. University President Eric Kaler has said he hopes to have a permanent AD in place by July 1.
Lucia received his previous two contract extensions in October, including one in 2011 when his three-year extension was announced a few games into the last season of his contract.
Like the coach, interim athletic director Beth Goetz was focused on the team in her statement Wednesday to the Star Tribune: “Right now, the focus is on the ice and in the classroom, and we are proud of the team’s continued effort and success. We look forward to yet another strong finish as the squad pursues its fifth straight conference title and will review the program after the season as we do with all of our programs each year.”
Future is now
Lucia has the No. 20 Gophers on top of the Big Ten standings, one point ahead of sixth-ranked Michigan. The games Thursday and Friday at Mariucci Arena could impact their chances of landing an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
The Gophers are tied for 16th in the PairWise Rankings, putting them on the bubble for the 16-team field. The Gophers also could secure an automatic invitation by winning the Big Ten tournament in mid-March at Xcel Energy Center.
After three rigorous practices last week, Lucia told his players to spend last weekend — when the team was idle — away from the rink. Players were revitalized physically and emotionally by the rest, which should benefit them against Michigan’s “CCM line” of Kyle Connor, JT Compher and Tyler Motte. The speedy trio is regarded as the best line in college hockey and has combined for 63 goals and 77 assists this season.
Since splitting two games with the Wolverines in Ann Arbor in December, the Gophers have gone 9-5. They are the last team to beat Michigan in regulation, earning a 3-2 victory after an 8-3 loss. To beat them again, forward Justin Kloos said, the Gophers must control the game’s pace, slowing down an offense that leads the nation with 4.8 goals per game.
“If we can find a way to win the Big Ten, we’ll probably put ourselves in a decent spot for the PairWise,” Kloos said, referring to the rankings that mirror the method used to fill out the NCAA tournament field with 10 at-large bids. “This weekend is huge. We’ve just got to keep finding ways to win games.”