Myers: Gophers coach Don Lucia selected to lead U.S. world junior team
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - Given his druthers, Gophers hockey coach Don Lucia would have spent Saturday afternoon preparing his team for the title game of the WCHA Final Five. But thanks to Friday night's 2-0 loss to Colorado College in the semifinals, Lucia was free Saturday to accept one of the most prominent gigs of his coaching career.
USA Hockey officials, including team general manager Jim Johannson, were on hand with Lucia at Xcel Energy Center to announce him as coach of the United States team for the 2014 World Junior Hockey Championships, which will be played in Sweden in late December and early January.
"I'm so excited to have this opportunity," Lucia said. "When I started coaching many years ago, one of the things I hoped for was to be involved with a U.S. Olympic team or a U.S. World Junior team. When Jim offered me the opportunity, it's obviously something you're going to jump at."
While he has not been a head coach for Team USA at this level before, Lucia is familiar with the World Junior program, having participated in the tryout camp for the team last summer in Lake Placid, N.Y.
His son Mario, a freshman at Notre Dame, was selected for Team USA last year and was part of the squad that captured the third American gold medal at the tournament in Ufa, Russia. Gophers assistant coach Grant Potulny served in the same capacity for that team. The U.S. squad was coached by Phil Housley, who is head hockey coach at Stillwater High School.
Lucia said the way the schedule looks for next season, he will only miss two games, when the Gophers host their annual holiday tournament, and will leave the team in the hands of assistant coaches Mike Guentzel and Potulny.
Johannson, a Rochester native who will pick the final roster, said Lucia's experience coaching on Mariucci Arena's international-size ice sheet was one thing working in his favor.
"The kind of hockey that Don has coached is probably the biggest intrigue for why Don should be coaching the national junior team," Johannson said. "His program plays on the international-size ice, obviously plays up-tempo hockey that's exciting for hockey fans and exciting for players."
The tournament pits the best players under 20 in the world against one another. Wild forward Zach Parise was a key player on the team in 2004 when Team USA won its first gold medal. Lucia noted that Mario will be too old for the team next season and is not a candidate.
"No pressure. It's always fun to follow a gold medal team, right?" Lucia said, jokingly. "It's a whole new team. People talk about trying to repeat and we're really not trying to repeat because we have a new team with new coaches that can find their own path."
For Lucia, the current path included getting on a Detroit-bound plane Saturday night.
Rather than stick around to watch Wisconsin and Colorado College battle for the WCHA playoff title, he and his wife, Joyce, were headed to Joe Louis Arena to see Mario and the Irish play for the CCHA title on Sunday.