Thursday, February 3, 2011

Gopher Week Questions: How Many More Mediocre Seasons Does Don Lucia Have Left?

In preparation for the big series against UMTC at Amsoil Arena this weekend, I'll be answering one big question about either team every day leading up to Friday's puck drop. Today: How much longer should the Don stay at the helm in Dinkytown?

Don Lucia's credentials as a top-flight DI hockey coach are unquestionably great:
  • Back-to-back National titles with only four non-Minnesotan players on the two rosters combined. 
  • 500+ career coaching victories, including a 285-155-50 mark with the Gophers. 
  • Ability to recruit elite talent. In his tenure at UMTC he has coached 50 all-WCHA players, 16 All-Americans, and eight Hobey Baker finalists. Last season 13 of his former Gophers played in the NHL.
His last three and a half seasons have been unquestionably mediocre. During those years the Gophers have placed 7th, 5th, 7th, and currently are in a tie for 6th place in the WCHA. Obviously a coach of Lucia's caliber deserves a long leash from his AD and fan base, but the latter grows more and more restless with every loss. Efforts like last Saturday's shutout by the unheralded Chris Kamal and the sub-par Seawolves continue to drain the reservoir of goodwill Lucia spent filling in the early-mid 00s.

His supporters can point to the steady exodus of the Gopher's high-end talent to the NHL - 14 players have left Lucia's program early to go pro in the last five years - as a big reason for the drop-off, but players leaving early has become the norm for college hockey. Everyone has to deal with it, UMD lost its top blueliner, Dylan Olsen, right before our first series against the Gophers this year.

The fact that only recently Lucia started trying to recruit older guys who are more likely to stick around until graduation is an indictment of his ability to keep with the times. College hockey is changing, and that change has left the Gophers mired in mediocrity. With his health issues and son set to graduate as the top undecided recruit in Minnesota, it might make sense for Lucia to move on if this season ends poorly.

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