Lucias promise to keep things in perspective when Gophers, Irish clash on ice

Don Lucia (pictured) coaches the nation's No. 1 hockey team. Mario Lucia is Notre Dame's leading scorer. Something must give for the Lucia family this weekend, it would appear, when the Gophers and Irish meet at Mariucci Arena.

MINNEAPOLIS — When the puck drops Friday at Mariucci Arena, Mario Lucia will just be another number on the Notre Dame roster — No. 22, to be more specific.

That’s how Don Lucia views him, at least. Yes, the Fighting Irish’s leading scorer also happens to be the son of the Gophers’ longtime head coach. But they’ve been here before. A few times, in fact, as father and son have gone against each other in three games over the last two years.

This weekend’s series will be special for the rest of the Lucia family, who will undoubtedly be torn in their rooting interests. For Don and Mario, though, it’s just two more hockey games between two pretty good teams.

"I won’t probably notice as much. It’ll probably be more fun for my wife and the rest of the family than it will be for me," Don Lucia said. "I’ll be so engrossed in the game that for me, he’s No. 22. We just have to be aware of him on the ice and the type of player that he is."

Turns out the type of player Mario has become is a pretty good one. His eight goals through eight games are the second-most in all of Division I hockey. Lucia has added a pair of assists, meaning his 10 points rank fifth among all D1 players.

Mario Lucia had 16 goals and 15 assists a year ago as a sophomore to help guide Notre Dame to a 23-15-2 record and a trip to the postseason. The 2014-15 season is still young, but it appears as if the former Minnesota Wild draft pick has elevated his game to another level as a junior.

"Scoring in the first game is huge just because you get that monkey off your back right away. I think that was the key," Mario Lucia said. "I got some confidence right away. I’ve been getting to the net. I’ve just gotten stronger and playing faster and working on the things that held me back last year."

This weekend marks the first time Mario Lucia will play a full series at Mariucci Arena, the venue he frequented as a kid as his dad led the Gophers to a pair of national championships in the early 2000s. As a freshman two years ago, Lucia and Notre Dame played just one game in Minneapolis, an odd Tuesday night nonconference game. The Gophers traveled to South Bend, Ind., for a two-game series at Notre Dame last year.

Mario scored a pair of goals and added an assist the last time he faced his dad’s team, although Don Lucia’s squad got the best of the Fighting Irish in that contest. The Gophers are the top-ranked team in college hockey entering this weekend, so Mario knows Notre Dame will once again be in for a challenge.

Mario Lucia currently leads Notre Dame in scoring, with eight goals in eight games.

"It’s definitely always fun because they’re always very talented, always ranked highly," he said. "It’s always a good test for our team to see how good we are. Obviously a great experience getting to go to one of the iconic venues in college hockey and play against a team like that."

Don Lucia played his college hockey at Notre Dame and graduated from there in 1981. Mario insists he didn’t chose his college based on his dad’s alma mater.

Instead, Don Lucia’s time as the Gophers coach had more influence on where his son decided to go to school.

"What factored more into it is that he never really ended up playing Notre Dame so I didn’t really end up growing up disliking them like I did with a lot of the teams in the WCHA," Mario said. "I think that factored into it a lot, just a neutral team."

That meant Mario wasn’t going to play for Minnesota’s biggest rival, North Dakota, right?

"No, no shot," he said.

Mario talks to his parents every night via FaceTime, but the subject of hockey rarely comes up in the conversation. The discussions this week have centered more around how Don and Joyce Lucia are excited to see their youngest of four children this weekend.

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Once again, Joyce and the rest of the Lucia family and friends in the stands — and there will be plenty this weekend — will have their hearts on both sides of the ice.

"It’s a house divided," Don Lucia said. "Let’s put it that way."

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