Gophers’ Lucia to guide national junior team

ST. PAUL, Minn. — University of Minnesota men’s hockey coach Don Lucia has had his players, his assistant coaches, and even his own son represent the United States in the World Junior hockey tournament. Now, it’s his turn.

Lucia was named the head coach of the 2014 U.S. National Junior Team during a press conference Saturday at Xcel Energy Center. Lucia will lead the team that will compete in the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship in Mamlo, Sweden.

“I’m so excited to have this opportunity,” Lucia said Saturday. “When I started coaching many years ago, one of the things I hoped to be able to do was be involved maybe with an Olympic team or U.S. World Junior team. When (general manager Jim Johannson) offered me the opportunity, obviously it’s something you’re going to jump at.”

Lucia is in his 14th year as the head coach of the Gophers and led Minnesota to two national championships in 2002 and 2003. Now Lucia has the opportunity to add a gold medal to his resume.

Team USA is the defending champion of the World Junior tournament, winning gold this year in Ufa, Russia. The United States also took home gold in 2010 and the bronze medal in 2011.

Lucia’s son, Mario, was on the United States team this past winter that won gold in Russia. But Lucia said Saturday that Mario will be too old to play on the junior team this year. The roster is comprised of players ages 20 and under, meaning Mario Lucia will miss the cut by one year.

Gophers defenseman Mike Reilly and Minnesota assistant coach Grant Potulny both took part in this year’s World Juniors tournament, meaning each missed a portion of the Gophers’ schedule. Lucia said Saturday that he’ll only miss two games when he’s gone for Minnesota’s Christmas tournament.

With close ties to this past World Juniors team, Lucia has plenty of sources to draw from as he prepares for 2014.

“They both had a great experience. You have to find your role,” Lucia said of Reilly and Potulny. “Even Mario, it wasn’t easy for him because he didn’t play a lot, but that just goes to show you that whether you’re going to be the 13th forward or the first forward, everybody has to have a role, everybody has to accept their role and do their job the best they can do. When you have that, that’s when you have the opportunity to be a successful team.”

Many of the members of Lucia’s staff on the World Juniors team are holdovers from this year’s team. That includes assistant Dave Lassonde and video coach Dan Muse. New to the staff is St. Cloud State head coach Bob Motzko and two-time U.S. Olympian Greg Brown, currently an assistant at Boston College.

Lucia was asked if he lobbied for the Team USA job. He mentioned that he offered to help with the 2013 team, but Johannson told him they were going in a different direction. Phil Housley served as the coach in Russia, but Lucia was told he might have a shot to lead the 2014 team.

Sure enough, Johannson extended the offer to Lucia.

“We’ve had a great relationship with Don. … I’ve always admired the way the players have played that have played for Don,” Johannson said. “From our standpoint, it just made a lot of sense for Don to be coaching this hockey team.”

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