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Don Lucia steps down as Gopher hockey coach

Don Lucia has stepped down as head coach of the University of Minnesota men's hockey program after 19 years at the helm. A coaching run which began in 1999 and saw it all from back-to-back NCAA national championships in 2002 and 2003 to missed NC...

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Minnesota head coach Don Lucia watches his team take on Ohio State during the first period of a semifinal game of the Big Ten Men’s Hockey Tournament at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul on Friday, March 18, 2016. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

Don Lucia has stepped down as head coach of the University of Minnesota men’s hockey program after 19 years at the helm.

A coaching run which began in 1999 and saw it all from back-to-back NCAA national championships in 2002 and 2003 to missed NCAA tournaments in five of the last 10 years, ended on Lucia’s terms, he said at a press conference Tuesday.

Lucia, cracking jokes at times and tearing up when mentioning his family, said: “I was never one to say I’m going to coach until I’m 65 or 70. I’ve always felt that this is a great job. Somebody else should have an opportunity.”

Lucia will stay on staff as a special advisor to athletic director Mark Coyle through next season, when his contract ends.

Lucia’s retirement is the latest in a run of them among legendary coaches in the college hockey world.

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In the last four years, college hockey has said goodbye to Boston University’s Jack Parker, Michigan’s Red Berenson, UND and Omaha’s Dean Blais, Denver’s George Gwozdecky and New Hampshire’s Dick Umile.

Among possible replacements for Lucia could be Grand Forks native Grant Potulny, a former Gopher player and assistant coach who led Northern Michigan University to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association championship in his first year at the helm this season.

Other potential candidates are Gopher assistants Mike Guentzel and Scott Bell, former Shattuck-St. Mary’s coach and current Buffalo Sabres assistant Tom Ward, St. Cloud State head coach Bob Motzko and MSU-Mankato head coach Mike Hastings.

“There is a time to come and a time to go,” Lucia said. “This is the right time for me to leave coaching and move on to the next phase of my life.”

Prior to arriving at Minnesota in 1999, Lucia also spent time as the head coach at Alaska Fairbanks and Colorado College.

He had his most success early in his career at Minnesota with the back-to-back national championships. Lucia also led the Gophers to Big Ten titles in the first four years of the league’s existence.

They haven’t won an NCAA tournament game since 2014, though, and missed the tournament for the second time in three years Sunday.

“Gopher Hockey is not just a college hockey program, it’s a cultural institution in the state of Minnesota, built on more than 90 years of success and tradition,” Coyle said. “Few have contributed as much to that legacy as Don. He knows how much I appreciate everything he has accomplished in his 19 years as head coach, but he and I also agree that it’s time for someone else to lead our program. From his program’s commitment to academic excellence to the banners his teams raised into in our rafters, I can’t thank him enough for what he’s contributed to the success of Gopher Hockey.”

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Lucia is Minnesota’s all-time leader in wins with 457. In all, he has racked up 736 wins, sixth-most in all of college hockey.

He only sits behind Boston College’s Jerry York, Ron Mason (Lake Superior State, Bowling Green, Michigan State), Parker, Berenson and Rick Comley (Lake Superior, Northern Michigan, Michigan State).

Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at bschlossman@gfherald.com.
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