Lucia should carry some clout when he speaks, no matter what you think of Minnesota.
This week, we found out that he's willing to step up and be a leader when it comes to college hockey in Minnesota, not just college hockey at the University of Minnesota.
In comments published by the St. Cloud Times, Lucia says he'd like to see regular non-conference play with the Minnesota programs remaining in the WCHA -- Bemidji State, St. Cloud State, and Minnesota State -- as well as an annual tournament.
Lucia said he has talked with Huskies coach Bob Motzko, Beavers coach Tom Serratore and Mavericks coach Troy Jutting about the Gophers playing games against their programs beginning in 2013-14, which is the first season that the Gophers and Wisconsin leave the Western Collegiate Hockey Association for the Big Ten Conference.
Lucia also said that he plans to talk with Minnesota-Duluth coach Scott Sandelin about the same arrangement with the Bulldogs, who also leave the WCHA after the 2012-13 season and will join the newly formed National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
“We have 14 nonleague games to work with and our goal is to play those (four) teams every year,” Lucia said. “It would be good for our program, all the other programs and for the state of Minnesota.
“I think it’s a win-win for everyone, for our fans and the proximity of playing each other. We should continue playing each other.”
Even if Minnesota and Wisconsin still insist on playing 20 home games a year (that would mean 10 of the 14 non-conference games they play would need to be at home), there's no reason there can't be regular games against WCHA teams once they join the Big Ten. It would be very beneficial for the WCHA to find a way to come up with a scheduling arrangement with the CCHA, NCHC, and/or Big Ten. But in the end, Minnesota probably won't need one to do the right thing. It sounds like Lucia is intent on making it happen.
Good on Don Lucia.
I'm sure not trying to indict other coaches, but let's face it. Minnesota is different. People need to see the five programs having some sort of camaraderie with one another. They need to see some effort being made by Minnesota to help "the little guys," especially the three programs left in the WCHA while Minnesota and UMD move on to "bigger and better things."
UMD will bear some responsibility here, too. They can't just schedule Minnesota and be done with it. They need to also work with Bemidji, St. Cloud, and MSU to come up with an arrangement that helps all parties.
From my perspective, though, this is a good and appreciated move by Lucia. I stood firmly behind Lucia last season in the face of "Fire!" cries from Gopher fans everywhere. I have not backed down from those words one bit.
He's a class act, and he understands his program's role in this state. Give him credit for speaking out and taking a lead role during this time of incredible and historic change in college hockey.
The WCHA added Northern Michigan officially Wednesday, meaning they'll have the minimum of six teams required for an NCAA automatic bid. Now we'll see what the CCHA ends up doing, and if anyone has the heart enough to pick up Alabama-Huntsville. Hopefully that happens, because even with everything else going on, I still have more worries about UAH's future than anyone else.
I've had some people ask me about other programs' ability to schedule non-conference games.
- As long as Alaska and Alaska-Anchorage are still around, they'll have few problems with scheduling. Each hosts an October tournament, and they make the trip to the other's event. The other two non-conference games they're allowed to play are against each other in a home-and-home.
- Lake Superior State and Michigan Tech are in a tough position. Perhaps there's some sort of deal that can be worked out with Northern Michigan where Tech and NMU regularly play Lake State, because that makes too much sense to not have it happen. Obviously, Tech and Northern will be playing each other as part of the WCHA schedule.
- Don't be surprised if UMD is making semi-regular visits to Houghton. I hope that's not just wishful thinking. I always complain about that trip, but I usually end up enjoying it.