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Minnesota Golden Gopher Hockey: Don Lucia's Big Ten Media Day Comments

Today is Big Ten Hockey Media Day. Our favorite head coach faced the press for roughly ten minutes. Here are the highlights.

Opening Statement

"Obviously we're excited to begin the second year of the Big Ten Conference.  I thought that last year was a tremendous year for the first year of the Big Ten. It was exciting, it was fun to go into some new venues. All the buildings are terrific, great places to play for all of our guys, and I think for all of us, it was almost like a brand new year when we started the Big Ten. There were so many different faces to it.

Obviously we had a great year. A big part of it was probably unexpected with the departures we had the previous season. I said when the year began a year ago that if we were going to have success, we were going to have to do it as a team, and as it turned out I think our leading goal scorer had 16 goals and you really didn't know who was going to step up on a given night. I think our constant was Adam Wilcox; gave us a chance to win, and we had a pretty deep lineup last year.

We're going to miss our five seniors, six seniors, our backup goaltender, two defensemen and three forwards that we won't have on our team this year that played the final game last year, and although some of them weren't at the top of the stat charts, what they did bring to our team was tremendous leadership, some outstanding role players that accepted where they were in our lineup, and the only thing they were concerned about is the success of our team.

We're going to miss those guys, so as the new year begins, we have a really good nucleus of returning players.  They seem to have worked extremely hard over the course of the summer, but at the same time I think we all understand that we don't begin the season as the season ended. It's a whole new year. People have to find new roles, new line mates, and I think the competition within the league is going to be much stronger and much deeper than what it was a year ago."

On changing expectations year to year

"Well, I think in our program there's always going to be expectations. You try to put that on the back burner, and we always talk about the process of getting better during the course of the season. You know, we're going to have to throw the pieces of the puzzle back on the table and put it back together. Obviously we have our senior -- very strong senior class with this group. We are fortunate that even though four guys had an opportunity to sign professional Today is Big Ten Hockey Media Day.  Our favorite head coach faced the press for roughly ten minutes.  Here are the highlights.contracts, they all elected to return, which was good for us this past season. I like the kids that we have on our team because they're pretty goal oriented and focused on doing what they can for the University of Minnesota, and I think that was a big reason why we had the kind of success that we had a year ago.

But at the same time we have a very difficult schedule, and what we have to do is try to navigate that and try to be at our best when the Big Ten season opens up here after Thanksgiving."

On winning with a young roster

"Well, I think there's always a couple things. You have to have talent. You're not going to win without talent. I think usually the team at the end is going to have a pretty good goaltender. They make coaches a lot smarter. And you have to be pretty injury-free. I think that's always a factor; injuries can play into it, especially a compressed 20-game league schedule, injuries at the wrong time can have a huge factor. But I also think there has to be a buy-in where guys accept their roles, they understand where they're at, and a team that wants to work hard on a daily basis, and we had those ingredients in place last year.

I think we had a little fear, too, when the year began, we didn't know how good we were going to be. These guys left and a bunch of freshmen are playing and how are they going to do, how are the returning guys going to do. It's the same this year. Our returning guys need to take another step."

On the value of an expanded non-conference schedule

"Well, I think the value is getting an opportunity to play teams from the other conferences, and that gives you a gauge of where you're at as a team and maybe as a conference come the end of the year. I look at the teams we're playing, we've got St. Cloud State and UMD out of the NCHC this upcoming season. We've got Northeastern and Boston College, Notre Dame and Merrimack and possibly Lowell out of Hockey East. So when you have an opportunity to play all these teams from the other conferences, I think that gives you a good gauge of where you're at heading into conference play, and if not only we as a team can do well but as a conference you can do well, it just drives your own indexes up for the RPI come the end of the year. The better everybody does in the Big Ten, the better it is for the other members in non-conference play. It's important."

On the benefits of the Big Ten

"I think the newness of it. Maybe for me it was my 15th year at Minnesota, it felt like I had a new job. I think that was an exciting part, and same thing for our players. Just new venues, new places to play, new experiences. We had gone into -- we played Wisconsin every year, but we had been at Michigan State I think the year before with the two-game series, but our kids hadn't played at Michigan. Penn State was all brand new with their facility. We were  the home opener in the Big Ten for them. Going to Ohio State, that was all new and different.

I think that was the enjoyable part. And then getting back to the opportunity to play a little bit of an expanded non-league schedule kept some of our in-state rivalries but also had the opportunity to play some very good teams from other conferences, as well."

On players choosing college over the pro game

"Well, I think everybody is in a little different situation. I think with some of them, I mean, three of them were only sophomores, and the one thing I think our kids have learned is that if they get to their junior year, they're pretty close to graduating, and most kids if they come back their senior year, they're going to need about 12 credits to graduate, maybe take one class spring semester. Kyle was the lone senior and he elected to come back. I think that's a little bit of Kyle's MO. He stayed through high school. He probably had the most difficult decision to make what he was going to ultimately do. But I think he just looked at the situation, and as I told all those guys, you have to do what you  think is best for you.

Here's a scenario if you go, here's a scenario if you stay. If you're going to go, don't look back, and if you're going to  stay, don't look ahead. That's one thing I've learned over the years is if kids are going to stay they have to make sure  they have both feet in or it doesn't work. I think the kids, they probably knew we were going to have a chance to have a pretty good team again this year, and I think that decision sometimes comes into play, do I leave to go play in the American League or do I want to stay another year in college. The kids that are on the cusp that's maybe a different story. I think Red said it best  years ago, if a kid is ready to play in the NHL, I'll be happy to drive them to the airport and go. But also you have to recognize that you don't have to be in a hurry to leave college unless you're ready for the next step, and you have to be ready mentally, you have to be ready physically. There's not a set timetable that's going to fit every individual. Every individual is different. Their maturity, mentally and physically is different. Maybe the team that has their rights, the depth on their team, has an impact. But I've had plenty of guys leave that after a couple years in the American League, they wish they would have stayed, too."

On the impact of the "Power 5" conferences on college hockey

"Well, I mean, for me the initial impact is just being able to feed them. I mean, you're a college kid, and the more we can do from that side of things, I think that's all good. So I think some of these changes are for the positive, and I'm a big student-athlete welfare guy, so the more we can do for the student-athlete, I think the better. We're unique in our sport because all of our kids aren't on full rides. I mean, we have 18 scholarships that are spread out hroughout the team, and we're not one of those head-count sports where everybody is on a full ride. I was talking to Mike this morning, I wish we had a couple more scholarships. Hockey has gone from 23 to 20 to 18. Well, we dress 20 for a game and we don't have 20 scholarships.

The more we can do for the student-athletes, I think the better it is, and I think that there was obviously the last couple years more and more pressure came down. You could see this coming down the road, what type of impact it's going to have a year from now with extra dollars and all that. I don't know where that's headed, but I know the impact this year is with meals and snacks and all that, and I think that's a real positive for our kids."

On the class of incoming freshmen

"You know, it's so early, we've only been on the ice a handful of times for 30 or 40 minutes. To be honest, I really haven't evaluated. I do know that we have a couple freshman forwards that are new. I think some of the returning guys are going to get an opportunity to play early in the season. With the defensemen we have five returning defensemen that have played significant minutes, three freshmen that probably can push to play, as well. Like any season I think we're going to have to rotate some guys early in the year within our lineups to see who should play with who and ultimately who does deserve to play.

We'll do some of that rotating the first half of the season, and then you get into January, you hope that your lineups will be a little bit set. Injuries are always going to be a factor. You need the depth, you need guys pushing each other, and I think when you have that, that's when you have your best teams."