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Minnesota Hockey: Don Lucia steps down as Gophers head coach

Lucia is out after 19 seasons at Minnesota

2014 NCAA Division I Men's Ice Hockey Championship - West Regional Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The University of Minnesota announced on Tuesday that Don Lucia will retire and will not return as the Minnesota Gophers Hockey coach for the 2018-19 season pending the approval of the University’s Board of Regents later this week per a release from the U. Minnesota athletic director Mark Coyle and Lucia have agreed that he will remain with Gopher Athletics as special assistant to the athletics director through June 30, 2019. A nationwide search for his replacement will begin immediately.

Quotes from the release from Mark Coyle and Lucia are below:

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. Few have contributed as much to that legacy as Don,” said Coyle. “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.”

“I want to thank Mark Dienhart for giving me a tremendous opportunity 19 years ago. I came to Minnesota because of the tradition, and I hoped to add to the tradition when I left. I am proud of the 14 banners that have been added to the rafters of 3M Arena at Mariucci. I am forever grateful to all the coaches, staff and most importantly the players who have worked so hard to accomplish this over the years,” said Lucia. “Most importantly to me, we did it the right way. Our players all graduate and have always represented themselves to the high standards of Gopher Hockey on and off the ice. It has been a tremendous honor and privilege to be the head hockey coach at the University of Minnesota.”

The Grand Rapids, Minnesota native ends his Gopher coaching career as the all-time winningest coach at Minnesota. He finishes with a record of 457-248-73 in 19 season as the head of the maroon and gold. He has a career record of 736-303-102 including his stops at Alaska-Fairbanks and Colorado College. Lucia’s teams won four WCHA Regular Season Championships, four Big Ten Regular Season Championships, three WCHA Final Five Championships and one Big Ten Tournament Championship. His Minnesota teams hold the NCAA record for most consecutive regular season conference championships with six from the 2011-12 season through the 2016-17 season.

Lucia’s tenure will be most positively remembered for bringing back to back NCAA Championships in the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons. Minnesota went to five Frozen Fours under Lucia with the most recent appearance resulting in the epic 0.6 NCAA Semifinal win over North Dakota and a NCAA Championship game loss to Union in 2014. Lucia took the Gophers to 13 NCAA Tournaments in his 19 years behind the bench including eight consecutive trips between 2001 and 2008.

The Lucia tenure was not without controversy though. Minnesota missed the NCAA Tournament for three straight seasons between 2008-2009 and 2010-2011. Lucia battled a condition called sarcoidosis during the 08-09 season and Minnesota went from being the #1 team in the nation in November to dropping to a final record of 17-13-7 and missing the NCAA Tournament. Many Gopher fans will say the beginning of that poor stretch can be traced to the infamous loss to Holy Cross in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in 2006.

Lucia coached ten First Team All-Americans, Two Big Ten Player of the Year Award Winners, and a Hobey Baker Award Winner.

Mark Coyle will have several options in trying to find Lucia’s replacement. But there will be lots of interested parties who will want to be heard in the process. Coyle will need to try and find someone that will make the vocal portion of the fanbase looking for fresh blood and both the hard core alumni base who will want to see one of their own get the job happy. With ticket sales and usage dropping significantly at Mariucci, Coyle will need to find someone who can invigorate the program and bring the fanbase back to the arena. It will not be an easy task.

We will have a look at several potential candidates to replace Lucia in a different article.