This story appeared Monday in the St. Paul Pioneer Press as University of Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi repeats his backing and confidence in coach Don Lucia:
Brian Murphy, St. Paul Pioneer Press
Don Lucia is not going anywhere. So says the University of Minnesota men’s hockey coach. And so says his boss, University of Minnesota athletics director Joel Maturi.
Responding to questions about Lucia’s job security and the discontent growing among fans after the Gophers failed to qualify for the NCAA tournament a second straight season, Maturi affirmed his confidence in Lucia and said he is not in the market for a new coach.
"With all due respect, as the AD I can’t have a survey done to see how many people want to bring back Don Lucia and who doesn’t," Maturi said Friday. "There’s great passion for Gopher hockey. Many of our passionate fans want to win every game, and if they don’t they’re not pleased.
"The good news is we’ve got passionate fans. The challenge for me and coach Lucia, when we aren’t successful, is ‘What’s the prudent response?’ "
Maturi said, as usual, he would take the next four weeks to conduct his post-season evaluation of Lucia and his staff.
The Gophers finished with a losing record in 2009-10, the first sub-.500 season in 10 seasons under Lucia. More alarming, they lost in the first round of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs for just the second time in 32 years, failing to reach the Final Five for the first time in 11 years.
"I don’t think anyone connected with Gopher hockey is pleased with what has occurred the last two years," Maturi said.
Despite a roster laden with 20 NHL prospects, the Gophers only scored 2.72 goals per game, which ranked eighth in the 10-team conference.
"We had challenges scoring," Maturi said. "Should we blame it on the system? I don’t know, but that’s an unfair thing, in my opinion. I saw a lot of nets open we didn’t put the puck in. We went through one of those years. We’ll be better."
Maturi acknowledged he was concerned a raft of players have left early to turn pro, including sophomore Jordan Schroeder, who signed with Vancouver this month. But he chafed at NHL executives who criticized the program for failing to develop players.
"Sure I’m concerned, but in most of these cases they aspired to go to the pros. That’s where they want to be and where they belong. If a kid has the opportunity to sign for a lot of money to play in the NHL, I understand that and am respectful of that," Maturi said.
"There seems to be lot of negativity about how our kids don’t get better. I believe that is completely unfounded. I’m sure the guys playing in the NHL wouldn’t say that, and I’ve spoken to some of them. You don’t get there if it’s the coach’s fault."
Maturi also refuted speculation he had contacted former North Dakota coach Dean Blais, currently heading the program at Nebraska Omaha, to determine whether the Minnesota alumnus was interested in coaching the Gophers.
"I hate to tell you, none of that’s true," he said. "I haven’t spoken to coach Blais, whom I have great respect for. Some day, if I have the opportunity to hire a hockey coach, he would certainly be on my list."