It certainly is the case for Gopher men’s hockey head coach Don Lucia, who was featured in a New York Times article on Friday headlined, “Once-Embattled Coach Has Gophers Golden Again.”
Lucia, 54 and a native-Minnesotan, is only one of six coaches in NCAA history with more than 600 wins, not to mention one of four coaches to win back-to-back national titles.
So remind me again how Lucia was once “embattled?”
While the Gophers are ranked No. 1 this season and finished in the Frozen Four last year, amidst the success of the last year and a half, some fans (including myself) forgot the years of turmoil that followed after the Gophers won back-t0-back titles in 2002 and 2003.
Perhaps turmoil is not the best word-choice to describe failing to win a national championship in a decade, but as the State of Hockey, anything less than an NCAA tournament appearance is considered a failure.
And while fans from the North Star State responded to these failures by calling for Lucia’s head, the coach was under siege by his own body, as he was diagnosed with sarcoidosis, an illness that left him with headaches and numbness to his face.
Lucia only missed four games due to his illness and was eventually able to control the disease. He was also able to control the exodus of talent from his team that saw the likes of Phil Kessel, Erik Johnson and Nick Leddy bolt for the NHL.
Now in his 14th year as head coach, the Gophers are back on top of the college hockey world and in position to once again make a run at a national title with an infusion of young and veteran talent, including sophomore Kyle Rau but especially junior forward Nick Bjugstad, who had seriously considered making the jump to the big leagues following last year’s Frozen Four run.
“There were a lot of people who didn’t want me to be here a couple of years ago,” said Lucia to The Times. “Fortunately, we had the good year last year to reinforce the decision to show some faith.”
And faith is what I would give to Lucia, who has a chance to tie legend Herb Brooks with three national titles this year.