Lucia Expected Departure
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Minnesota coach Don Lucia was not the least surprised at today's news that Ryan Potulny was leaving to sign an NHL contract with the Philadelphia Flyers.
He might have been more surprised that Potulny was not named a Hobey Hat Trick finalist. Brian Elliott (Wisconsin), Matt Carle (Denver) and Chris Collins (BC) were named today.
"I thought he was deserving. At same time, the other three are quality candidates as well," Lucia said. "The reality is, it's difficult to have three guys from one league, and you can't argue with Carle or Elliott."
As for Potulny, it was his time to go, after scoring 38 goals, the most in the NCAA since Todd White for Clarkson in 1996-97. Potulny was injured his freshman year, and never got fully going. In his sophomore year, he started strong, but ran out of gas. This season, was solid start to finish, capped by a four-goal game at St. Cloud at the WCHA Final Five, although the Gophers lost to Holy Cross last Friday in the first round of the NCAAs.
"He had a better year every year he was with our program," Lucia said. "There's not much left to prove. I don't have any issue with him moving on. I'm happy for him. It sounds like a he got a real good deal financially. It's hard to pass that up."
Between the money being thrown at players, and the nature of the new collective bargaining agreement, coaches at big-time programs with high-profile players are mentally preparing for the notion that three years is about the maximum to expect from such a player.
"I think so," Lucia said. "I always believe you should dominate the level you're at before you move on, and obviously with Ryan and (Denver's) Matt (Carle), they dominated the level they're at.
"I just hope guys that are 10-15 goal scorers aren't doing it."
Lucia said it's possible other underclassmen would leave the program, though he wouldn't be ready with such a ringing endorsement if that was the case. Potulny linemate Danny Irmen is another high-profile junior that could depart, but Lucia doesn't think Potulny's decision will have any bearing on his fellow North Dakotan's.
"I don't think it has any impact on Danny at all," Lucia said. "I think right now, we anticipated Ryan leaving half way through the year. Danny has to make a decision. I still think he has things he can do at the collegiate level."
The other question mark is Phil Kessel, the highly-touted freshman who is expected to go in the top three of this year's NHL Draft, if not No. 1 overall.
"The NHL is not an 18-year old league," Lucia said. "You have to be physically, mentally ready."
Still, Lucia is prepared for all possibilities.
"We try to recruit some kids knowing they may come in or may not," Lucia said. "We learned our lesson with (defenseman) Paul Martin. Since that time, we've tried to cover ourselves a little bit. We recruited four forwards knowing we were losing three."
Lucia added that Tyler Hirsch, who took a one-year medical leave of absence for personal reasons, and has been working out this year with a team in Germany, is expected back for his senior season in 2006-07.