Commentary: Lucia Should Schedule North Dakota
by Virg Foss/Staff Writer
Will someone please send Minnesota Gopher hockey coach Don Lucia a pair of dancing shoes and a reminder that it takes two to tango?
Barring post-season meetings, storied rivals Minnesota and North Dakota won't play each other after this year until 2016-17. That means incoming players and students at both schools next fall won't taste the insanely good rivalry on ice until they are seniors.
Tickets are going as high as $425 for a prime seat for this weekend's series, the final one as members of the WCHA. That's double what top tickets sold for when Wisconsin played at Minnesota.
That's $125 more than prime courtside seats for the huge Minnesota-Michigan Big Ten basketball showdown on Minnesota's campus on Thursday that were sold for by scalpers for $275 each.
The voice of the fans could not be clearer. They want North Dakota-Minnesota hockey and they are willing to pay big bucks to watch it.
Lucia, however, has decided against it. His reasons for doing so are confusing. At first he said the rivalry was over the top, that it needed to cool down a bit — which is hard to argue with given some instances that have occurred in recent years, but it's unclear that's the total reason for Lucia's decision. Then he said it was because Minnesota's policy of not playing non-conference games against schools with Native American nicknames stood in the way.
I'm not buying a word of it.
Hey, the North Dakota-Wisconsin series sailed far over the top on many occasions, yet you didn't see Badger coach Mike Eaves running from the rivalry. He embraced it.
Wisconsin, which has the same policy as Minnesota regarding schools with Native American nicknames, booked North Dakota for the next four years as the retirement of the nickname came about.
It is the job of the head coaches to handle the non-conference portion of their schedules, so Lucia and UND coach Dave Hakstol were in direct conversation on the future of the rivlary.
Hakstol battled hard to preserve it. His suggestion of two games each year, one game in Grand Forks on a Thursday, for example, and the second at Mariucci Arena on a Saturday was a novel and fascinating proposal.
"I would like to see the series be played every year," Hakstol said. "The very important level is the tradition and the passion of the rivalry and the importance of that to our fans."
Instead, he's booked non-conference games with Colorado College, where he once coached, and with Notre Dame, where he played and and where his son Mario now plays.
It's not just North Dakota fans that are scratching their heads.
Former Minnesota coach Lou Nanne told the St. Paul Pioneer Press, "I just wish the university would find some way to make sure they play North Dakota and Duluth two times a year as part of their nonconference schedule. Those two teams are really important to the Gophers' schedule. I just don't like to think of building another rivalry that's going to compete with North Dakota. This one's been going for 50 years; you just don't replace it."
Hakstol said he understands each school goes through a different thought process in assembling schedules.
"I never try to predict what our opponent is thinking on any given weekend, and in this case, I don't try to put myself in Don's shoes,'' Hakstol said. "From my perspective, I know our program is willing to play them on a year-to-year basis."
If you're as mad as hell and not going to take it any more, make your voice heard. Call or write the University of Minnesota athletics director Norwood Teague or Lucia.
And send Lucia some tango music, please.