Q&A With ... Don Lucia
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. Don Lucia, regularly the head coach at Minnesota, recently coached the U.S. national team at the World Junior championships. We caught up with the two-time national champion coach during his team's recent series at Penn State, the first meetings between the teams.
CHN: What do you make of Penn State after your first visit there?
Lucia: It was a good atmosphere and good energy in the building, especially after they scored. It's a really nice facility. They've got a great base and really bright future.
CHN: What did you make of the whole experience in Sweden with the World Juniors?
Lucia: It was terrific. We had a great staff to work with. We shared a lot of ideas and had a lot of goood talks about how we needed to play the game. I thought the kids bought in to how we needed to play and other than a four-minute segment against Canada and two minutes against Russia, we played about as well as we could play. The team was a joy to coach. Especially, they understand how we needed to play. We needed to play strong near the goal line and get pucks down into the offensive zone. I think our D corps did a good job moving the puck up and out of our own zone, our transition game was really good. So from a coaching standpoint, I was pleased with how the kids responded to how we wanted to play.
CHN: It's easy to look and say 'You didn't medal,' but, like you said, if you watched the games, you saw how well you guys played. The tournament has a lot of good teams now and it's a fine line.
Lucia: It was a great experience for me all the way around. It was one of the highlights for me all the way around with all the things I've ever done. It was great to be in that environment. There's a lot of talented players, that's for sure. And it's such a fine line, that's what you learn. ... You have to get that goal (against Canada). You just can't break, you can't take the bad penalty in International.
CHN: Those three in a row (against Russia) were tough, very borderline. (Russia scored two 5-on-3 goals to take a 4-3 lead.)
Lucia: That's part of it though, you know that going in. And to our kids' credit, I thought they were disciplined. There was no retaliation. Some of them are tough calls just from — put a stick on somebody and he falls. But as far as retaliation and that type of discipline, I thought they did a terrific job.
CHN: Did anything surprise you about the process?
Lucia: Nothing really surprised me. I wish O'Regan would've been healthy. I thought that hurt, when he got the hip flexor and missed the one game (against Germany) and he was never back to a hundred percent. I think that affected his game and I give him credit trying to gut it out for us. Sweden did a great job as hosts. Obviously (Team USA general manager) Jim Johansson's been through it many many times. But how smooth the administrative part was from USA Hockey, it was as smooth as it could be, and Jim's a great guy and a tremendous help. I just can't say enough about what a positive experience I had.
Next year they're going to have a harder pool, but it might benefit them in the crossver. Whereas this year we had a harder crossover game with Russia, but that's part of it. You see how the depth is improving, where the Czechs beat Canada, and Slovakia almost had Canada beat. How good Russia, Sweden and Finland were. I thought we played a really good tournament. And Switzerland beat Finland in a shootout. You can't take anything for granted, and that's a big part of it.
CHN: Is there anything you feel should be different about the process, with USA Hockey or the tournament itself?
Lucia: I don't know how it could (be different). We had the right people there this summer (at the evaluation camp in Lake Placid). You have the selection process in Lake Placid in the summer, and, as it should, there's guys in December who weren't part of Lake Placid. There should be some kids emerging. It's too bad (Michigan's JT) Compher got hurt, and a couple guys got hurt, and (Patrick) Sieloff and (Tyler) Motte got sick right before. It was a tough evaluation for them. But I can't say enough about how well (BU recruit) Jack Eichel played too. For a 17-year old kid, just turning 17, to have such an important role on our team — I think the U.S. knows who their No. 1 center will be next year.
But for how everything has run. It was a home run for me, other than not getting to that semifinal.
CHN: I thought Hudson Fasching played great, even if he didn't light up the score sheet.
Lucia: I was happy with our two (Minnesota) kids (Fasching and Brady Skjei). The whole team really. (Stefan) Matteau, it was great to see a kid like that grow up. I saw him a year ago at Lake Placid. ... He's matured so much as a person.
I thought that was a benefit for me, to be at Lake Placid the year before, to go through the process for this year. That's something maybe they should consider, having a coach they know is going to do it the following year maybe there to see it the year before.
You're trying to make those final selectons on your own team. What if this guy get hurt, what do you need? There's not necessarily a right or wrong answer. You're just trying to make the best educated guess based on what you see when you make your selections.