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Notre Dame hockey: Round two at ND for Lucia family

Steve Lowe
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND -- The second installment of the Lucia Family Reunion on Ice takes place this weekend at Notre Dame's Compton Family Ice Arena.

Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach Don Lucia will bring his top-ranked team (5-0-1) to South Bend to take on No. 4 Notre Dame (6-2-0), and his own son, Fighting Irish left winger Mario Lucia.

And just like last year in Minneapolis for the first version of father-meets-son-on-ice, Mario's mom and Don's wife, Joyce Lucia, will be bleeding Blue and Gold.

"She's cheering for Notre Dame," Mario said Wednesday. "She was teasing my dad that she was going to sleep on the couch all week."

Don's got enough backers in his corner. He coaches the country's No. 1 team, from the country's hockey-craziest state. But what makes this dynamic more interesting, and perhaps easier to handle for both father and son, is that they share a different bond. Like his son is currently experiencing, Don played hockey at Notre Dame as a defenseman from 1977-81.

He's now in his 27th season as a college head coach, and 15th at Minnesota, where he has won two national championships and brings another title contender with him this year.

During his time at Minnesota, Don Lucia also had the unique, and at times very challenging experience of coaching a son. Mario's older brother Tony played for the Gophers from 2006-10. That sometimes difficult experience was a big reason why Mario ended up at his dad's alma mater, rather than on his dad's roster.

"There's pressure involved," said Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson, who also recruited Tony Lucia to play in South Bend. "Especially in Minnesota, where the fans are crazy about the Gophers. I'm sure there's external pressures, too, between the media and the fan base criticizing how much the coach's son is playing, or not playing. I think it would be a tough thing to handle."

Theirs is an arrangement that, so far, has worked out well for both. Mario has struck out on his own path, and Don can focus on being Mario's father, rather than his coach.

"People that play hockey know how tough it is, playing for your father," Mario said. "How challenging it is and how much pressure."

Conversations with dad these days are rarely about hockey, and more about classwork and life at Notre Dame. A text from Don on Wednesday was particularly memorable for Mario.

"We got our (Notre Dame) monogram jackets today, and he said how happy he was for me to receive that, because he's still got his in his closet," Mario said. "It's pretty special that both myself and my dad have that."

They shared another special moment back in March, when Mario and the Irish went to Detroit and won the CCHA's final Mason Cup title. Don was there at Joe Louis Arena, decked out in Blue and Gold.

"He was wearing my jersey and a Notre Dame hat, and just being a father and showing his support," Mario said. "He's always a family man first."

That family will be divided this weekend, but with mom in Mario's corner, support is tilted toward the Irish.

"Hopefully," Mario said, "we'll give her something to cheer about."

One-timers

  • When Notre Dame traveled to No. 1 Minnesota last year, the Irish were ranked second, but lost that game, 4-1. That started a rough stretch in January as the Irish lost six out of seven games to open the second half of the season.
  • This will be Minnesota's first trip to South Bend since 1980, when both teams were part of the WCHA. The Gophers are now part of the six-team Big Ten Conference, which is in its first year for hockey.
  • Gophers associate head coach Mike Guentzel's son, Ryan, graduated from Notre Dame in 2011 and was a member of both Irish Frozen Four teams. Mike has another son in college hockey as well Jake Guentzel is a freshman center at Nebraska-Omaha and was a third-round draft pick by the Pittsburgh Penguins this year.
  • Minnesota boasts the top scoring team in the country, averaging 4.83 goals per game. But for a team that scores so much, the Gophers' power play is hovering around just 14 percent (4-of-28). Notre Dame's penalty kill is fifth best at 93 percent.

WHO: No. 1 Minnesota (5-0-1) and No. 4 Notre Dame (6-2-0)

WHERE: Compton Family Ice Arena

WHEN: Friday, 8:05; Saturday, 7:05

TV: NBC Sports Network (Friday);

WEB: NBCSports.com live stream (Saturday)

RADIO: WBND (99.9 FM)

TWITTER: @NDHockeySBT; @NDHockey