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Lucia Anticipates New Contract Talks

March 01, 2017 - (0) comments


Veteran Gopher hockey coach Don Lucia told Sports Headliners yesterday he wants to talk with athletic director Mark Coyle about a contract extension after the season. “We’ll have a conversation this spring and see where things are at,” Lucia said.

Don Lucia

Coyle became athletic director last spring when Lucia had only a year left on his contract. A two-year extension was signed last fall taking Lucia through the 2018-2019 season. Lucia said the two men agreed last year further contract discussions will happen after this season.

Lucia doesn’t want a situation where he will be coaching next season with just one year to go on his deal—prompting speculation about job security and being a deterrent to recruiting. “Mark, I think, will be very fair,” Lucia said. “We’ll just wait until the year ends and sit down and see where we’re all at.”

New athletic directors are sometimes known for wanting to hire their own coaches, and Tracy Claeys received that message when the first-year Gophers football coach was dismissed last January despite a 9-4 record. Lucia referred to any similarity between him and Claeys as “apples and oranges.”

“I think I have a pretty long track record that speaks for itself,” Lucia said.

Lucia, 58, is the longest-tenured Gophers hockey coach ever. He has coached Minnesota teams for 18 seasons, including consecutive national championships in 2002 and 2003. He wants to continue indefinitely coaching the Gophers.

“I still have energy,” he said. “I don’t look at (it as) is it three (more) years? Five years? One year? I don’t know. I don’t look at it that way as much as you just try to do everything you can to have the best year you possibly can. As long as you love what you do, you want to continue to do it.”

After not qualifying for the NCAA Tournament last year for the first time in five years, Minnesota is playing like a national power again. The Gophers are 21-9-2 overall and ranked No. 5 nationally in the latest poll. Lucia’s team is 12-4 in Big Ten games and alone in first place. The Gophers could be headed to their fourth consecutive conference championship.

Lucia likes this season’s team including senior forward Justin Kloos who isn’t big physically at 5-9 but has come up with six game winning goals. Kloos is one of the team’s three candidates for the Hobey Baker Award honoring college hockey’s best player. The others are senior defenseman Jake Bischoff and sophomore forward Tyler Sheehy.

Justin Kloos

“He’s an example of a player that because he is a little bit smaller, he didn’t get drafted, but yet he is an elite college player,” Lucia said. “Sometimes guys like Justin Kloos are far more valuable than a guy who gets drafted because he is bigger, but may go (on to) have a bigger impact at the pro level than the college level.”

Although the Gophers have shown the ability to come from behind in games, Lucia has a “magic number” in mind when he talks about the importance goalie Eric Schierhorn will play in determining how deep Minnesota’s NCAA Tournament run may go. “When he gives up two (goals), we’ve yet to lose a game, so that’s kind of the magic number for us,” Lucia said. “We gotta be able to count on him at the end.”

The Gophers have two weekends ahead of regular season conference games. The Big Ten Tournament will then be the weekend of March 16-18 in Detroit. Lucia doesn’t want to focus on NCAA Tournament hopes for multiple reasons including the fact parity in college hockey can interrupt plans.

“If the season ended today, three of the four teams that were in the Frozen Four wouldn’t be in the NCAA Tournament this year that played last year including the two teams that played for a national title,” Lucia said. “That’s how difficult it is in college hockey today versus 10 or 15 years ago.”

Lucia is referring to Notre Dame, Qunnipiac and Yale missing out, but defending national champ North Dakota qualifying.

For all the success Lucia has experienced coaching, he also likes to talk about the academic work of his players. All the players on his roster either have their degrees or are making progress toward graduation. Lucia believes that in the last 10 years only one player who was with the Gophers for four years didn’t earn a degree.

“That’s what it’s all about,” Lucia said. “We’re all judged on wins and losses. We get that, but I think as a coach you want to make sure that when the kids come to your program and play for you they leave with their degree. When it’s all said and done that’s gonna be the most important thing that they can do in their four years.”

Worth Noting

Richard Pitino’s Gophers, winners of seven consecutive Big Ten games, play their final home game tomorrow night and tickets are available. The Gophers have two sellouts this season, January 21 against Wisconsin and last Saturday versus Penn State.

For probably the first time ever, the Gopher men’s basketball postseason banquet will be held on the Williams Arena floor. Coaches, players, fans and others associated with the program will sit at tables on the floor of the historic arena Monday night March 27. The public is welcome, with more information available at the program’s booster club website,

The Minnesota Football Coaches Association is offering a Youth Coaches Clinic March 31 and April 1 at the DoubleTree Hotel in St. Louis Park. The clinic will offer various sessions including ideas for building a youth football program, practice planning, defensive drills and developing young quarterbacks. There will also be an opportunity for attendees to hear from new Gophers head football coach P.J. Fleck. More information is available by clicking on the MFCA advertisement on this page and visiting the organization’s website.

Mike Condo, a starting defensive back on the Gophers 1967 Big Ten championship football team, passed away a few months ago. A Pennsylvania native, Condo was an aggressive player and three year letter winner from 1965-1967. “Pound for pound as tough as they were,” said former teammate Jim Carter.


Red Sox ‘Hit It Out of Park’ with Fans

February 27, 2017 - (0) comments


A notes column following a two-week vacation in the Fort Myers area.

I had a career in entertainment marketing and have been a sports fan as long as I can remember. I’ve attended local and national sports events, and enjoyed world-renowned attractions such as Disney World and the U.S. Open Tennis Championships, but I’ve never experienced customer relations like I encountered at JetBlue Park at Fenway South in Fort Myers.

The Red Sox’s spring training ballpark and surrounding player development fields are physically impressive but what makes visiting the complex so extraordinary is how fans are welcomed and catered to. On a Sunday when the Red Sox were practicing on multiple fields, there were smiling workers ready to answer questions, provide directions, talk Red Sox history, and offer transportation on golf carts.

Near the stadium, two staffers invited visitors to try a Virtual Reality experience at no cost. There was a short line to use the gear and see a player’s field-level view at Fenway Park. It was an opportunity to sample a technology that baseball’s 30 teams will be making a priority for future fan experiences.

JetBlue Park

Parking was free and there was no admission charge to visit the various practice fields. A tour of JetBlue Park costs $7 but my wife and I found a better deal. We struck up a conversation with a staffer who connected us with another worker who provided a free look inside the stadium. JetBlue, with features reminiscent of famed Fenway Park, opened in 2012—the 100th anniversary of the famous Boston stadium. …

The Twins and Red Sox are based in Fort Myers for spring training while the Rays are located nearby in Port Charlotte. For a top price spring training ticket to see those teams, the Rays are a bargain at $29, compared with the Red Sox at $49 and the Twins $45, according to Florida Weekly’s spring training baseball edition. …

The Red Sox are at spring training without retired slugger and DH David Ortiz. In a move that will haunt Minnesota baseball fans forever, the Twins let Ortiz go after the 2002 season. Ortiz had a storybook career with the Red Sox including last year, when at age 40 he hit .315 with 38 home runs and 127 RBIs.

In Red Sox history, Ortiz is second only to Ted Williams in career home runs. He is third in career RBIs behind Carl Yastrzemski and Williams—both former Triple A Minneapolis Millers. Despite spending most of his big league career as a DH, Ortiz will be fast-tracked to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. …

It will be interesting to see if Max Kepler can build on his 2015 rookie numbers with the Twins. The 24-year-old German born Kepler was zinging line drives in batting practice recently after hitting .235 with 17 home runs and 63 RBIs last season. His 17 homers were a career-high in five seasons in the minors and majors. …

Dick Bremer, who has been broadcasting Twins games since 1983, turns 61 on Wednesday.

Bremer’s broadcast partner, Bert Blyleven, talks more about his birthday than anyone I know. He will be 65 on April 6. Born in the Netherlands, Blyleven is the pitching coach for that nation’s team in the World Baseball Classic that starts next week. …

U president Eric Kaler was scheduled to be in Naples last weekend on behalf of the University of Minnesota Foundation. …

Vikings executive and U.S. Bank Stadium authority Lester Bagley talks to the C.O.R.E.S. lunch group March 9 at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Bloomington, 1114 American Blvd. Reservations need to be made by March 6. More information is available by contacting Jim Dotseth, …

Ten of 11 MIAC baseball teams have scheduled games at U.S. Bank Stadium during February and March. After a recent coaches poll, St. Thomas is the choice to win the league title. Saint John’s, where coach Jerry Haugen is in his 40th season, was voted second. …

Bill Barnwell, writing for February 15, suggests Green Bay could soon be the new home of Adrian Peterson (see the January 10 Sports Headliners regarding Peterson with the Packers).

Barnwell wrote the Vikings need to look at a number of offseason moves including what to do with two of their major assets who can become unrestricted free agents after next season, quarterback Sam Bradford and cornerback Xavier Rhodes.


U RPI Keeps Tourney Target Alive

February 09, 2017 - (0) comments


It’s been a productive several days for the Gophers basketball team including last night’s double overtime win over Iowa at Williams Arena.

Minnesota had lost five consecutive Big Ten games and had an overall record of 15-7 and league record of 3-6 going into last Saturday’s game at Illinois. It was near panic time for the Gophers to change their momentum in the next three games.

Done—almost. The Gophers defeated Illinois by nine points, won a thriller over Iowa, 101-89, and now pack their gym gear for Saturday’s game at Rutgers, 13-12 overall and 2-10 in the Big Ten.

Minnesota went into last night’s game ranked No. 25 nationally in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI)—rankings that have much to do with determining who moves on to postseason tournaments. The Gophers have some quality wins, and the opportunity to earn more with seven Big Ten games remaining on the schedule, plus a chance to maintain or even improve a top 25 RPI ranking that for awhile now has had NCAA Tournament predictors keeping Minnesota in the mix. Hard to say what the final results will be but a possibility could be wins over Rutgers, Indiana, Penn State and Nebraska, and losses to Michigan, Maryland and Wisconsin. Such a path would result in a 9-9 Big Ten record, 21-10 overall.

Richard Pitino

Results as referenced above will keep the team’s RPI in good shape and should deliver an invitation to the NCAA Tournament. If so, it will be a first for Minnesota coach Richard Pitino who is in his fourth season with the Gophers and was 2-16 in the Big Ten last year.

After the season ends the Gophers may look back  on the Iowa win as a key to their success–close call that it was.  Minnesota was ahead 56-43 with 11:52 remaining in the second half. About three minutes later three consecutive turnovers against Iowa’s half-court trapping defense had triggered a 57-56 Hawkeyes’ lead.

Fatigue, though, hit the Hawkeyes as they tried to finish off the Gophers. Iowa freshman Jordan Bohannon couldn’t keep up with Gophers junior guard Nate Mason in the second overtime. Mason got key baskets as Minnesota outscored the Hawkeyes 17-5.

It was an emotional night for the Gophers and their fans. Pitino doesn’t like to do it, but he was waving his arms late in the game to engage the crowd. The student section saved its infamous “We Hate Iowa!” yell for second half dramatics, and at times Williams Arena rocked like its famous days a decade or two ago.

After the game Mason was asked if this win—important even if the Gophers were playing Rutgers—was at least a little more satisfying coming against border rival Iowa. “Yeah, for sure,” he answered.

Worth Noting

Iowa coach Fran McCaffrey has two sons, Connor and Patrick, playing for Iowa City West High School. That team plays at Cretin Derham-Hall and against Gophers recruit Daniel Orturu Saturday, February 18.

Dick Jonckowski

There is talk of an appreciation roast for Dick Jonckowski in the spring to be sponsored by the Minute Men. Jonckowski, the Shakopee-based speaker and emcee, is in his final season as public address announcer for Gophers basketball but will continue with U baseball games. He will be recognized by the Gophers at halftime of the Michigan basketball game February 19.

Ray Christensen, who died a couple of days ago at age 92, was known to sports fans as the radio voice of Gophers football and basketball for decades but he had varied interests including classical music. He preferred to work without a partner on basketball broadcasts and announced those games alone. He was a humble gentleman in an industry known for egos.

Better than Ground Hog Day to prompt optimism about spring arriving soon is that the Twins first exhibition game is two weeks from tomorrow in Fort Myers against the Rays. Pitchers and catchers report to spring training February 14, with the full squad coming in February 18.

Tallest player on the 40-man roster is 6-7 Michael Tonkin and the heaviest is 6-5, 290-pound Kennys Vargas. The oldest Twin is 35-year-old Ervin Santana, born December 12, 1982, while the youngest is 21-year-old Fernando Romero who was born December 24, 1995.

The Twins have announced another Hall of Fame class without Halsey Hall being included. His storytelling and baseball knowledge delighted Twins radio and TV audiences in the early years of the franchise. An obstacle is many Twins Hall of Fame voters aren’t familiar with Hall who died almost 40 years ago but is deserving of enshrinement. Fans who want to see Hall honored can send an email to

Timberwolves second-year center Karl-Anthony Towns, who has the potential to be the best player in franchise history, has double-doubles in 31 of his last 34 games. Andrew Wiggins, the Wolves third-year forward and another potential superstar, has scored 20-plus points in 11 consecutive games.

The Minnesota Wild, with the best record in the Western Conference, has become a popular mid-season pick to win the 2017 Stanley Cup but that is a lot different outlook than before the season. For example, a June 18 article on had the Wild’s odds of winning the cup at 30/1.

Coach John Anderson’s Minnesota baseball team begins its season February 17-19 at UC Irvine, then opens the home schedule February 24-26 against Seattle in the first- ever Gopher games in U.S. Bank Stadium. Tickets are on sale via Ticketmaster and at the stadium for 13 Gopher games to be played in the new facility through March 12.

Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton High School in southern Minnesota soon breaks ground on a major upgrade to its football and softball facilities, and will be adding a new track. The project will include synthetic field turf for the football and softball fields, plus lights, scoreboard and concession upgrades. JWP has an enrollment of 199 in grades 9-12 and might be the smallest school in the state to install field turf.


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