Men's Big Ten Hockey

CCHA's Don Lucia On Year 1, Lessons Learned From Championship Mishap

CCHA's Don Lucia On Year 1, Lessons Learned From Championship Mishap

Don Lucia was named CCHA commissioner last season, and received his fair share of challenges—including a championship game controversy.

Sep 27, 2022 by Tim Rappleye
CCHA's Don Lucia On Year 1, Lessons Learned From Championship Mishap

Former University of Minnesota coach Don Lucia returned to the front lines of college hockey last season as commissioner of the CCHA. Until the third period of the 2022 NCAA Championship Game, it was a Cinderella ride for Lucia and his new league, with the Hobey Baker winner and an NCAA finalist shining bright in Boston this past April. 

Lucia also found himself in what he describes as a “Once every 25-year event,” when his CCHA Championship Game took several bizarre twists. FloHockey’s Tim Rappleye caught up with Lucia, and got the Minnesota coaching legend to re-live some of the highlights and lowlights of his unforgettable first season as a Division One commissioner.

FloHockey: How did you find your maiden voyage as the CCHA commissioner?

Don Lucia: I was fortunate to walk into a great year for our league. People really aided me in my transition—Dom [Hennig/communications] and Dean [Thibodeaux/budgets]. On the ice we had some really good teams. You almost had it all with a Hobey Baker winner and Minnesota State playing for a national championship, one period away from a fairy tale year in Year One.

How different was the mentality between being a head coach and a commissioner?

As a coach what I enjoyed most was the weekly, Monday-through-Thursday practice time, the interaction with the players. 

On the flip side, [as commissioner] it was nice to be able to go to a game not caring who won or lost—you wanted to see good games, you’re evaluating different things during game night, the officials and what not. It was really enjoyable to work with the [fellow] commissioners on what’s good for the game, as opposed to what’s good for my school. You’re taking the global approach as we try and take care of the game as we move forward.

Everyone at the Frozen Four commented on how you looked 10 pounds lighter and 10 years younger. Is there less stress in this new job?

[Laughs] Yeah, probably less training tables, too, which was helpful. That first year when I finished coaching I lost 10 pounds, [and] there is no question that there’s less stress, that goes with the territory. I remember all the years I coached, my parents noticed that once October rolled around my voice was different. 

When the season ended, how I looked and how I interacted was “back to normal” they used to say. During that six-month period, there’s a lot of stress involved, winning and losing every night, how you take it, [lack of] sleep. 

The only night I felt like that I was coaching again was that [2022] Championship Game, what we went through. That night I was up til two or three o’clock in the morning rewinding everything. But other than that night, I was able to go to bed and get a good night’s sleep every night.

Here you are as a first-year commissioner and you find yourself in a once-in-a-decade debacle in the league’s Championship Game, forced to resume play an hour after handing out the Ron Mason Trophy.

I’d say it’s more like once every twenty-five years. I think my 19 years coaching in Minnesota helped me for that one. You’re used to making decisions that not everyone is going to agree with, and that was a no-win situation. I feel comfortable with what we did do. If I had one do-over, it would be making an announcement quicker as to what was going on to the people that were at the game—not waiting. We were trying to make decisions in real time. 

The good thing is that in the NCAA rule book, things have been cleaned up. We, at the league, will do things differently in the future. When you have something like that, you have to learn from it. When you get in a playoff situation like that, the officials no matter what, are going to go into the penalty box and work with the instant replay official, make sure they are all involved. Some of those changes will help.

How much did your empathy for the coaches and players factor into your decision?

It was more players than the coach [Serratore]. There’s only one team at the end of the year that has a joyous locker room. When you lose that final game, I’ve seen that devastation, some players’ careers are over. 

My mind went to the seniors—some of those kids, it might be the last game they ever play in organized hockey. I couldn’t help but think that’s unjust. It would be hard to look at those kids and say, “Hey, you really didn’t lose the game, but your career is over.”

We tried to right the wrong, and ultimately the same team won, and for the Bemidji players and coaches, it was much easier to digest.

What about Northeastern University, the NCAA bubble team that had their season thrown back into uncertainty after being convinced they were in the tournament one minute, and out the next. They were hopping mad, saying rules were broken.

Well, they should have won. That’s my response. Then they wouldn’t have had to worry about it. If the tables were reversed, what would they have wanted to have [been] done? If their season had ended on a goal that didn’t go in? You can play the “what-if” game all you want. Justice was served, that’s the way I look at it.

Do you know the old hit song from the '70s, “If loving you was wrong, I don’t want to be right?” [Luther Ingram]

I’m old enough to remember that song. Actually, the song that came through my mind was the Meatloaf song, “What’s it going to be boy, ’Yes’ or ‘No’?" [Paradise By The Dashboard Light] What are you going to do? Make a decision. [Laughs] That’s the song I remember, “What’s it going to be Don? Yes or No?”