Gophers coach Don Lucia used his weekly radio show on Monday to defend himself from critics complaining that North Dakota won't be on the U's schedule the next three seasons.
"We have a rule at the University of Minnesota -- not put in by me -- but by the regents that we can not play a team with an Indian nickname," Lucia said. "And for years, this controversy with North Dakota and the nickname has been going on. And it has been fought in the courts and everything else.
"And it did not get settled until this summer. Well -- if you want to put the blame on me for not waiting to find out whether it was going to get settled or not, then so be it. I can accept that fact.
"I wasn't going to wait. When the conferences all broke up a couple of years ago. And we were heading into all these new conferences, it was kind of a frenzy and free-for-all for scheduling nonconference games. And when we had the opportunity to schedule some good opponents -- I could have waited, but I chose not to wait. But I wanted to ensure we had a good schedule for our fans and our team."
(Hold on there, coach. Virg Foss, a columnist for the Grand Forks Herald, the paper in the town UND plays in, points out in a recent column that the Wisconsin Badgers have the similar scheduling restriction. Yet UND and the Badgers will play each other the next four years.)
Back to The Don:
"And then once the controversy with the nickname ended, then we would be in a position to put North Dakota back on our schedule and that is exactly what is going to happen. Right now we have our three more years with Notre Dame after this and four with Boston College. It is pretty much done that when Notre Dame drops off our schedule, North Dakota will come back on our schedule."
"They should be on the schedule on a pretty regular basis. Should it be every year? I don't know. We are starting to get so far out that it might be somebody else's decision, not mine. But I do believe we need to play them and our first available opportunity to play them -- when our schedule is clear -- they will be back on our schedule. A year here and a year up there. We will go back and fourth, rather than one and one."
(UND coach Dave Hakstol has said he would like to play a home-and-home series with the Gophers every year over three days. The middle day would be a travel day.)
"That will be good. It will be good for our fans. They will be excited, our players will be excited. It is a win-win for everybody. But you know what, if they wouldn't have fought [for] their old nickname, maybe we would be playing next year, instead of keeping that [controversy] alive for five years."
(Last week Lucia proposed playing North Dakota in 2016-17, 2017-18, then taking two years off, then repeating that pattern. ... Foss in his column, which was picked up by the College Hockey News is here, said UND and Gophers fans should write Lucia and U of M athletic director Norwood Teague asking them to schedule North Dakota every season because it is such a great rivalry.)
Lucia said the Gophers don't have as much scheduling flexibility as some might assume even though they will be in the six-team Big Ten Conference.
He said they will play 20 conference games and eight more every year against the four other Division I teams in Minnesota: Bemidji State, Minnesota Duluth. Minnesota State Mankato and St. Cloud State. Six of those Gophers' games will be two-game series, two will be part of an all-Minnesota teams tournament at Mariucci.
Here's how the Gophers' schedule next season will look like, for instance:
Two games at Bemidji State
Minnesota State at Mariucci for two games
Minnesota Duluth at Mariucci for two games
St. Cloud State in first game of Gophers' new second tournament, in January
Minnesota State or UMD in second game of Gophers new second tournament, in January (Bemidji State will not be in the field the first year)
Bottom line is, Gophers will play St. Cloud State once next season, Bemidji State twice and Minnesota Duluth and Minnesota State either twice or three times. ... The following year, another of the Minnesota teams takes St. Cloud State's place in the rotation, facing the Gophers only once, and so on.
With the Big Ten Conference schedule, those eight games against other Minnesota teams and the Mariucci Classic, between Christmas and New Year's Day as usual, the Gophers have 30 games.
That leaves only four more available games.
And the Gophers have those spots filled for three seasons:
2013-14: Notre Dame twice, probably on road; Boston College twice at Mariucci.
2014-15: Notre Dame twice, probably at Mariucci; Boston College and Northeastern for single games on road
2016-17: Notre Dame twice, probably on road; Northeastern twice at Mariucci
"Next year, we will have a very attractive schedule," Lucia said, "and this is what we are the most concerned with because, I mentioned, with the breakups of the leagues and everybody scrambling to find your nonconference opponents I liken it to like when you are a kid and you are playing musical chairs. When the music stops, you better find a chair. And we wanted to make sure we locked into our non-league games with quality opponents.
"We weren't willing to wait. And we didn't have to. We had an opportunity to schedule good non-league opponents and that's what we did."
Lucia said he likes playing the in-state Division I schools. "That was a priority," he said. "They all wanted to play us. That is important for our state.
He said the 2013-14 Big Ten schedule won't start until Thanksgiving time, so 10 of the Gophers' 14 nonconference games will be early, except for the Gophers' two tournaments.
"[The schedule] is almost going to be like Big Ten basketball," he said, "where you have your nonconference games before your Big Ten season starts."
RECAP OF UND SERIES
"Saturday's game was much more entertaining for the fans," Lucia said. "It was a better hockey game. The teams [on Friday] looked a little tentative and didn't have the pace of what Saturday's game was. ... What I liked that final 10 minutes, we had a good push."
The Gophers scored twice in the last 10 minutes of the third period to tie North Dakota 4-4, which was the final score after a scoreless overtime.
"Saturday's game was like an NCAA tournament game," Lucia said. "It was a playoff game, it was a March, April game in intensity. ... It just makes you better playing in a game like that."
* Lucia said senior center Erik Haula, who was moved to left wing on the first line for the UND series, was pretty sore after the games were over. He had missed the previous three games after being slashed on the hands.
Haula will get two days off this week, and play wing again versus Minnesota State. Then, after a week off the following weekend, Lucia said he hopefully expects Haula to be 100 percent and back at center on the second line for the series at St. Cloud on Feb. 8-9.
* Nate Condon had five points in the UND series, centering the second line. "He was really good this weekend," Lucia said.
* The Gophers have scored at least four goals in their past nine games, going back to the first game at Colorado College on Dec. 7.In that stretch they are 7-0-2 and are averaging 4.89 goals per game (44 total).
"The start we have had since Christmastime has been critical for us, not only in the league but, certainly, in the national picture," Lucia said.
The Gophers are tied for first place in the WCHA with St. Cloud State and ranked No. 1 nationally.
Asked if freshman goalie Adam Wilcox will every get a game off, Lucia said, Wilcox will get a break next weekend when the Gophers are idle after a home-and-home series with Minnesota State Mankato this weekend.
Lucia said he and Justin Johnson, the team's goalie coach, have talked about Wilcox and if his play starts to suffer, he will get a night off and junior Mike Shibrowski -- remember him? -- will play.
"I don't think we are talking about giving Bjugstad a day off on a Friday night because he is tired. Or anything like that. We will monitor it. We want to make sure he is fresh for us come playoff time.
"And if that means rotating goalies for a few weeks, we will do that. If he continues to play well and feels good, he will continue to play."
Translation: Wilcox will keep starting ever game unless a team really lights him up. Lucia, in recent seasons, seems to prefer one goalie. The torch got passed to Alex Kangas, then Kent Patterson and now Adam Wilcox.
THE DON SAYS
* On Alabama Huntsville being admitted to the WCHA for next season: "It is great. ... When I was coaching at [Alaska] Fairbanks, we used to play them every year. And we'd go down and play at Huntsville. It is just another opportunity for kids to play college hockey and coaches to coach college hockey in a footprint that is in a nontraditional area that maybe it can spread some day. ... Probably in this instance, if Huntsville didn't get into the WCHA, they would have shut down their program."
On Minnesota State, the Gophers' next opponent: "They are 12-3-1 in their last 16 games and two of those losses were in overtime to Wisconsin a couple weeks ago. They are playing very good. ... They are a team that had a whole host of injuries the year before. Those kids were coming back. It was a team that really had a chance to jump up. And we've seen that. ... They are as skilled as anybody."