Don Lucia has coached the University of Minnesota men's hockey team since 1999. It is a stretch that has spanned 15 seasons, 349 wins, four Frozen Four berths and two national championships. One thing that has not happened during that span has been a trip to face Notre Dame. That changes this weekend when #1 Minnesota (5-0-1, 0-0-0 Big Ten) plays two games at Compton Family Ice Arena against the Fighting Irish, ranked in 8th in the current SB Nation Power Rankings.
Lucia was there the last time the Gophers visited South Bend, Indiana, though. The last time Minnesota went on the road to Notre Dame prior to this weekend, Lucia was a member of the Fighting Irish. The year was 1980 and the Fighting Irish were members of the WCHA (so was Minnesota for that matter) prior to joining the CCHA.
Notre Dame now is in its first season as a member of Hockey East following the dissolution of the CCHA.
The two teams have played one another several times since then, including this past January at Mariucci Arena when the Gophers and Notre Dame (6-2-0, 1-1-0 Hockey East) were the top two teams in the country. Minnesota defeated the Fighting Irish 4-1 to get back a win after losing 4-3 at home to Notre Dame the year prior.
Sam Warning was one of four goal scorers for the Gophers last season in the team's win. He has continued to do that during the team's unbeaten start in non-conference play. The junior forward leads Minnesota currently with 12 points (5G-7A). Warning has scored at least one point in all six games and along with freshman linemate Hudson Fasching is one of only two to do so.
They aren't alone. The Gophers enter this weekend having the number one team offense in college hockey. In six games, the team has averaged 4.83 goals per game.
Notre Dame has averaged 3.12 goals per game in eight games this year. While it hasn't helped each of the Fighting Irish's opponents has given up on average less than 2.62 goals per game, that streak will continue this weekend. Behind sophomore goaltender Adam Wilcox (tied for 4th in the country with a .938% save percentage), Minnesota has allowed 10 goals in six games. Only Quinnipiac averages fewer.
That said, the Fighting Irish have offensive firepower. Senior T.J. Tynan, tied for the team lead with 8 points (1G-7A), has bested 40 points in a season twice. Notre Dame also returns a pair of seniors in Bryan Rust and Jeff Costello who each scored 30+ points last season.
And of course there is a sophomore forward by the name of Mario Lucia.
Like his father, the younger Lucia plays for Notre Dame. Mario currently has 3 points (2G-1A) in eight games. He was on the ice last year when the two teams played (coming off of a gold-medal winning performance for Team USA at the 2013 World Junior Championships) so this isn't anything new.
Minnesota has had an extra week to prepare for Notre Dame and the smaller ice at Compton Family. Still, no team has defeated the home team in South Bend this year. Regardless of the challenge this weekend, Minnesota's next trip will not take 33 years.
The Gophers travel to South Bend next year for the season-opening Ice Breaker tournament.
Lucia (the player, not the coach) is on Notre Dame's second line with freshman Vince Hinostorza and junior Austin Wuthrich.
For the Gophers, the biggest change is that freshman Gabe Guertler makes his collegiate debut. Guertler was suspended by Minnesota after being arrested in September for drunken driving. He returns in place of fellow freshman Connor Reilly, who has 2 points in 5 games.
The week off additionally was good for a pair of Minnesota players recovering from injuries. Both Jake Parenteau and Nate Condon are in Friday. Parenteau missed last Sunday's win over Boston College after being injured early in the team's first game. Condon, meanwhile, was held out of the last ten minutes as a precaution following a hard hit by Eagles defenseman Michael Matheson.
Wilcox starts in net for Minnesota. Steven Summerhays appears to be getting the nod for Notre Dame.
University of Minnesota Golden Gophers
Sam Warning (#11) - Kyle Rau (#7) - Hudson Fasching (#24)
Nate Condon (#16) - Justin Kloos (#25) - Taylor Cammarata(#13)
Gabe Guertler (#27) - Travis Boyd (#22) - Vinni Lettieri (#19)
Tom Serratore (#14) - Christian Isackson (#26) - Seth Ambroz(#17)
Brady Skjei (#2) - Justin Holl (#12)
Mike Reilly (#5) - Jake Parenteau (#6)
Ben Marshall (#10) - Michael Brodzinski (#20)
Adam Wilcox (#32)
Michael Shibrowski (#1)
University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Jeff Costello (#11) - T.J. Tynan (#18) - Bryan Rust (#21)
Mario Lucia (#22) - Vince Hinostorza (#13) - Austin Wuthrich (#27)
Sam Herr (#12) -Steven Fogarty (#26) - Peter Schneider (#15)
Mike Voran (#16) -David Gerths (#10) - Garrett Peterson (#19)
Robbie Russo (#5) - Stephen Johns (#28)
Kevin Lind (#25) - Justin Wade (#20)
Shayne Taker (#3) - Andy Ryan (#6)
Steven Summerhays (#1)
Chad Katunar (#33)
Joe Rogers (#31)
(Notre Dame lines from Darin Pritchett.)
Tonight's game begins at 8:00 p.m. ET/7:00 p.m. CT and airs on NBCSN. It can also be streamed online at NBCSports.com.
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Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation and College Hockey News. You can also follow him on Twitter -- Follow @gopherstate