Year To Remember For Lucia
Mario Lucia reminisces about being drafted by the Wild and his rookie season in the BCHL
Nearly a year later, Mario Lucia still smiles when he talks about getting his name called by the Minnesota Wild at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
He remembers the excitement at Xcel Energy Center on draft day. As fellow players and their families watched from the stands, below, where the ice surface resides during hockey season, the frenetic draft-day movements from 30 NHL clubs radiated throughout the building.
He remembers the roar that went up, as the hometown team selected the then-Wayzata High School junior with its second round pick.
He doesn’t, however, remember being overly nervous.
“It was more of a relief that I was there and the moment was finally happening,” Lucia said.
The most stressful time Lucia remembers came during the weeks leading up to the Draft. He said the draft was the easy part of the process because players are sitting there and where they are drafted is beyond their control. However, the NHL Combine, where NHL hopefuls are looked over more than a car during a 20-point inspection, is where the real anxiety kicks in.
“The NHL Combine and all the interviews, it was a stressful process,” Lucia said. “It got to be kind of a grind, and then adding my schoolwork on top of it.”
It is the first time many players meet each other and get a chance to measure up their competition. Lucia said that prospects attending the NHL Combine feel like a cow in the meat business. NHL hopefuls are interviewed, measured, weighted and put through a variety of grueling tests meant to push the prospects to their physical and mental limits. The most difficult are the Wingate Ergometer Test, measuring the amount of energy a player uses during a 30-second shift, and the VO2 Max Test, which measures a player’s overall endurance. Both tests are completed on stationary bikes.
“The bike tests are both mentally and physically tough,” Lucia said. “And it’s not like I’m Lance Armstrong – I don’t bike a lot.”
If Lucia had any struggles with the off-ice testing at the NHL Combine, he fared much better at the rink after being drafted – overcoming all the challenges of his rookie season of junior hockey. Skating for the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL), Lucia tied for the league lead in goals and ranked third in assists. He was named to the BCHL All-Rookie Team and All-BCHL Second Team.
“It was tough to leave as a senior in high school, but it’s what I had to do,” Lucia said about his decision to leave Minnesota for junior hockey.
All totaled, Lucia played in about 90 games, which helped him learn to play hard every night. “That’s the one thing I needed to work on as a player,” Lucia said. “I made a lot of strides towards being a consistent player.”
If Lucia’s decision to leave Minnesota was buoyed by personal success, it was triumphed by the team’s success. The Vees walked through the BCHL as regular season champions, which included a record 42-game winning streak during the regular season. Penticton then went on to win a trio of playoff championships: the Fred Page Cup (BCHL playoffs); Doyle Cup (BCHL vs. Alberta Junior Hockey League playoff); and RBC Cup (Canadian junior national champions).
"We had a great year and accomplished everything we wanted to accomplish," Lucia said.
During this year’s draft, Lucia will keep an eye on which players the Wild picks from afar while settling into college life in South Bend as freshman at Notre Dame. Typical first-year students don’t start their freshman year until the leaves begin to turn, but Lucia will take summer courses at Notre Dame and train with his new teammates.
A year after being drafted and months before taking his first strides into college hockey, Lucia knows his dream of making it to the NHL isn’t a sprint stating, “The marathon is only beginning.”
The Wild selected the 18-year-old forward last year with the knowledge he’d have time to develop, but Lucia hopes to be an impact player in his first college season with the Fighting Irish. Minnesota hopes Lucia will continue to progress and become an impact player for the Wild down the road.