After an entire summer of offseason training and weeks of captain’s practices at the University of Notre Dame, Wild prospect Mario Lucia was itching for the season to begin. However, at the first official team practice, it wasn’t the type of start to his college career he had been dreaming of. The Wild’s second-round pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft broke his leg and would undergo surgery, followed by more than a month of rehabilitation.
“It was not the most memorable way to start my college career,” Lucia said. “It was the most pain I’ve ever been in. When I found out I was going to be out, it was like a shock to the heart. Everybody has to go through that, some kind of adversary, but you have to keep moving forward.”
Rehabbing hard to get back sooner than expected, the Fighting Irish freshman has had quite a return to the ice. He was awarded the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) Rookie of the Month for December. In four games in December, Lucia recorded three goals and seven points, helping Notre Dame to a perfect 4-0-0 record. He also was selected as the Rookie of the Week twice (Dec. 3 and Dec. 10).
Of course, Lucia didn’t have much time to bask in the honor. He received word that he was named the Rookie of the Month when he was in Ufa, Russia, as a member of the USA National Junior Team competing in the International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship. Lucia and the U.S. defeated Team Sweden, 3-1, in the championship to giving the United States its third-ever WJC gold medal.
“Singing the National Anthem with our team and watching the flag go up, it’s a feeling I’ll never forget,” Lucia said. “It makes you proud to be an American to represent your country. It was so cool to see our flag on top of all the others.”
Although Lucia was the 13th forward on the roster, he took the tournament as a learning experience, especially from the mental side of the game.
“Being the 13th forward, I didn’t get a lot of ice time, which was something new,” the Plymouth resident said. “You can only control what you can control, so you had to stay positive and focused. You have to have a positive attitude on the bench no matter what the situation. I tried to be encouraging to my teammate and keep things positive by talking and being vocal.”
After winning gold, Lucia took a 32-hour, marathon travel day and a half to return to Minnesota, as Notre Dame played against the University of Minnesota and Lucia’s father, Don, the Gophers’ head coach on Tuesday, Jan. 8. It was a game Lucia had circled on his calendar, but didn’t go as planned for the Irish, losing 4-1.
“I’m not sure why, but it was the most nervous I’ve ever been in a game,” Lucia said. Maybe it was playing in his home state for first time or the jet lag, but the forward and his teammates will take the trip to the State of Hockey as with them for the rest of the season, “That game will make our team better down the road and I hope we can see them again in the National Tournament.”