CCHA gets their man: Longtime coach Don Lucia named commissioner for college hockey league that will re-form in 2021

Don Lucia

More info: Northern Michigan University Wildcats’ final WCHA season begins at the University of Wisconsin on Oct. 3-4


MARQUETTE — The soon-to-be-re-formed CCHA got its man on Tuesday.

The Central Collegiate Hockey Association, an entity that has lain dormant for most of the past decade, named long-time coach Don Lucia as its commissioner for when the league restarts with Northern Michigan University and six other current WCHA teams in just over a year.

The Midwestern members of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association announced last summer that they would leave after the 2020-21 season to re-form the CCHA, which existed from 1971 to 2013, when realignment caused big shifts in college hockey that ended the league.

Northern Michigan University’s Andre Ghantous, center, splits the defense of Ferris State’s Joe Rutkowski, left, and Marshall Moise in the third period of their WCHA game played at the Berry Events Center in Marquette on Feb. 1. Both schools will be members of the re-formed CCHA in 2021. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

The others to also constitute the new CCHA are Upper Peninsula schools Michigan Tech and Lake Superior State, along with Ferris State in the Lower Peninsula, Bowling Green State in Ohio and Minnesota State-Mankato and Bemidji State in Minnesota.

That would leave behind Alaska-Fairbanks, Alaska-Anchorage and Alabama-Huntsville, which in the last month dropped its program, then brought it back to life when nearly a million dollars was collected for the team.

Lucia is one of the most successful coaches in college hockey history, having led programs at Alaska-Fairbanks for six years, Colorado College for six year and Minnesota for 19 years.

He is the Golden Gophers’ all-time winningest coach, winning national championships at Minnesota in 2002 and 2003 and appearing in five NCAA Frozen Four tournaments. He also led CC to an NCAA runner-up finish in 1996 and a Frozen Four appearance in 1997.

“The member institutions of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association are pleased to announce Don Lucia as our new commissioner,” NMU President Fritz Erickson said in a news release from that school and Michigan Tech on Wednesday. “Don has a tremendous background of success in college hockey and his wealth of knowledge, vision and passion for the game was very evident and impressive throughout our search.

Northern Michigan University’s Adam Roeder, left, and Michigan Tech’s Eric Gotz look toward the goal at Northern NMU’s Berry Events Center in Marquette on March 6. Both the Huskies and Wildcats will join the newly re-formed CCHA in 2021. (Journal file photo)

“The CCHA presidents believe Don will lead us to great success and we are excited for what’s ahead.”

Ferris State Director of Athletics Perk Weisenburger, the chairman of the commissioner search committee, wholeheartedly agreed.

“We are thrilled with the addition of Don Lucia as CCHA commissioner,” Weisenburger said. “I would like to thank the members of our search committee who represented each of the seven institutions that will form the CCHA when we open play in October of 2021, as well as our consultant Dr. Morris Kurtz for his dedication and commitment throughout this exhaustive process.

“We had several extremely well qualified candidates who made thorough and in-depth presentations to our membership and we thank them for their interest, time and energy.”

The league didn’t disclose who the other candidates were.

Lucia has coached numerous players who have been named All-Americans, conference players of the year, all-conference members and even a Hobey Baker Award winner.

He has been a league Coach of the Year five times, while being selected to receive the Spencer Penrose Award in 1994, which is awarded to the top collegiate coach by the American Hockey Coaches Association.

Lucia also spent time with USA Hockey, most recently as head coach of the U.S. World Junior Championship team in 2013-14.

“I would like to thank all the presidents, athletic directors and coaches who were involved in the search process for this tremendous opportunity,” Lucia said. “The seven members of the CCHA have a rich hockey tradition and I am honored to lead them moving forward. I can’t wait to get started on building the foundation of the CCHA for the inaugural season in 2021-22.”

Prior to being a head coach, Lucia spent six seasons as an assistant coach at Alaska-Fairbanks from 1981-85 and Alaska-Anchorage from 1985-87.

A 1981 graduate of Notre Dame, he served as an alternate captain for the Fighting Irish hockey team when he was a senior.

Lucia retired from coaching in 2018 following a 31-year career where he amassed a record of 736-403-102, .634 winning percentage. He is the eighth all-time winningest men’s hockey coach in NCAA history and ranks sixth among Division I men’s coaches.

“Don is highly respected in our game and checks all the boxes with his experience, knowledge and integrity,” Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore said. “There isn’t much that he hasn’t seen in nearly four decades as a college coach. He’s a proven leader and winner in college hockey.”

A recording of Lucia’s introductory press conference is expected to be available on YouTube.

Information compiled by Journal Sports Editor Steve Brownlee. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.


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