Don Lucia is back in college hockey, albeit with a different job title.
The newly reborn Central Collegiate Hockey Association named the legendary coach as its commissioner in a Zoom press conference Wednesday afternoon.
“I’m really looking forward to the challenge,” Lucia said.
Lucia, 61, ranks sixth all-time in Division I men’s hockey history with a career record of 736-403-102 over 31 seasons. He served as head coach at Alaska Fairbanks and Colorado College before leading the University of Minnesota to two national championships in 19 seasons before retiring in 2018.
CCHA consultant Morris Kurtz called Lucia in March to gauge his interest in the job.
“The game has been very good to me over the years and my family, having a couple of boys that have played college hockey, as well,” Lucia said he told Kurtz. “To me, I looked at it as a way to give back to the game. … I think there’s big things to come for the CCHA and college hockey in the future and I’m just very proud to be a part of it.”
The new CCHA was formed by seven departing Western Collegiate Hockey Association schools: Bemidji State, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech, Minnesota State, and Northern Michigan. The league is set to begin play with the 2021-22 season. The original CCHA existed between 1971-2013.
BSU head coach Tom Serratore said Lucia is a great fit for the job, and cited his experience coaching within athletic departments ranging from NCAA Division III up to Division I.
“He’s one of the best coaches there’s ever been in college hockey,” Serratore said. “I’m going to use a Bob Peters quote: ‘The one thing you can’t buy at the supermarket is experience.’ And Don is experienced in college hockey. To be a college hockey commissioner in our new league, I don’t think we could’ve found anybody better.”
The two Iron Rangers -- Lucia is from Grand Rapids and Serratore from Coleraine -- go way back. In fact, Lucia tried to recruit Serratore while starting his coaching career as an assistant at Alaska.
“I still give Tom Serratore grief because he was my actual first in-home recruiting visit back in the early ‘80s when I was trying to get him to come up to Fairbanks to come and play. He rejected me back then, so maybe I can get even with him a little bit now,” Lucia joked.
“We grew up five miles apart,” said Serratore, who is six years younger than Lucia. “I have so much respect for Don Lucia and a lot of admiration for him.”
The pair share another bit of history.
Serratore’s nephew, also named Tom Serratore (his father is AIr Force coach Frank Serratore), played for Lucia with the Gophers from 2010-14.
“I think Don and I have a strong friendship and a mutual passion for the game of hockey,” Serratore said. “Frank and Don go way back, as well. They’re one year apart, so they played against each other growing up, and then their friendship was rekindled when they were both in college hockey. You’ve got to remember, college hockey is a small fraternity.”
Lucia will begin his duties as commissioner July 1. He’ll have a lot on his plate as the sport navigates the coronavirus pandemic and the new league looks at adding an eighth member.
With the reputation Lucia carries, league officials believe he’s the right man for the job.
“I think really we were looking for a collaborative leader, one with national exposure and prominence,” said Perk Weisenburger, the Ferris State athletic director and search committee chair. “Somebody that could certainly hit the ground running and really make an impact and get us in the right situation for what we’re going to be faced with.”