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IFallsRon

Did Lucia fire Guentzel?

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Story on 'Good Cop' Guentzel's "resignation" is tall tale

By PATRICK REUSSE, Star Tribune

May 17, 2008

Mainstream media. That's what they call us, right?

Apparently, the plan here in the mainstream has been to accept the tall tale that Mike Guentzel willingly resigned after 14 seasons as a Gophers hockey assistant, even though it's an open topic of conversation in WCHA circles and among former Gophers that he was forced out by coach Don Lucia.

Guentzel can't confirm this to media members, of course. The 45-year-old has aspirations to run a Division I program, and publicly admitting that Lucia chose him as the scapegoat for the horrendous 2007-08 season would not be helpful in that pursuit.

There's no doubt that the Lucia ego is sufficiently large that he's not going to blame a seventh-place finish in the WCHA on his own stewardship. And since The Don is joined at the hip with John Hill, his other assistant, that left Guentzel to take the fall.

A number of upperclassmen on this winter's team had tired of Lucia's haranguing. Guentzel was the coach on this staff with a positive personality and served as the Good Cop with the players.

Guentzel brought feedback from the players to Lucia, and The Don didn't like it when that feedback included criticism of him.

Guentzel went to the Frozen Four in Denver to watch his son Ryan play for Notre Dame. He watched the Irish make their upset run to the title game, returned to Minneapolis and then received the message from Lucia:

"I want you to resign.''

A good soldier as well as the good cop, Guentzel participated in distributing the hogwash when the announcement of his departure was made on April 18.

The resignation was going to aid Guentzel's pursuit of a head coaching job. It also was going to allow him to spend more time watching Ryan, a freshman, play for Notre Dame in future seasons.

Lucia sent the hogwash meter higher, saying: "Obviously, we will miss Mike. He was a very important member of the staff and did a terrific job. ... He had great passion and he related well to players.''

The duplicity that occurred in mid-April was soon confirmed, when Guentzel interviewed for the St. John's opening. Apparently, the job was there for the taking, but the money didn't measure to the living wage that Guentzel was making as a Gophers assistant.

On Friday, St. John's hired Doug Schueller, a member of Bowling Green's staff.

The fact Guentzel was considering St. John's -- a place where his team would be playing most winter weekends -- pretty much eliminated watching his son as a reason for leaving the Gophers.

And, let's face it: If the goal is to become a head coach for a significant Division I program, will your résumé be stronger as a Division III coach or as an assistant with the Yankees of college hockey?

You don't willingly resign as a Minnesota assistant and then try to get a job in the MIAC. You do that after the head coach decides to make you his scapegoat for a failed season.

The university's job-posting rules prohibited Lucia from hiring a replacement before May 14. There was a recent quote from him setting June 1 as a target.

Scott Bell, the Hamline coach and a former Gophers forward, has been mentioned most often. Here's another possibility: Mark Osiecki, an assistant for Mike Eaves at Wisconsin.

Guentzel was charged with coaching the Gophers' defenseman. Osiecki, a Minnesota native, was an outstanding Badgers defenseman and has coached the blue-liners there.

Those same WCHA circles that are certain Guentzel was run off say that the amped-up, hard-nosed Eaves makes him harder to work for than Lucia.

One Wisconsin assistant, Kevin Patrick, has tried twice in two years to become the head coach at Alaska-Fairbanks (St. John's is a better job than that), and Osiecki might have had all a person can take of Eaves.

The dilemma for Lucia is this: If Osiecki replaced Guentzel, that would give the coach a full-time staff with no Gophers, which doesn't exactly fit the Pride on Ice model.

Guentzel had as much of that pride as anyone, and in the end, it finished second to The Don's ego.

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