Jan. 19, 2016
By JP Bruno ’18
“Why are you here?”
The reporter’s words echo through the room as a rush of emotions visibly pass over Mario Lucia’s face. The 22-year-old left wing struggles to formulate an answer, but speaks with icy confidence.
“Because it’s where I want to be.”
At the end of the 2014-15 season, Lucia was faced with the toughest decision many college hockey players will face: to stay in school or to make the jump to professional hockey. Lucia, chosen in the second round, 60th overall, by the Minnesota Wild in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, could have signed a contract with the team, coupled with a hefty signing bonus.
Yet, as Lucia says, “I’m here, aren’t I?”
Almost halfway through the season, Lucia has become the 49th Notre Dame hockey player to reach 100 career points. In a January 15 game against Merrimack, Lucia tallied a first period goal, and would later add an assist to reach 100.
As a senior, Lucia is the first to give this credit to his teammates.
“I’ve been playing hockey my entire life,” said Lucia. “It’s definitely a cool accomplishment, but I wouldn’t be anywhere close to it without my teammates. I told my brother before the game that I was going to get it tonight, and now it’s time to just keep looking forward.”
For Lucia, hockey has always been in his blood. His father, Don Lucia, played hockey at the University of Notre Dame (1977-81) and is currently the head coach of the University of Minnesota hockey team. The Lucias are one of four father-son duos to both play for the Fighting Irish.
“It’s something unique that not many fathers and sons can talk about,” says the younger Lucia. “Playing college hockey and the shared experiences we both built here, being able to talk about that and swap stories is unbelievably special.”
Born into a hockey family, Lucia started skating by the time he was two years old and became a self-proclaimed “rink rat” shortly thereafter.
“I had the opportunity to go out and skate whenever I wanted, and I took full advantage of that,” says Lucia. “I was able to watch some of the best college players in the nation and really see how hard they worked.”
This gave Lucia a goal: to play college hockey. Following a standout high school performance, Lucia joined the Penticton Vees in the British Columbia Hockey League where he played with current Irish players Steven Fogarty and Chad Katunar.
“Playing in Penticton is definitely one of my favorite hockey memories,” says Lucia. “We won the Canadian National Championship. We won 42 games in a row, and were almost undisputedly the best team in juniors that year–we still make fun of the other guys in the locker room sometime.”
At Notre Dame, the forward has been nothing short of impactful. Playing in every game since recovering from a preseason leg injury his freshman year, Lucia led the team in scoring during the 2014-15 season with 21 goals.
And then came the decision: to sign or to stay.
“Immediately after the last game of the season, I knew he was thinking about it,” said Head Coach Jeff Jackson. “It’s difficult, because it can come across as selfishly trying to keep a team together, but at the end of the day you just want them to get their degree.”
Lucia spent the next month mulling over what he would choose to do. He consulted his family, especially his dad and brother, before reflecting on the decision personally.
When the decision was made, Lucia’s logic lined up with that of his coach: he wanted his degree.
“It was best for me as a player and a person,” says Lucia. “Playing my senior season at Notre Dame gives me the best way to apply my resources.”
Lucia cited his potential role on the teams in each situation, recognizing that two-time All-American Mike Reilly from the University of Minnesota signed with the Minnesota Wild over the summer and during preseason training was assigned to their minor league affiliate in Iowa.
“The Wild have a deep team,” says Lucia. “And I’m unsure what my role with them would be. At Notre Dame, I know I can be a leader and help our team try to win a national championship.”
As Lucia speaks, the same focus and confidence as before emerges. He has set goals as a player, as a person and as a teammate, and he knows what he needs to do to achieve them.
Coach Jackson recognized the leadership capabilities of the seniors on his roster, and thus named all of them captains. Already a tight-knit group, this only served to motivate them even more.
“For a team to be successful you really need that senior leadership,” says Lucia. “We need to make sure the whole team is on the right track. The five of us are all on the same page, and we’re all really close so making decisions is really easy. It allows us to focus on our games and succeed on the ice, since we work together so well off of it.”
Together, the senior class aims to lead #13 Notre Dame to a National Championship for the first time ever. The Notre Dame Hockey Team has struggled with scoring in January in the past, but the seniors recognize this and hope their experience will help avoid this.
“We’ve had some tough months coming back from break,” reflects Lucia. “But so far we’ve put ourselves into a really good position. We’re just going to keep building on the first half, and we’ll make the NCAA Tournament no problem.”
Next spring in the football stadium, Mario Lucia will receive a diploma from Notre Dame and be able to look back at his time here as a completed dream.
“No matter where hockey takes me, I just want to have the background to succeed,” says Lucia. “And that’s what Notre Dame gives me. That’s why I’m here.”
— ND —
John Patrick Bruno is a sophomore student assistant for Fighting Irish Media, working closely with the Athletics Communications Directors for men and women’s swimming, hockey, basketball, and lacrosse. An Economics and Applied and Computational Mathematicsand Statistics Major, Bruno is from St. Paul, Minnesota.