Minnesota Gopher men's hockey coach Don Lucia was not happy when the New York Islanders signed forward Kyle Okposo before his sophomore season was complete. Islanders GM Garth Snow wasn't happy about Lucia not being happy.
"Quite frankly, we weren't happy with the program there," Snow told the paper. "They have a responsibility to coach, to make Kyle a better player, and they were not doing that."
He continued, "[Okposo] just wasn't getting better - bottom line. And to me, that's the frustrating part. We entrusted the coach there to turn him into a better hockey player, and it wasn't happening. We feel more comfortable in him developing right under our watch."
"Whether it was Kyle or another player, until things change in that program we'd probably make the same decision," Snow told the Star-Tribune. "There should be a coach there that looks in the mirror. ... I don't think we'd be at this point if he was being coached properly."
The controversy was a hot topic in Minnesota hockey circles through the Christmas season, as people who love and hate the Gophers opined on Okposo's departure. Minnesota floundered on the ice for a time, but found a way to make the WCHA tournament championship game and qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
Okposo went on to earn a shot with the Islanders late in the season, and it appears likely that he'll be on the NHL roster from the outset of the 2008-2009 season. The Islanders appear to have forgotten how incompetent they think Lucia is, as they picked incoming Minnesota freshman Aaron Ness in the second round of last weekend's draft.
Snow changed his tune Saturday, saying, he blasted the Gophers because in a Star Tribune article the day before, "there were three people that took shots against our organization, against Kyle, and I wasn't going to sit idly by.
"Every situation is different. We're happy we got a good hockey player, and we support [Ness] getting his degree at the University of Minnesota."
When I spoke to Lucia in January, he made it clear to me that he was moving on from Snow's remarks, but he was also still bothered by the fact that someone would criticize his coaching without seeing him conduct practice.
I was very harsh on Snow in a post on my blog, and I stand by those words. Snow is in no position to call out one of the most successful coaches in the history of college hockey, no matter how mad he got at things that were said. Lucia's words were carefully-chosen, and they merited a similar response, instead of the rabid rant Snow went off on.
As for Ness, he's a great kid and a super player. He's not the biggest defenseman, and his lack of size means he may not be ideal for every system. However, he has great hands, unreal vision, and seems to be a natural leader. He's also very intelligent, having accelerated his high-school education so he could graduate a year early and start his college career.
His puck-moving ability makes him an ideal fit for Lucia's system, which relies on more wide-open hockey than others, in part because Minnesota's home games are played on Olympic-sized ice. His lack of size means he is probably in need of at least two seasons of college before he's pro-ready.
(By the way, that's two "full" seasons, Garth. Just an FYI.)
By the way, there is still no new agreement between the NHL and NCAA, so players can still be signed to pro contracts during their college seasons, no matter how ridiculous it may sound.