ST. PAUL - Nick Seeler is one of many players that longtime Gophers men's hockey coach Don Lucia helped reach the next level before stepping down on Tuesday, March 20.
The 24-year-old defenseman is the only person in the Wild locker room who played for Lucia, who became synonymous with one of the nation's top college programs over the past two decades.
"What a career he had," Seeler said. "It's pretty special to look back on. I grew up watching the Gophers, and he was obviously the coach. He had many years of success, and it's sad to see him go."
Seeler remembers becoming a Gophers fan after watching Lucia's teams win NCAA championships in 2002 and 2003.
"There's such a tradition," said Seeler, an Eden Prairie, Minn., native. "I was so excited when I was given that opportunity to play there."
Seeler isn't sure where he would be right now if it wasn't for Lucia taking a chance on him a few years ago. He spent his first two collegiate seasons at Nebraska-Omaha, sat out one year, then played for the Gophers in the 2015-16 season.
"It's kind of funny how it ended up working out," Seeler said. "I only had a week to find a school to go to after I left Nebraska-Omaha. ... He gave me that opportunity (to play for the Gophers) when I was kind of running out of time."
Seeler has since found his niche in the NHL as a member of the home-state team. He was called up from minors earlier this season and has proven his worth over 14 games while bringing some added grit to the lineup.
Though no other current members of the Wild played for Lucia, it seems like almost everyone had a story about him.
Backup goalie Alex Stalock was in middle school when Lucia was starting to establish himself at the U.
"Almost 20 years at one school is quite the accomplishment," said Stalock, a South St. Paul native. "And it's not just any school. He was in charge of a top-5 program in the nation, and that comes with a lot of pressure. You have to win, and that isn't always easy to do with guys leaving and stuff like that. It just shows what a great job he did there."
Stalock went to Minnesota-Duluth and played against Lucia many times with the Bulldogs.
"They always got the top-end kids from each class, so whenever we played them we wanted to beat them extra bad to send a message to everyone else in the state," Stalock said. "It was always a lot of fun. Obviously he did a tremendous job for so many years. It's kind of the start of a new chapter in that program."