Gophers’ Lucia and Isles’ Snow At Odds Over Okposo

Posted by: Mike Machnik

Interesting article from the Star Tribune, where New York Islanders GM Garth Snow sheds some light on his club’s mid-season signing of Minnesota forward Kyle Okposo.

Snow minces no words in his criticism of Gopher coach Don Lucia, saying he and the NHL club’s brass “weren’t happy with the program there.” Snow went on to say, “They have a responsibility to coach, to make Kyle a better player, and they were not doing that.” And, “[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.”

Lucia took the high road in response in a statement to the paper through the school’s sports information department, saying in part, “I am proud of all the success of our program,” and, “I believe our staff does an excellent job of developing our players on and off the ice.”

A few things baffle me about this. First, I look at the track record of the people involved. Lucia is widely recognized as one of the top college coaches — of all-time, not just today, given his tremendous success at Alaska-Fairbanks, Colorado College and now Minnesota, with two NCAA titles to his credit. The Islanders, on the other hand, don’t have a outstanding track record in recent times. Even though Snow was recognized as NHL Executive of the Year in his first season as GM last year by Sports Illustrated, he’s a newcomer to NHL management and doesn’t seem to me to have really proven himself yet. Simply put, I don’t see that he’s coming from such a position of authority as to be able to make those kinds of statements about Lucia and Minnesota program.

But also, this is the same Garth Snow who was a part-time goaltender at Maine under another highly regarded coach, Shawn Walsh. Snow would put up amazing numbers for the Black Bears and earn various honors — yet had to share time with fellow dufflebag Mike Dunham, playing only 23 games all year.

I wonder what would happen if Snow had a prospect playing today for a Walsh (and don’t forget Maine assistant coach Grant Standbrook, who developed those goaltenders), but not getting the kind of playing time, for instance, that most NHL execs like to see from a future player between the pipes.

Would he have pulled himself out of Maine 15 years ago?

Before you call me on this, I know it’s not exactly the same situation. Although I think you could question the developmental situation Snow was in too, he did have a terrific season that year, while Okposo has not met expectations this year. But is that the coach’s fault, or the player’s? That’s the big question here.

Maybe Snow just felt Okposo needed a change of scenery. It wouldn’t be the first time. But then I wouldn’t have expected him to say the things he did — and they are serious, because in one fell swoop he has called everything Lucia and the Gophers do into question. It has the potential to affect recruiting, depending on how much credibility recruits and the hockey community give to Snow’s remarks.

I just don’t see where it was justified, especially from a guy who has developed far fewer players than Lucia has. But I guess either way, in a couple years we’ll know whether or not Snow was right.

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