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.

4 Responses to “Gophers’ Lucia and Isles’ Snow At Odds Over Okposo”

  1. uaafanblog Says:

    I’ve got to agree that Snow is out of line to “dis” Lucia. Everything you’ve said about tDon is true. And I’d agree that Snow doesn’t exactly have some well-established long time reputation as a big time NHL GM. But that said there is something that I think you might be overlooking. It could be said that Lucia fired the first salvo in this blame game regarding Okposo’s departure.

    Lucia said, “It is unfortunate that the Islanders put him in a very difficult position.” And while that is probably true, I think from Snow’s perspective that probably sounded like a bit of a shot across his bow. While that in itself wouldn’t really be enough to retort as Snow has done, we should remember that Snow was being interviewed by what was almost certainly a confrontational reporter from Gopher-ville. At least that was the impression I got from CHN’s story about the exchange when you guys wrote that Snow was “pushed”.

    Admittedly, Lucia hasn’t had it easy with Calgary pursuing Chucko last year during the season and some of the negative comments surrounding the E.J. signing with St. Louis and those incidents may have left a negative impression among NHL GM’s. It isn’t a pleasant situation no doubt but tDon hasn’t always been as necessarily “high road” as the college hockey press sometimes portray. I’m not questioning Lucia here so much as pointing out that he hasn’t always been angelic. I don’t blame the guy for standing up for his program and even calling out NHL GM’s for their predatory acts. Snow doesn’t seem to be respected much even by his own fanbase but I think in this particular case there are some mitigating factors surrounding his ill-advised comments.

  2. Says:

    Good read Mike.
    Interesting take on Snow’s time at Maine and how his current comments sort of go against the grain of his own collegiate career.
    Some bridges were burned this week, that’s for certain. It will be interesting to see how things shake out in the future.

    As for Kyle, I think I speak for most college hockey fans when I say that I wish him the best of luck on the Island. Lord knows they can use him.

    Have a great holiday season and keep up the wonderful work.

  3. BauerStar33 Says:

    The Islanders sound like they were pressuring him. You want to know why? Because Kane & Toew and a few of the other young talents are supposedly putting people in the seats. The Islanders are a miserable team again this year with NO chance of making the playoffs. Their owner is somewhat of a joke and hiring Snow with NO experience outside of playing was a horrible idea. I can’t wait to see the Islanders fail!

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