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Vees land scholarships to prestigious schools

Don Lucia casts a large shadow.

Don Lucia casts a large shadow.

He has coached the Minnesota Golden Gophers to back-to-back National Collegiate Athletic Association championships in 2002 and 2003. His overall coaching record in 24 seasons is 569-314-82 for a .636 winning percentage.

Those accomplishments has his son, Mario Lucia, wanting to make a name for himself and he intends to do it with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, where he accepted a scholarship for next season. Playing just north of South Bend, Ind., is where he intends to begin the process of escaping the shadow by playing for his father’s alma mater.

The 18-year-old Penticton Vees rookie liked everything about Notre Dame and said the coaches did a good job of recruiting him. It doesn’t hurt that they have a good team rated No. 1 in the pre-season. The Fighting Irish also have a new rink. Those were factors his decision.

“It’s beautiful,” said Lucia of the campus. “It’s one of the top campuses in all of the U.S. It’s one of the top schools, too. If hockey doesn’t work out for me, I will be able to have something to fall back on.”

The Minnesota Wild’s second-round pick in the 2011 NHL Draft is quickly making himself stand out in the British Columbia Hockey League as he embarrasses the opposition. In seven games, the six-foot-three, 195-pound forward has six goals and 12 points. Lucia did consider committing to the Gophers, but felt it was better to choose a different school because of the pressures that might come with playing for his father.

“My dad doesn’t have to hold me back,” said Lucia. “Being one of the top players, I will earn my ice time there. You get the fans and the people that say, ‘Oh, he just gets the time because his dad is the coach.’ I won’t have to deal with that.”

“Notre Dame is very fortunate to have landed a quality individual in Mario,” said Vees coach-GM Fred Harbinson. “He is a gifted player that has not only size, but speed and skill. Mario is an exciting player to watch and will be for years to come at Notre Dame.”

Another Vee committed is forward Curtis Loik, who will join the Penn State Nittany Lions. The Nittany Lions, which will play at the NCAA Division l level for the first time in the fall of 2012 as an independent program. The following year they will move to the newly created BIG 10 hockey conference, joining Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Loik is excited to be part of the new program guided by coach Guy Gadowski.

“It’s going to be a great start. It’s going to be really big on campus,” said Loik. “I’m really happy to be part of the beginning of the hockey program there.”

Loik, who may study pre-medicine or business, chose Penn State because it provides a quality education and an opportunity to continue his hockey career. He has a desire to go far and believes he can with the help of Gadowsky and assistant coach Keith Fisher.

“I knew I wanted to be a student athlete from my first year of midget,” said the North Vancouver product. “I never saw myself as a Western Hockey League player.”

The six-foot-one, 205-pound winger is coming off a rookie campaignfor which he scored 10 goals and 26 points in 57 games.

“Curtis is an extremely focused individual in all areas of his life,” said Harbinson. “Curtis’s size and ability will be a great addition to such a prestigious program as Penn State. That program will have a large following and with the way Curtis plays, he will quickly become a player to watch.”

Ice chips: The Vees host their rival and defending BCHL champion Vernon Vipers Saturday at 5 p.m.