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Lucia out as Gophers hockey coach

After nearly two decades at the helm of the Minnesota Gopher men's hockey team, Don Lucia is out as head coach.

MINNEAPOLIS - The University of Minnesota confirmed Tuesday that Don Lucia is out as head coach of the Gopher men's hockey team.

The U of M announced that Lucia made the decision to step down, adding that he will remain with the athletics department as a special assistant to Director Mark Coyle through June 30, 2019.

“Gopher Hockey is not just a college hockey program, it’s a cultural institution in the state of Minnesota, built on more than 90 years of success and tradition. Few have contributed as much to that legacy as Don,” said Coyle. “He knows how much I appreciate everything he has accomplished in his 19 years as head coach, but he and I also agree that it’s time for someone else to lead our program."

READ: McNiff's Riffs: Local teams in 'win now' mode, doesn't bode well for Lucia

In the nearly two decades at the U of M, Lucia's 457 wins are the most in program history, an average of more than 24 wins per season. Since taking over as head coach in 1999 Lucia’s teams have claimed eight regular-season conference crowns, as well as four conference tournament titles. Lucia took five Gopher teams to the Frozen Four and won back-to-back national championships in 2002 and 2003.

But in recent years the Gophers have slipped from their elite status, this year failing to make the NCAA tournament or win the Big Ten Conference Championship. Once-packed Mariucci Arena has been half-empty, and loyal Gopher Hockey boosters have grumbled about the direction of the program.

KARE 11's Dave Schwartz was among those who reported Lucia's departure after hearing from a reliable source close to the program that he was done. Hockey insider and The Athletic columnist Michael Russo posted on his Twitter account that Lucia was going to inform his team of the change at a closed-door meeting early Tuesday afternoon.