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TAMPA, Fla. — After missing the NCAA tournament for three seasons thanks to finishes of fifth, seventh and fifth in the WCHA, the pressure was certainly on coach Don Lucia and his team this season.

Despite some calls for a coaching change, Lucia was granted a three-year contract extension over the summer. His team responded with the MacNaughton Cup and Minnesota’s first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2008; the first for this senior class.

When asked if the extension, essentially a vote of confidence, contributed to the turnaround, Lucia replied, looking at his athletic director Joel Maturi, “I don’t know. Joel, what do you think?”

Back to the media, Lucia said, “I’m certainly appreciative of Joel and [University of Minnesota] President [Robert] Bruininks to extend it. You still have to win. We haven’t been to the NCAAs the last few years and there’s obviously pressure for us to get there every year.

“But the one thing I didn’t want to have happen is I didn’t want the players to feel any of that pressure. I just wanted them to go out and be able to play and work and develop as a team. And the guys have had a great attitude from day one.

“We talked about this being a class of seniors that you didn’t want to go through the University of Minnesota for four years and not get to play in the NCAA tournament. Winning the MacNaughton Cup was great, but I think the most important thing to this group was to get to the NCAA tournament.”