LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- Mario Lucia led the U.S. with a hat trick Monday in a split-squad game against Finland.
Being the top scorer on a winning team is nothing new for Lucia, a left wing taken by the Minnesota Wild in the second round of the 2011 draft.
Last season, Lucia led the British Columbia Hockey League with 42 goals (in just 56 games) as he helped his Penticton Vees team to a league-best 54-4-2 record. That included a remarkable 42-game win streak that started Nov. 11 and ended with the last game of the regular season. They then went 12-2-1 in the playoffs to win the league championship.
"I don't think I'll ever be part of anything like that ever again," Lucia, who was third in the league with 94 points, told NHL.com. "The season was unbelievable, everything from my billet family to the team to the coaching staff to our fans -- everything was perfect. We obviously had a lot of Canadians and Americans put together, so you'd think there'd be a little bit of a rivalry, but it was the closest team I've ever been on. That's what I think pushed us through that winning streak and into the playoffs. The closest teams always seem to do well."
Two of the players Lucia was closest with in Penticton are with him this week in Lake Placid -- defenseman Mike Reilly and center Steven Fogarty. Reilly, a 2011 fourth-round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets, led BCHL defensemen and was eighth in the league with 83 points; Fogarty, a 2011 third-round pick of the New York Rangers, was ninth in the league with 82 points.
"I've known them pretty much my whole life," Lucia said. "It's good to have buddies here you want to make the team. You push each other to get better every day, and we did that up there [Penticton]. That season helped us get a lot better. We worked hard every day. We had so many good players in practice and that's where I think we benefited the most. We had hard practices and we worked hard in the weight room and everything is falling into place now. Hopefully we all make the team."
Lucia has done a good job of that with his play on a line with center Sean Kuraly and right wing Stefan Noesen. That trio combined for four goals and three assists Monday against Finland, and will be together again today against Finland.
Lucia and Kuraly were linemates last season at the World Junior A Challenge in Langley, B.C., and the strong play they showed there has been evident in Lake Placid.
"We had some chemistry up there, we did well up there," Lucia said. "That chemistry has stuck. … He's gritty, he works hard. He's got a good shot and he's quick. He's battling, he gets the puck out of the corners, and he can make things happen with his big body."
Coach Phil Housley said he's been impressed by how the trio has performed so far.
"I thought they played terrific away from the puck," he told NHL.com. "A lot of their chances came off good defensive plays that had back pressure, or making the nice little play on the wall and following up the play. Especially the third goal -- Lucia makes a nice play on the wall, gets up the ice, beats his man and gets an odd-numbered situation. Those types of things are great."
After the camp ends, Lucia will prepare for his first season at Notre Dame. First he'll spend some time at home in Minnesota. He won't be able to attend the Wild's training camp, but he's certainly paid attention to the team's big offseason.
"Hopefully they'll have a good, prosperous season this year with [Zach] Parise and [Ryan] Suter coming in," he said. "Hopefully that'll be good for the fans, get the Minnesota Wild back on track. … Hopefully I'll be able to play for the Wild someday."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK