From the moment they laced up their skates and put a stick in their hands the dream for Mario Lucia
and Seth Ambroz was to play in the NHL.
These two highly touted Minnesota prospects are seeing that their dreams are starting to become a reality as both are ranked among the top 30 North American Skaters according to NHL Central Scouting’s Mid-Term Rankings, making it likely that they’ll take another step toward their dreams in St. Paul this June, when Xcel Energy Center hosts the NHL Entry Draft.
While Lucia and Ambroz share the State of Hockey as their homes, the roads they have taken to become elite NHL prospects are significantly different.
In 2008, at just 15-years-old, Seth Ambroz made one of the most difficult decisions of his life, to leave home and develop his game in Omaha, home of the Lancers of the USHL.
“It was really tough leaving my family and friends, but once I got down to Omaha and around the team I started to get accustomed to my new life down here,” Ambroz said. “As the days went by, everything adjusted and just sort of became habit.”
While Ambroz was assimilating into his new life in Omaha, Lucia was a freshman at Wayzata High School, playing hockey for the area’s Bantam A program; a team that went on to win the 2009 state tournament. The following season, Lucia made Wayzata’s varsity team and made an instant impact as he was voted as the team’s rookie of the year.
This season Lucia has continued his progression and has become one of the top high school players in the state, while playing for one of the top teams. Through 16 games, Lucia has scored 18 goals and added 18 assists. With a last name like Lucia, it’s not hard to imagine where he got his talent and work ethic, and Mario is quick to point that out.
“My Dad (Minnesota Gopher head coach Don Lucia) and my brother (Tony Lucia, a former Gopher and current San Jose Sharks farmhand) have had a huge impact on my development. Getting the opportunity to go down to the U of M and work out with all of the older guys has really helped me as a player.”
Lucia has enjoyed his time playing high school hockey in Minnesota and looks forward to the challenges the rest of the season will bring, including the playoffs, and hopefully a run to the state tournament. But an outdoor game against Roseau on February 12 has Lucia’s attention for now.
“Watching those Winter Classic games has got me pumped for Hockey Day Minnesota,” he said. “To play outside will be awesome. Hopefully the weather will cooperate as Roseau should be a good test for us.
“As for the state tournament, we have a tough section (tournament) in order to get to there, but it would be a great experience to have that opportunity.”
While Lucia is hoping his decision to stay home in Wayzata will pay off with a state tournament bid, Ambroz has aspirations of continuing a path to improvement based on playing a lot of games against older, more experienced players.
Ambroz has been lighting up the USHL, becoming a perennial all-star in the process. He’s accumulated 50 goals and 55 assists over the course of three seasons with Omaha. Despite his success in Nebraska, he attributes his love for the game to his rink rat days growing up in New Prague.
“My favorite memories were going down to the pond or local rink with my buddies and playing a pickup game,” Ambroz said. “We played a lot. We even had a rink in my backyard.”
Because of their different hockey paths, Lucia and Ambroz will be in the same building in June, and so will their Minnesota families. They’ll be ones embracing these two boys after their names are announced and before they make their way to the stage to pull on an NHL jersey.
“Having the draft in Minnesota is probably the best thing that could of happened to me,” Lucia said, “My family and friends will be there to watch me walk on that stage. Ever since I started to play hockey it has been my dream to play in the NHL”
“It’s real exciting that the draft is being held in Minnesota this year,” Ambroz stated. “I will have family and friends there to support me, it should be a great time, a dream come true.”