The definitive profile of new Philadelphia Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol comes from the Grand Forks Herald. It was written in October 2014, and it chronicles Hakstol's rise from a kid in Alberta, to a player at the University of North Dakota, to an unsuspecting coach in the United States Hockey League, to finally, the coach of his alma mater.
It's a great read, and highly recommended for every Flyers fan who wants to get the best look at their new coach.
Here, we'll share some of the more eye-opening pieces of the story, and what they might tell us about Hakstol, who will embark on the 2015-16 season as the 19th head coach in Flyers history.
Unassuming first impressions
"I remember meeting Dave," said Dane Jackson, who would later became his roommate, friend and assistant coach. "Hak was hanging out with Dixon in his dorm room in Walsh Hall and it's kind of funny. I didn't get a great first impression. He was really quiet and I was like, ‘Who is this guy?'
"But right away, we became great friends and he was a great teammate. He made an instant impact for our team as a stay-at-home defenseman."
Jackson said that Hakstol was always one of the more serious guys on the team.
"He still had that presence about him," Jackson said.
By Year 2, he was voted as the team's captain.
Sound familiar? The first reaction of many Flyers fans this morning when hearing the news that the team had hired Hakstol was .... well, "Who?" It's not Mike Babcock, who many fans were hoping for, so it was pretty underwhelming.
Pretty similar to the first impressions he made during his first season at the University of North Dakota. As it says above, he quickly settled in and a year later he was the captain of the Sioux.
An impressive turnaround started off his coaching career
After his time as a player at North Dakota, Hakstol had plans to continue his career professionally. He played several years in the International Hockey League and the NHL was still his goal when he got an unexpected call from an old friend who wanted him to take a coaching job in the junior level United States Hockey League. Despite having never coached before, he took the job and ended his dream of playing in the NHL.
"Out of nowhere, in the span of 72 hours, I'm done playing, I'm going to some town called Sioux City, which I've never been to," Hakstol said, "and I'm going to try to coach."
The team was in disarray when Hakstol arrived and went 8-43-2 in Year 1. By Year 2, the team improved to 35-18-0. He spent two more years there, building winning teams, but more importantly, strong relationships.
So it worked out pretty well then.
The conviction to survive in Philadelphia?
The Herald piece gets into the details of how rough Hakstol's first season in Grand Forks was, with a slow start, the death of his father, and demands from hockey fans that legitimately might be harder on their team than Flyers fans are on theirs.
This quote from Hakstol on how he handled the turmoil is one that seems important, especially as he enters one of the toughest sports markets in the country here in Philadelphia.
"I don’t think I ever tried to let that enter in," Hakstol said. "You’ve got to be able to mentally handle that. It’s easier to say than to do. I learned very quickly in my first year in Sioux City that you have to have a plan and do things your own way. You have to have a real strong conviction. As a staff, we had that. We stuck with it."
And it paid off.
UND went on a late-season run to the national championship game that season. The team outshot Denver 45-24 in the national championship game, but lost.
Barring a miracle, the Flyers aren't going to be a good team this coming season, and Hakstol, with his lack of an NHL resume, is going to be the first target that fans and the media go after once things start to go south. They will question his decision making and they will be on his case from Day 1.
"You have to have a real strong conviction. As a staff, we had that. We stuck with it."
It might not end in a Cinderella run to the Cup Final in Hakstol's first season as an NHL coach, but that's the kind of conviction both he and Ron Hextall are going to need this season and likely down the line.
'He doesn't just want cookie-cutter stuff.'
Hakstol also relies on his assistant coaches for help and views the coaching staff as one unit.
"Some people think that because [Hakstol was] a stay-at-home defenseman, because he played a defensive style and because he’s a close-to-the-vest person that he coaches that way," Jackson said. "But he doesn’t. He will look at anything. He challenges us as a staff. He doesn’t just want to hear what you think he wants to hear. He wants to hear what you really think, even if it’s different than him.
"He doesn’t just want cookie-cutter stuff. He wants to delve into things. He doesn’t want to keep things a certain way just because that’s the way they’ve always been. He looks into a lot of different things to figure out ways to improve our team."
People have said in the aftermath of his hiring that the assistant coaches Hakstol chooses will be vital, because those coaches will help him adapt to the NHL game and win over the locker room. For this reason, some have suggested current Phantoms head coach and long time NHL head coach Terry Murray step up and help Hakstol ease into the NHL.
But if this above quote is accurate about Hakstol's mentality, don't expect that. Expect him to sit down with Ron Hextall and discuss assistant coaches that will help build a coaching team that can bounce ideas off of each other, get creative, and work as a unit to build a team that's the best suited to win hockey games.
It really seems like Hakstol is constantly trying to innovate, or at least adjust and tweak, based on the needs of his team. He's had a number of different teams -- in terms of style -- in the 11 years he was coach in North Dakota, and he had success with all of those teams. It seems like he's quite adaptable and not exactly rigid in a specific coaching style, like so many hockey coaches are. Kind of refreshing.