When Dave Hakstol was hired by the Philadelphia Flyers to be their head coach in 2015, it raised some eyebrows across the professional hockey landscape. Not since Bob Johnson was brought in to coach the Calgary Flames in 1982 has a coach made the jump directly from an NCAA program to being the bench boss of an NHL team. However, those close to college hockey knew that Hakstol was among the coaches on the short list to make the jump to the next level.
Now in his third season with the Flyers, the former UND player and coach has ridden a roller coaster with his team through injuries and the various peaks and valleys that come with the 82-game grind that is the NHL. That roller coaster has taken Hakstol and the Flyers to the top of the stacked Metropolitan Division which includes the likes of two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Flyers held the top spot in the Metro for about 24 hours before the Washington Capitals took it back Tuesday night, but to be in the mix for first place in the division at all is an incredible feat, especially with how the season started. Over the first 38 games of the season, the Flyers were well out of the playoff picture. However, since the calendar flipped to 2018, no team in the NHL has been better.
Since Jan. 1, the Flyers put together an 18-5-2 record to vault from 22nd overall in the league to ninth. It has taken Hakstol from being on the proverbial hot seat to suddenly being talked about as a potential Jack Adams candidate as coach of the year. With all of the pressure Hakstol was under early in the season, he had to be grateful for the experience afforded him over 11 seasons in one of the most scrutinized coaching jobs in all of college hockey.
It certainly didn’t hurt that Hakstol had a lot of success while in Grand Forks. He put together a 289-141-43 record at UND, took his teams to the NCAA tournament all 11 seasons he was behind the bench and appeared in six Frozen Fours. While none of those trips resulted in a national championship for the team, the consistency of the program’s success put Hakstol on the NHL radar. A career .654 winning percentage at any level is going to catch attention.
With 19 games to go in his third NHL season, Hakstol owns a 114-79-34 record and looks poised for his second postseason appearance in the big leagues.
Hakstol is one of seven current NHL coaches who played NCAA hockey. Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan (Boston University), New Jersey Devils coach John Hynes (Boston University), Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella (Maine), Detroit Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill (Ferris State), and New York Islanders coach Doug Weight (Lake Superior State) all played at the Division I level, while Nashville Predators coach Peter Lavoilette played at Division II Westfield State. Of those coaches, only Blashill served as a head coach at the collegiate level, guiding Western Michigan for one season in 2010-11.
Pretty much every coach in the league is chasing Vegas Golden Knights bench boss Gerard Gallant for the Jack Adams this year, but Hakstol and Hynes are probably the best positioned among NCAA alumni to contend for that prestigious award. Though one would assume both would trade in a nice, long postseason run over an individual award any day. With the way their teams are playing right now, they might have a chance to make some noise.
Notes from around the NHL
The NHL trade deadline was Monday, which always brings a level of intrigue and a bit of drama to the latter half of the season. There was a late flurry of activity that saw a number of college hockey alumni moved. Here’s a quick recap of where your favorite former (and even a few current) college hockey players ended up:
- Ryan McDonagh (Wisconsin) was part of the biggest blockbuster of the deadline as the New York Rangers sent their captain along with forward J.T. Miller to the Tampa Bay Lightning for a package of picks, prospects and NHL forward Vladislav Namestnikov. McDonagh had spent the past eight seasons with the Rangers after enjoying a successful three-year run with the Badgers. His arrival in Tampa helps solidify an already strong Stanley Cup contender, which gives McDonagh a shot at his first NHL championship.
- One of the day’s most surprising trades saw former University of Denver star Paul Stastny get dealt to the Winnipeg Jets. Among the pieces in the return for the St. Louis Blues in the trade was current Providence College forward Erik Foley. Stastny, who won a national championship in his freshman season with DU, scored a goal and added an assist in his Winnipeg debut Tuesday night.
- Danny O’Regan could end up getting reunited with his former Boston University linemates Jack Eichel and Evan Rodrigues with the Buffalo Sabres. He was part of Buffalo’s return in the trade for star forward Evander Kane. O’Regan had 50 points skating alongside Eichel and Rodrigues during his junior season at BU in 2014-15. The former Terrier is expected to start in Rochester in the AHL, but the Sabres believe he could figure into their NHL plans next season.
- Other alumni that moved on deadline day include two-time Stanley Cup champion defenseman Ian Cole (Notre Dame), who is now a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Tyler Motte (Michigan) was sent to the Vancouver Canucks, Mike Reilly (Minnesota) is now with the Montreal Canadiens, Nick Shore (Denver) was acquired by the Calgary Flames, Josh Jooris (Union) was picked up by the Penguins, Tommy Wingels (Miami) went to the Boston Bruins, and Chris Wagner (Colgate) is now a member of the New York Islanders.