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'Sioux'weet success for North Dakota's Hakstol

Wednesday, 10.31.2007 / 3:51 PM / NCAA Update

By Bob Snow - Correspondent

At first glance, you have a hard time picking him out among his players - at age 39. Head coach Dave Hakstol stands out among the best in a handful of college hockey's most dynamic and successful programs.
It's a new season in Grand Forks, N.D., and the countdown begins again for Dave Hakstol.

A five-year contract extension, four seasons behind the Fighting Sioux bench, three consecutive trips to the Frozen Four, a 2-year-old daughter who keeps the big picture in perspective and the No. 1 goal -- a first national title.

At first glance, you have a hard time picking him out among his players - at age 39. Put him behind the Sioux bench, however, and he stands out among the best in a handful of college hockey's most dynamic and successful programs.

"I had a lot of people in and around the campus who were willing to give me an opportunity," said Hakstol about his move from three-year assistant to Dean Blais to head coach in July 2004.

"One of the important things (with the five-year contract) is stability," he said before a rematch in Boston with Boston College two weeks ago. The Eagles twice denied Hakstol consecutive title-game appearances, in 2006 and '07, after North Dakota lost the title game to Denver in 2005.

"The people in the president's office were willing to step forward as an institution and say; 'We're willing to solidify this staff.' That means a lot."

Hakstol means even more to the program that is the sport in North Dakota, where he skated on the Sioux blue line from 1989-92 and was captain his junior and senior seasons.

"As a player I was never mistaken to be a skill guy," said Hakstol, with a rare and slight grin. "So I had to survive on work ethic and certain intangibles like intensity and consistency. Ninety percent of the time, a group of guys on the bench don't need a ton of emotion coming from behind the bench. Intensity, absolutely; we are driven to succeed. That comes from consistency and a prepared approach."

There’s no shortage of UND alums in the NHL who experienced those intangibles.

"He treated all his players fairly, not the same, but he knew how to do that," said sensational Chicago Blackhawks rookie Jonathan Toews, who played on the most skilled line in college hockey last season, alongside Hobey Baker winner Ryan Duncan and first-round NHL Draft pick T.J. Oshie. "Sometimes it's tough to play for coaches when they say or do different things in the same situations. But with him, you knew what you were getting or what he said was expected and consistent whether you played bad or good. He was gritty as a player and that's what ND is all about. He looks for that when he goes recruiting. He gets players to come to play when the big games are on the line."

"Dave knew the system and the town, and most important the guys wanted to play for him," said Providence Bruins winger Brandon Bochenski, who etched another line in Sioux lore when he, Drew Stafford (now with Buffalo) and Zach Parise (New Jersey) lit it up in Hakstol's last season as an assistant. "That's a good combination.

"He's got a 12,000-seat arena sold out every game; that's the biggest sport in North Dakota. The hockey program pays for all the other sports at that school. They deserve to have a good coach, and Dave Hakstol's a good coach."

Ralph Engelstad Arena is the plushest setting in college hockey. And Hakstol knows all about what's important in the towns and villages that house UND's rabid puck fans from Bismarck to Minot, and Devils Lake to Dickinson.

"When you look in our building," said Hakstol, "the only banners hanging in the rafters are WCHA championship banners and (seven) national championship banners. The goal is to win. It's what North Dakota families and kids buy into."

He's also quick to qualify the definition of winning.

"Every kid is not going to play in the NHL," he said. "If the opportunity is not there for that, hopefully they'll be successful in some other avenue. The degree is very important here."

"With all that intensity, he's very good at keeping that even keel," said Dan Benson who has been North Dakota's hockey sports information director for Hakstol's entire coaching career.

That even coaching keel brings a current 87-47-13 career mark.

How does Hakstol describe what many puck purists contend to be the best up-tempo entertainment on college ice?

"Playing the game the way it's meant to be played," Hakstol said. "We want to play with speed, play puck possession. But we also want the physical side; be tough to play against, especially defensively. Take pride in that.

"On the offensive side, be physical and grind it out when we need to. Create offense off our cycles, with playmaking and speed coming up ice. It's a real combination, but it comes down to playing a real aggressive style. And aggressive doesn't mean just physical. We want to get on the puck, possess the puck, and yes, play a physical style."

Hakstol exudes respect for the chemistry factor across his bench.

"There's a bunch of kids I have a ton of respect for who have moved on (to the NHL) the last several years like Matt Greene and Matt Jones on the blue line. Matt Smaby is another guy making his way with Tampa Bay. Up front, Parise jumps out, and Travis Zajac. Workman-like players, very consistent day in and day out. What examples of development. Kids like Toews; again, great players.

Hakstol exudes respect for the chemistry factor across his team's bench.

"But there's a different side, too, like my first year in '04-05 (when North Dakota played for the national championship). One was a senior, Rory McMahon, who was a captain and a real driving force on that team. There was Jake Brandt. He typified putting the program first. He was the starting goaltender the year before on a team that won the (WCHA regular-season) championship. He took a back seat in '04-05 and was one of the best teammates anybody could have. They are the chemistry people -- the backbone."

This season, the backbone is solid with upper-class returnees Oshie, Duncan, Joe Finley, Taylor Chorney, Robbie Bina, Kyle Radke, Rylan Kalp, Andrew Kozak, Brad Miller, Zach Jones and Ryan Martens, with Jean-Philippe Lamoureux in goal.

"You have a different starting point at the beginning," said Hakstol. "End-point is to be there in that final game. We haven't finished the job over the past three years. Well, we start new this year."

The Sioux's super start was derailed with its first loss last Friday (the BC rematch was cancelled after two periods due to fog in Conte Forum) at upstart Michigan Tech.

What was Hakstol's likely demeanor?

"He's got his little lip-curl when he's upset," said Bochenski. "If you look at the bench with a bad penalty or game, you'll see that Hakstol lip curled up. You know he's (ticked) off. But he definitely has that softer side."

"I've got a 2-year-old daughter," said Hakstol. "You have a chance to get your perspectives in life in order pretty quickly with that. Game night is business and I approach it that way.

"We have a long-range plan, but I keep my focus pretty short. We want to be at our best in March, and if we're lucky enough, be playing in April."

"Luck" it has been said, "is the residue of design."

Hakstol has a design to be in Denver for a fourth consecutive Frozen Four and a national championship to transform that curled lip into a broad -- and public - smile.

On Campus Clips -- Niagara extended the nation's longest unbeaten streak at home in Dwyer Arena in Niagara Falls, N.Y., with two wins last weekend over Western Michigan. The Purple Eagles are at 20 and counting with an 18-0-2 mark. ... The six Ivy League teams began regular-season action last weekend; the Ivies are under a self-imposed Nov. 1 date to begin NCAA play. ... RIT, regular-season winner of Atlantic Hockey but ineligible for post-season play last season as a first-year team, made an early season statement by dumping ECAC heavy Cornell, 4-1. ... Boston University ended October winless in five games. ... Merrimack had its best start in 15 years at 3-0 before dropping two last weekend to BC.'s Top 10
  1. Miami (6-0-0)
  2. North Dakota (3-1-1)
  3. Michigan (5-1-0)
  4. New Hampshire (3-0-0)
  5. Boston College (3-1-2)
  6. Denver (4-2-0)
  7. Michigan State (4-1-0)
  8. Minnesota (4-2-0)
  9. Wisconsin (3-1-0)
  10. Colorado College (2-2-0)

Quote of the Day

Yeah, I guess so. That empty-netter was pretty lucky, but I'll take it.

— Senators forward Mike Hoffman when asked if his two-goal game was a good way to celebrate his 26th birthday
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