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Five Questions: Flyers' Hakstol on transition to NHL

by Dan Rosen's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.

The latest edition features Philadelphia Flyers coach Dave Hakstol:

Before this season, the last time Philadelphia Flyers coach Dave Hakstol attended an NHL game was June 11, 2014, Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final at Madison Square Garden. He was there with a colleague, in the stands, benefiting from knowing someone who gave him a free ticket, to watch the New York Rangers defeat the Los Angeles Kings for their only win of the series.

"Just went to watch the game," Hakstol told

That's exactly what Hakstol did at every NHL game he attended before this season.

The Flyers hired him from the University of North Dakota on May 18. Philadelphia general manager Ron Hextall gave Hakstol his first job in pro hockey. The first time he ever saw an NHL game from ice level was Sept. 21, when he coached his first preseason game.

He didn't get there, or here, rather, by accident, or because Hextall owed him anything. Hakstol got to the NHL after 11 winning seasons at North Dakota, where he was 289-143-43 and made the NCAA Tournament every season, including seven trips to the Frozen Four.

But now that he's here, in Philadelphia, in the NHL, Hakstol is a rookie again, trying to find his way in a League he only watched on television, or from the stands on rare occasions.

He says his 11 seasons at North Dakota gave him confidence in his beliefs about how the game should be played, and how he should coach it. He's trying to stay true to his beliefs as he goes through the beginning/learning stages of what he hopes will be a long journey in the NHL.

Hakstol spoke to about his first three months on the job, on the ice in the NHL.

Here are Five Questions (plus a bonus question) with … Dave Hakstol:

What has caught your eye the most and maybe taken the most getting used to about being on the bench in the NHL, coaching in the NHL?

"It's hard to pick just one thing. There isn't just one thing. But I think the firsthand experience of a National Hockey League game at ice level, it's different than anything you might see from the stands or on television or from any other perspective. The ability level and the speed of the NHL is impressive. It's at such a high level. Day in and day out, you see that from the bench. That's a different perspective than I've ever been able to gain, whether it be from television, video, or from spectating.

"[As a result], there's a lot of little things I have to learn and become more fluent with, and that's all part of the transition. I knew that coming in. That's all part of the transition. There's a lot of different pieces to the puzzle, but that's part of it, for sure. I didn't have any black-and-white expectations, but absolutely it's what you expected. It's every bit as challenging and then some."

I remember when I talked with Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper at one point last year and he said when he got to the NHL, and he was coming from the AHL, one of his challenges was gaining the respect from the referees, from the other coaches, from the other teams, because he was the new guy in the fraternity. Is that what you're dealing with now?

"Yes. I think that's something that has to happen over time. There's no question. If you're a player as a rookie in this league, you have to work hard and long to gain respect. I don't believe it's any different as a coach in that regard with all those different areas of the game. No question that's a part of it. Again, that's a part of the transition."

You've got a team there in Philadelphia that has a lot of veteran players, some very successful veteran players, but also a number of prospects who are close but not quite there yet. There is a definite in-between in Philadelphia right now. How do you make that work when that in-between typically breeds inconsistency?

"First of all, the perspective comes from what is right for our team, for our organization, short-term as well as long-term. The two sometimes maybe are tough to match, but they have to run parallel. I think in terms of young guys, prospects, it's about being in line with the mentality right now that Ron [Hextall] and the entire organization has; doing things on the right time frame, with proper development in mind, not being in a hurry. In terms of the veteran players, I think I'm real fortunate here because of the quality guys, quality players, quality people that we have. I'm doing my best to deal honestly with guys on a day-to-day basis."

Has coming to a team in transition as the Flyers are, a team that doesn't appear to be whole yet, forced you to change or amend your approach and philosophy? You're a coach who came from a winning environment, where championships were expected. Have you had to adjust accordingly because you're with a team that appears to be in a different phase?

"If you ask me my past approach, it would be an approach of development with becoming the best team we could possibly be in that year. That's how we approached every year. Getting better, developing individually [and] as a team with the mindset that we could become the best team we could be at the college level. So, to be honest with you, no, I don't think my mindset has changed. It's growth and development, both individually and as a team, and working to make sure we're getting better every week, every month. We want to become the best team we can become. Is the time frame a little bit different? Yeah, maybe it is. But the mindset isn't."

Over two months into the season now, what do you see or are starting to see in terms of how your players are grasping the system, the way you want them to play?

"I think we're starting to see consistency within our game. I think that's the biggest sign that we're starting to get on one page. We went through a tough stretch when we went on the swing out to Western Canada, through that time frame. We really had our struggles. We couldn't find any energy, let alone any rhythm. But coming out of that now, we're starting to see the consistency to our game day in and day out. I think that's one of the first signs that I would look for. I think we still have a lot of room in a lot of areas to improve, but that as a first sign is positive."

BONUS QUESTION: Jakub Voracek has one goal and 16 points in 30 games. He's a minus-10. You know his history. You know he's coming off a career year. Is he playing like a guy who deserves one goal and 16 points in 30 games, or do those numbers not do his game justice to this point?

"I think Jake had his ups and downs early in the year, but most importantly he's playing well right now. The points still aren't coming easily or maybe as often as he would like or that we hope they will, but he's playing well. When you watch him on any given night here over the last probably couple of weeks, he's playing well. The rest is going to come. The rest is going to follow."


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