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Hockey Day 2018: The many ties that bind SCSU's Motzko, MSU's Hastings

In-state coaches' friendship, rivalry spans more than 30 years

by Dan Myers @DanMyers / Wild.com

Bob Motzko and Mike Hastings have crossed paths many times in the three decades since they met on the campus of St. Cloud State University in the 1980s. Each now runs his own Division I college program inside the State of Hockey, with Motzko at his alma mater and Hastings leading the way at Minnesota State University. 

Their paths with cross once again on Saturday when the Huskies and Mavericks play as part of Hockey Day Minnesota 2018 presented by Wells Fargo.

Their relationship goes back more than 30 years, when Motzko was a student assistant coach with the Huskies and Hastings was a first-year player. 

The coach at SCSU that year was the legendary Herb Brooks, who spent just one season at the school in an attempt to help it become the third in-state program to successfully make the jump to Division I. 

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It was a job he initially turned down.

During the summer of 1986, St. Cloud State University offered the job of head hockey coach to Herb Brooks.

Brooks, who won three national championships at the University of Minnesota a decade earlier, and guided the United States to gold at Lake Placid in the 1980 "Miracle on Ice," was a coaching free agent after being fired by the New York Rangers. A couple of other opportunities were out there for him, including a return with the Golden Gophers. But among the things that convinced him in the end to take the SCSU opening was the feeling of duty in helping to expand the Division I footprint in the state of Minnesota.

At the time, the Gophers and Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs were the only D-1 teams in the state. St. Cloud State, Mankato State and Bemidji State had thriving Division III programs.

But seeing states like Michigan and Massachusetts thrive with multiple top-tier programs motivated Brooks to do the same in his home state.

So, with the encouragement of another former Gopher coaching legend, John Mariucci, Brooks reconsidered and took the position at St. Cloud on one condition -- it take immediate steps to elevate its program to the Division I level. 

"I remember there was talk of a five-year plan to go Division I," Motzko said. "Herb came in, I think he did it in one year. Within one year, we were independent, plans to build a new arena and making progress to get into the WCHA. That was the power and the impact of Herb Brooks. He was legendary status."

The byproduct of that decision is still reverberating some 30 years after Brooks spent one season in St. Cloud.

The Huskies played a Division III schedule that season, and didn't even win a championship. But it was Brooks' name cache and muscle within the hockey community that helped the National Hockey Center get built. 

It helped SCSU make the jump to Division I the following season.

"I hear stories now that I've been back 12 years, the business leaders will tell me the story, 'Well, the first time I met Herb, he wanted me to buy season tickets,'" Motzko said. "He was boots on the ground, even in the community, trying to get people to rally around it. 

"It was a major impact, not just on our school and that group of players for one year, but in the community. There were people that started coming to hockey games for the first time that are still season ticket holders from that first year."

It helped push Mankato State -- which became Minnesota State in 1998 -- to make the jump to D-1 in 1996. It pushed Bemidji State to do the same in 1999. 

"Herbie was extremely happy and proud," said longtime Huskies head coach Craig Dahl, Brooks' top assistant during his one season in St. Cloud and his eventual successor. "Herbie and I had a 20-some year relationship where we talked a lot. He was extremely happy there was more opportunity for more Minnesota kids to be able to play Division I hockey. 

"Of course, he was very humble. He'd never say that he started it. But I know he was very proud to see it happen."

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Dahl actually played a major role in the coaching starts of both Motzko and Hastings.

When Brooks prepared to accept the job at St. Cloud State, he insisted Dahl -- then a coach at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls -- come with him. 

"Herb was a great mentor for me," Dahl said. "I'm sure he looked at me and said, 'He has a great passion for it and I want to try and help this guy.'"

Dahl paid that forward with both Motzko and Hastings.

A couple days after Brooks and Dahl arrived, Motzko walked into Dahl's office looking to become a student assistant. 

Like Brooks with him, Dahl sensed a passion from him and had him join the staff. He spent one year there before departing for his first head coaching job in the USHL.

That year, after Brooks' departure and Dahl's ascent to the head job, Hastings sustained a career-ending back injury in the first series of the season. Instead of sending him away, however, Dahl honored Hastings' scholarship and had him stay on as a student assistant.

Hastings, who had his sights set on a career in business, suddenly had a new path.

"I just wanted to play hockey as long as I could," Hastings said. "But once I got hurt, Craig Dahl allowed me to keep my aid and get into coaching. He afforded me that opportunity."

Within five years, Hastings was himself a head coach in the USHL. Suddenly, the Brooks/Dahl coaching tree was sprouting branches.

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Long-time competitors at both the USHL and collegiate levels, Motzko and Hastings have also maintained a friendship, one based on immense mutual respect.

Both toiled in the United States Hockey League, gaining head coaching experience. Motzko spent parts of five seasons leading the North Iowa Huskies, then two more years a decade later in Sioux Falls.

In between, Motzko cut his teeth as an assistant coach at Miami University and the University of Denver. After leaving the Stampede, Motzko was on Don Lucia's staff at Minnesota for four years, helping the Gophers win a pair of national championships -- their first since Brooks was behind the bench in the 1970s.

Motzko returned to St. Cloud in 2005, taking over the reigns from Dahl.

Hastings carved out a legendary career of his own with the USHL's Omaha Lancers, winning three championships and becoming one of the winningest coaches in league history.

He jumped to the college coaching ranks himself, spending one season at Minnesota and three at Nebraska-Omaha before being handed his first collegiate head coaching job in Mankato in 2012. 

Motzko, coaching his 13th season at SCSU, has helped make the Huskies one of the top programs in the country, winning at least 20 games in a season seven times, going to seven NCAA tournaments and advancing to the NCAA Frozen Four for the first time in 2013.

In five-plus seasons with the Mavericks, Hastings has guided the university to a pair of conference titles, two other playoff championships, three NCAA tournaments and the fifth-most wins in the country during that span, putting MSU hockey on the map.

"They both love the sport," Dahl said. "They have passion for the game. They have intelligence, they know how to talk to people, to relate to people, to get along with them. Those are big things to move ahead in any kind of business."

Dahl, who lives now in Rochester, New York, is back in St. Cloud this weekend, and watching from the stands as his two former proteges go against each other.

Scan the seats at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center and you'll find few more proud of what the two successful head coaches have become. 

"In your life, you want to leave a legacy with people in a positive way," Dahl said. "You want to try and help people. If they have the passion and they have the work ethic, you do everything you can to try and help them. 

"I couldn't be more proud of what Bob and Mike have done. They've turned into outstanding coaches, recruiters and mentors to these young players. My little bit with those two, they really took the ball and ran with it. All the credit goes to them."

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