Graduation Day: Hakstol leaves UND for Philadelphia Flyers
Perhaps the best thing to happen to Dave Hakstol since he was startlingly hired as the new head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday was the hiring of Mike Babcock by the Toronto Maple Leafs two days later to a mammoth 8-year, $50 million contact.
As the eyes of the hockey world shifted to the Babcock signing mid-week, it at least temporarily took the spotlight off of Hakstol, who left the University of North Dakota after 11 successful seasons. His UND teams qualified for the NCAA Tournament in each of 11 of Hakstol’s seasons and appeared in the Frozen Four seven times, although he never won a national championship. That reprieve, of course, will not last long in the City of Brotherly Love, which like Toronto, is starving for a return its glory days. The Flyers’ last Stanley Cup came in 1975 with Fred Shero behind the bench, their second of back-to-back titles.
According to published reports, Flyers’ GM Rox Hextall was relentless in his pursuit of Hakstol, who initially balked at the idea of leaving Grand Forks for the NHL but was eventually persuaded to bring his team-first approach to Philly. The 46-year-old is the first head coach to make the jump from the NCAA ranks to the NHL since Herb Brooks left St. Cloud State to take the head coaching job for the Minnesota North Stars in 1987 (Brooks had previously coached in the NHL with the New York Rangers in the early 1980s).
The big question of course is whether the culture of stability Hakstol built on the college campus in North Dakota can find its way east and work at the NHL level with the Broadway Bullies. The Flyers made a late-season push for the playoffs that came up short, but do have some key pieces in captain Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, and Jakub Voracek to build on. In his decade-plus at North Dakota, Hakstol coached several future NHL stars, including Jonathan Toews, T.J. Oshie, and Travis Zajac.
The NHL’s Eastern Conference is loaded with teams like the New York Rangers, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Montreal Canadiens leading the way and others like the New York Islanders knocking on the door. If the Flyers want to get back in the mix with Hakstol behind the bench, they will have to buy into the rookie head coach’s plan. In praising Philly’s rich history and tradition and recognizing just how much the team means to the city, Hakstol undoubtedly gets it.
Now let’s hope the Flyers and the city of Philadelphia get Hakstol.