When it comes to the world of hockey, North Dakota is a state that often flies under the radar. However, for those who know and follow the sport closely, the state has a thriving minor hockey program thanks to the leadership and legacy of its coaches. These coaches have left a lasting impact on the program, shaping not only the players they coach but also the community and culture surrounding hockey in North Dakota.
Growing up in North Dakota, hockey is more than just a sport – it’s a way of life. From pond hockey in the winter to competitive leagues in the fall, the love for hockey runs deep in the state. And at the heart of it all are the coaches, who play a crucial role in developing the next generation of players and instilling a love and respect for the game.
One of the most prominent figures in North Dakota’s hockey scene is Dave Hakstol, the former head coach of the University of North Dakota’s men’s hockey team. Hakstol’s legacy at UND is unmatched – with a record of 289 wins, 143 losses, and 43 ties, he is the winningest coach in program history. Under his leadership, UND made the NCAA tournament 11 times, reaching the Frozen Four on five occasions and winning the national championship in 2016. In addition to his on-ice success, Hakstol also prioritized academic excellence, with the team regularly boasting some of the highest GPA’s in the country.
Many of Hakstol’s former players have gone on to play in the NHL, including players such as Zach Parise, T.J. Oshie, and Brock Boeser. They credit Hakstol for not only developing their skills as players but also for teaching them important values such as discipline, hard work, and teamwork. His impact on the program and his players goes beyond the wins and accolades and has helped shape a generation of young hockey players in North Dakota.
Another influential coach in North Dakota’s hockey scene is Brad Berry, who took over as head coach of UND’s men’s hockey team in 2015 after Hakstol’s departure. Under his leadership, the team has continued its winning ways, making the NCAA tournament every year and reaching the Frozen Four twice, including a national championship in 2016.
But Berry’s impact goes beyond just wins and losses. He has created a culture of family and accountability within the team, emphasizing the importance of being a good teammate on and off the ice. His players speak highly of his leadership and the positive impact he has had on their lives. In an interview with The Players’ Tribune, former UND player and current Detroit Red Wings defenseman, Christian Wolanin, said, He [Berry] is like a father figure to all of us. He genuinely cares about us as people, not just as players.
Aside from the coaches at UND, there are countless other coaches at the high school and youth levels in North Dakota who have had a significant impact on the development of young players. These coaches dedicate their time and energy to help shape young athletes not only into skilled hockey players, but also into responsible and respectful individuals.
One coach who stands out is Dean French, the former head coach of the Bismarck High School boys’ hockey team. In his 23 years as head coach, French amassed 434 wins, making him the winningest coach in North Dakota high school hockey history. His teams won six state championships, and French was named the state coach of the year six times.
But what truly sets French apart is his dedication to the players and their development both on and off the ice. He instilled a team first mentality in his players, teaching them to put the needs of the team above their own. Many of his former players credit him for not only shaping them as hockey players, but also as individuals. In fact, former player and current University of North Dakota forward, Brett Hjelle, said, He [French] created a culture where you felt like you had to work hard and become the best person you could not only for yourself but for your teammates.
The impact of these coaches on North Dakota’s hockey program can also be seen in the community. Hockey is not just a sport to these coaches – it’s a way to bring people together and build a sense of community. They have created a hockey culture in North Dakota where families gather at the rinks to support their local teams and players, and where children grow up dreaming of playing for their hometown.
As the hockey world continues to evolve, North Dakota’s coaches are working to adapt and stay ahead of the game. They prioritize player development and constantly find new ways to challenge and improve their players’ skills. Whether it’s implementing new strategies or using cutting-edge technology, these coaches are always looking for ways to push their players to be their best selves on and off the ice.
The legacy of North Dakota’s coaches has left an indelible mark on the state’s hockey program. Their dedication, leadership, and commitment to developing both skilled players and respectful individuals have shaped the culture surrounding hockey in North Dakota. As the program continues to thrive and produce top-notch players, the impact of these coaches’ leadership will continue to be felt for years to come.