By Tom Dougherty, CSNPhilly.com
After a month-long search, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall has found his guy.
The Flyers on Monday named Dave Hakstol from the University of North Dakota as their 19th head coach in franchise history replacing Craig Berube.
Two sources told CSNPhilly.com’s Tim Panaccio that the Flyers did not ask to speak with Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock, but did interview Todd McLellan at the world championships before hiring Hakstol.
Hakstol, 46, comes to the Flyers with no NHL experience, but he’s spent the last 11 years coaching at UND, where he coached several NHL players. Among those are Jonathan Toews, T.J. Oshie, Drew Stafford, Travis Zajac and Matt Greene, as well as Hextall’s son, Brett Hextall.
“In watching my son over the years, I grew an appreciation for Dave [and] the way he coached,” Hextall said at Monday afternoon’s press conference. “I’ve thought about him long before this as a head coach in the National Hockey League. I believe he was destined for it. He’s got a lot of pro qualities. He’s got a lot of experience as a head coach.”
That said, Hextall admitted of all the candidates he considered, the guy he “need to get to know the most” was Hakstol. The two talked over a four-day span.
“Everything checked out the way we hoped it would check out,” Hextall said. “I had a list of things that I wanted from a head coach and went down this checklist in my mind, and every box was checked except for NHL experience. And quite frankly for me, that was the one that was the least important. It’s no different from a rookie player or a rookie coach. Does Dave have things to learn? Absolutely. He’ll be the first to admit it.
“Every head coach in the NHL at some point is a rookie, right? That’s reality. Some of them go through the American League. Some of them don’t. Some of them are NHL assistant coaches, and quite frankly, if you said to me, ‘You can bring in an NHL assistant coach, you can bring in a guy that’s been in college for 11 years as a head coach. I’ll take the head coaching experience. That’s the valuable part.
“If Dave had never been a head coach — different conversation. But being a head coach, being the guy in charge, making the tough decisions, putting your lines together, the gut feels you have on putting guys out there at the right time — he’s got all that experience. Yes, it’s at a different level, but that’s valuable experience.”
Hakstol leaves North Dakota with a 289-143-43 record in 475 games. Last season, North Dakota made the Frozen Four, but lost to Boston University. North Dakota went 29-10-3 in the regular season last year.
While he’s had tremendous success at the college level, Hakstol acknowledged he’ll have to make some changes now that he’s dealing with NHL players, but he’s going to stick with what earned him appearances in the NCAA Tournament during his entire tenure at North Dakota, including seven trips to the Frozen Four.
What’s more, his teams have produced 20 NHL players and 46 professionals overall. He coached Chris VandeVelde, who has played 90 games with the Flyers the last two seasons, and Derek Forbort, whom the Kings drafted when Hextall was the assistant general manager in L.A.
“There’s going to be several adjustments along the way, but I think No. 1, I believe in what we do and I believe in the things that I do, and I’m not going to change that as I come to this level,” Hakstol said. “I think maybe the delivery of the message may be a little bit different. Certainly, the fact that I do not have experience at this level, I’m not going to pretend what I do.
“But I do have an awful lot of confidence in terms of knowing the game well, knowing how to relate and communicate with players — and that’s one of the first things as I get started here, and probably one of the most important things as we move through the summer, is communicating with and getting to know a lot of our players, and that’s going to start to build the foundation of the plan that we have moving forward.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE: See the story on CSNPhilly.com)