Inside the NHL
Hakstol back then had broken into coaching with a United States Hockey League (USHL) junior level squad from Sioux City, Iowa with “protected team” rights to players from Eastside-based Sno-King. He even mentioned texting one of his former Seattle players Thursday morning right before being named Kraken coach.
“I’m sure he had no idea why he was getting a random text from me this morning,’’ Hakstol told the assembled media. “But he’s a tremendous young man and a product of the Seattle hockey community. And that was one of my first opportunities to experience hockey here in Seattle.’’
Though Hakstol didn’t mention the player’s name, some roster-combing from those late-1990s Sioux City Musketeers teams pinpointed a former Sno-King winger named Chris Olsgard, 41, originally from Saskatchewan, who’d relocated with his family to Issaquah as a teenager.
After leaving Sno-King and playing two seasons for Hakstol in 1998-99 and 1999-2000, Olsgard became an alternate team captain at Ohio State University and now runs a wealth management company based in Columbus.
“He was basically just looking for the name of the program I’d played for,’’ Olsgard said with a chuckle of Hakstol’s text when reached this week. “I don’t think he could recall that it was Sno-King off the top of his head.’’
Olsgard said he initially found it “a bit strange’’ to get a text out of nowhere from Hakstol, who did not tell him about the pending Kraken announcement. But Olsgard had previously messaged Hakstol in December 2018 wishing him well after his firing by the Philadelphia Flyers, and everything made more sense once Hakstol was named Kraken coach a few hours after Thursday’s text.
And though Hakstol has done much coaching since Sioux City — 11 years at his University of North Dakota alma mater, 3 1/2 more with the Flyers and the past two as an assistant with Toronto — his four Musketeers seasons set a foundation for demanding hard work and that his players buy-in to a team-first attitude that reputedly still holds true.
Olsgard said Hakstol was different from his other coaches and clearly destined for bigger things.
“He’s pretty honest about who you are as a player and what he’s asking for from guys,” Olsgard said. “I knew he was a tough coach and that Sioux City was kind of a smaller (arena) barn and it was going to be a physical style of play.
“I think that’s what kind of drew me to him. I knew that the harder I worked with a guy like Hak, the more opportunity I would have.’’
Coaching at Sioux City differed from anything Hakstol experienced as a defenseman for North Dakota and in the minor professional ranks. A serious knee injury had Hakstol contemplating a career shift toward playing in Europe when Sioux City’s coach abruptly resigned one game into the 1996-97 season.
Hakstol’s former North Dakota coach was by then the USHL’s commissioner and thought his ex-player would make a terrific bench boss. So, Hakstol took over an awful Musketeers group, losing his first game 16-4 and winning just eight of 53 contests he coached that season en route to the league’s worst record.
The Musketeers used 41 players that season as Hakstol struggled to find working combinations. But he implored players to keep working hard and by the following season, the Musketeers halved their 5.63 goals-per-game allowed and made the playoffs.
Olsgard arrived the following season and the Musketeers — with future NHL players David Hale, Rusty Klesla and Ruslan Fedotenko also recruited by Hakstol into their ranks — made the playoffs again.
By the 1999-2000 season, the Musketeers had four Seattle-area players – Olsgard, forwards Matt Scherer from Lake Forest Park and Brandon Schmidt of Arlington and goalie Steve Jones from Lake Stevens. They again made the playoffs in Hakstol’s final campaign before he’d join North Dakota and unite with another Seattle-area player, T.J. Oshie of Stanwood, now a Washington Capitals mainstay who could be exposed to the Kraken in the July 21 expansion draft.
Scherer, 39, played only half that 1999-2000 season in Sioux City under Hakstol before being traded, but said the coach made a lasting impression on him when he then was only 17 and uncertain about his long move from Seattle to further his career.
“I remember my first two exhibition games, I got in fights with 20-year-old guys and they kicked the snot out of me,’’ Scherer said. “I went to my first day of high school in Sioux City with two black eyes. So, at the end of practice right after that, he (Hakstol) comes over and we did some sparring. He taught me a few things. It was just the one time he did that, but when you’re 17 and your coach grabs your sweater out of nowhere, it’s jarring. I’m like ‘What? You gonna throw?’ But it helped me, that’s for sure.
“Right after, we go play up in Thunder Bay and I get in another fight and it was the first fight I ever won.’’
That gave Scherer confidence to stick with the USHL for four seasons. He played four more for the University of Connecticut, then five with the pro South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL – winning a championship in 2009 under current Colorado Avalanche coach Jared Bednar.
Scherer still lives in South Carolina, running a Charleston-based insurance advisory firm, and touches base with Hakstol from time-to-time.
“He was a straight-edged, tough-nosed kind of a guy,’’ Scherer said. “He was very sincere and to the point. I think Seattle’s going to be very well-off.’’
So does Olsgard, who agreed Hakstol didn’t play favorites and gave equal tutelage to whoever gave the effort.
“In hindsight, it felt like he was really invested in me and that he wanted the best for me as a player regardless of where I wanted to go,’’ Olsgard said. “He really valued a gritty player – somebody that’s going to put the team ahead of himself. And I think I carried that to Ohio State. I really tried to emulate that style of leadership.”
Olsgard said he feels the Kraken will succeed under Hakstol if the makeup is similar to those Sioux City squads.
“Every single guy in that locker room that he and the other coaches recruited were just quality guys,’’ he said. “And I can’t emphasize that enough. Being around the sport and seeing how you build a team, it’s those blue-collar guys that make it. Certainly you need some skill to go along with that, but that team-first mentality is really what Hak was all about.’’
And after the upcoming expansion draft, we should know better what the Kraken is about and how much of a roster impact Hakstol is already having.