It's a rare event in sports when two teams can collide and both end up smiling when the dust settles. But that's exactly the case for the North Dakota men's hockey program and the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers.
The Flyers managed to woo 11-year veteran head coach Dave Hakstol from Grand Forks (after two failed attempts previously) and despite debate from the local fan base and national anyalysts on whether or not he is the right hire - the Flyers staff believes in him and they most definitely come out a winner by adding him to their historic franchise. Hakstol epitomized everything required to be an NHL coach, albeit at the collegiate level while at UND. For more than a decade his teams have played a pro style, and his players have lived that lifestyle both on and off the ice. Hakstol led North Dakota to the NCAA Tournament in all 11 seasons and reached the Frozen Four 7 times. Critics are quick to point out that Hakstol could never 'win the big one', but on the contrary, UND only regularly reached college hockey's biggest stage because of Hakstol, not in spite of him. Consider the second half surge that became so consistent under Hakstol that fans never had to be nervous if the team was hovering around the .500 mark heading into Christmas break. You knew the turnaround was coming - how does that happen, if not for a great coach? Remember that the NCAA hockey tournament is a one-and-done scenario - not a best-of-seven series as it is in the NHL. Would anyone doubt a Hakstol-led North Dakota hockey team in that type of setting in the postseason? A national championship may have eluded Hakstol during his tenure at UND, but perhaps a hoist of the Stanley Cup will be in his future. Either way Philly fans are going to look back on their comments a couple years from now and realize they were too quick to judge - too quick to criticize Hakstol's 'lack of NHL experience,' and be thankful GM Ron Hextall had the foresight to hire the best possible candidate for their head coaching vacancy.
The shock of Hakstol's departure barely had enough time to begin sinking in for North Dakota hockey fans before a replacement was announced - and like Philly - that fan base has a reason to smile despite the loss of one of the greatest coaches in program history.
When you have the best coaching candidate in house it doesn't, and shouldn't, take long to pull the trigger - and that's exacly what Athletic Director Brian Faison did when he announced that long-time assistant coach Brad Berry is the 16th head coach in team history just hours after the public was notified of Hakstol's departure. Berry has been there and done that. He's been a fixture on the UND coaching staff for 9 seasons and he's been around UND since he stepped on campus as a Freshman back in 1983. He knows the history, he understands the tradition - the team will not miss a beat with him at the helm. As an assistant, Berry has been an integral part of the recruiting process for UND - you know, the team that doesn't rebuild - it reloads. Keeping him in Grand Forks ensures the pipeline of talent coming in stays fluid and the pro style of play will remain consistent as well. A similar situation took place at North Dakota back in 2004 when Dean Blais suddently up and left for a shot at the NHL - that didn't turn out so bad, did it? The promotion of Brad Berry isn't just a run-of-the-mill move by the university, it's the right one to keep the program strong for many years to come. Somehow on a mostly cloudy day in Grand Forks, and in Philadelphia - the sun is finding a way to shine down on two very proud hockey programs at the same time.