It was a scene that reminds you in large part why college coaches do what they do.
The Minnesota State Mavericks had just won the decisive Game 3 from the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks on Sunday night. The traditional post-series handshakes were going on and the Mankato fans waited for the hometown team to surround the center circle to salute them and celebrate the win.
That tradition got delayed by a good five minutes. In front of the UNO bench was former Minnesota State coach Troy Jutting, now an assistant with UNO. Every player stopped by after the players’ handshake line to say a word or two to their former coach. He, in turn, spoke with every one of them, much the way he probably did when he sat in their living rooms in recent years and signed them up to attend Minnesota State as a student athlete.
Conversely, standing at the end of the Minnesota State line was Mike Hastings, a former assistant to Dean Blais at UNO. Hastings took over from Jutting last June. Removing Blais from the equation for a second, you essentially had two guys coaching against their former teams, against each other. It was a remarkable backdrop to what was a competitive series.
When it was all over, Jutting received a nice ovation from the assembled crowd. Afterward, standing outside the Nebraska-Omaha dressing room, an emotional Jutting met with friends and addressed the UNO team with Blais. Down the hall, the whooping and yelling from the Minnesota State dressing room was clearly heard through the cement hallways separating the two teams’ areas. Jutting was away from that area and probably did not hear anything.
Inside his head he probably heard his coaching brain telling him that the team he had recruited was a good one. If that was what he was thinking, it was what Hastings was saying down the hall to the assembled media. Hastings, a class act on every level, made it known that the team he coached to victory was mostly Jutting’s players. Hastings also felt some regret as he was responsible for recruiting a lot of the UNO players to Omaha in his time there. He had just sent a lot of players home for the offseason, guys who he helped put on that roster.
Rarely in sports do you have such a unique situation where two guys almost literally trade places and then face each other in conference play and then the playoffs. Give Blais credit for recognizing a good coach and recruiter in Jutting and bringing him in. Give Minnesota State credit for hiring a quality guy in Hastings with a track record for success as a head coach in the USHL. Both programs are under the control of people who know how to win and have done so.
Hastings balanced his emotions well. He told me it was tough to end the Nebraska-Omaha season as he has a ton of respect for his friend and former boss in Blais. He mentioned the support Jutting had showed during his interview process to succeed him. He also felt the pride of being a first-year college head coach whose team is headed to the NCAA tournament. Emotions were all over the spectrum from all involved.
It was as unique a postgame scene as I have ever seen in college hockey.
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On a quick side note, the coach of the 2014 U.S. World Junior team will be announced this weekend. I have broadcasted four of these, two that had Blais at the helm. One ended well, one didn’t.
That being said, I know how much Blais wants to wipe out 2012 and chase gold in 2014. I have no idea who the top guy will be as I write this but, with no disrespect to the many qualified guys out there, I would love to see Blais get one more shot before he eventually retires.
I have said this before and will say it again: Blais is good for college hockey and also for USA Hockey. I’ve met few guys with a burning desire to win like him.
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This is it for the CCHA. Three more games and then a place in history.
There are a lot of things that the CCHA should be recognized for and it starts with how progressive it has been in the past 10 years. Under the guidance of Tom Anastos, the conference challenged the college hockey world to be more progressive. During the lockout years of 2004-05 Anastos started the wheels in motion for a better standard-of-play initiative. It riled up some folks but it also woke them up.
I remember sitting with the then-commish at a restaurant in East Lansing and he explained some of his thoughts.
He talked of a need to change the culture of the game. He said obstruction penalties needed to be enforced. If it’s a penalty in the first period, he said, it’s a penalty in the third.
If you hook, hold, obstruct someone, no matter the score, he said, it has to be a penalty.
Anastos helped the NCAA down the path to a stricter enforcement of the rules. At the time The Hockey News had him 80th or so in terms of hockey’s most influential people, and obviously they were listening because the NHL came out of the lockout with a vision of actually enforcing what was on the books in the area of obstruction.
Anastos did many things as the business head of the conference regarding TV, marketing and exposure for the conference. His vision will be remembered as one of the great things the CCHA brought to college hockey. Not to be forgotten here is the work of Courtney Welch, who was the driving force behind many of the projects headed by the conference in the Anastos regime.
Turning it over to Fred Pletsch upon taking the Michigan State coaching position two seasons ago, the CCHA could have just rode it out and walked off into the sunset without much more effort put into it.
Pletsch and his staff of Phil Colvin, Steve Piotrowski, Rob Murphy, Kristin Shurmur, Dan Bara, Jeff Sell and John Nowicki created the “Celebrate The Legacy” campaign. It was a season-long celebration of the history of the league and was well done in the rinks, on the website, and with the various TV partners.
On that note, a sincere thanks to Anastos for being a very early supporter of what was being built at CSTV, now known as CBS Sports Network. From Day One, Anastos believed in what CSTV could provide for college hockey and especially the CCHA. We certainly feel we held up our end of the deal and at times only wished we could have done more. The CCHA member teams were also big supporters and wherever we went the spirit of cooperation and partnership we felt from the schools was fantastic.
The same can be said for Piotrowski. When I asked to attend the CCHA officials symposium in 2007, Pletsch said he saw no reason not to and Piotrowski and his guys welcomed me. It created a relationship with that group I will always appreciate. It was also the symposium where I met my future wife, Shireen Saski. Shireen at the time was three Michigan Emmys in for her work covering the CCHA for a regional sports network in Detroit and was covering the symposium for a feature.
So while the CCHA fades away it remains an important part of our world. As Anastos said in his opening remarks at the 2009 CCHA officials training camp: “We have done many things as a conference. We have sent players, coaches, officials, and off-ice people onto pro hockey. We have created a league that has been at the forefront of many changes. But what we have done that no other conference has done is create a wedding.” I’ll always appreciate that.
We’ve made a lot of good friends in the CCHA. We lost two good ones in Northern Michigan sports information director Dave Faiella and Notre Dame broadcaster Mike Lockert. Rest in peace, Mike and Dave alongside the league with which you helped make memories.