First Look: North Dakota Enjoying the Opportunity
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
ST. PAUL, Minn. Getting Dave Hakstol to crack a smile is like trying to solve the Riddle of the Sphinx.
But after asking every question that could be asked, a couple of different approaches allowed North Dakota's coach to show a side rarely seen by the media.
Minneapolis Star-Tribune reporter Chris Miller noted to Hakstol that Michigan coach Red Berenson said he almost went to North Dakota 50 years ago. "Assuming he had, he'd now be the coach there for his 30th season," Miller said. Miller then asked North Dakota captain Chay what Hakstol would be doing if not now the coach at North Dakota.
"Go ahead, Chay, I want to hear this," Hakstol said, cracking a smile for the first time during the 20-minute press conference.
When Genoway couldn't immediately come up with a witty retort, Hakstol took him off the hook by doing something else he rarely does — getting personal.
"Somebody asked me earlier last week, when I started coaching my first year in Sioux City, if I had a plan that included having a chance to coach at North Dakota," Hakstol said. "And I don't think I answered it very well because I hadn't thought about it very well at that time.
"I got into coaching not really knowing exactly whether or not I'd have any ability in that area or not, and not knowing what it was all about. I found out quickly in an 8-win first season that I had in Sioux City that I loved it. It's a great opportunity to not only be around great young guys that are highly motivated and talented, but a great opporunity for me to grow and learn and become better as a coach and person. So I hope I'd be coaching somewhere, but I can't tell you where. I'm extremely happy and fortunate to have had the opportunity to come back and work at North Dakota in the 2000-2001 season with Dean and thankful he asked me to do that. And I can tell ya, it took me two seconds to give him the answer."
That gave Genoway enough time to finally come up with an answer.
"He wouldn't be working in the golf industry, I know that," Genoway said.
"Gregs, did you tell him that?" Hakstol, laughing, asked Jason Gregoire.
"No, I'm not that witty," Gregoire replied.
You'd be hard-pressed to ever call North Dakota loose, but the Sioux certainly seem comfortable to be at the Xcel Energy Center for the Frozen Four. And why not? It's the home of the WCHA's Final Five, a tournament North Dakota won in double overtime just over two weeks ago.
“Over the last couple of years we have had the chance to play a lot of games in this building so there is a bit of comfort there," Genoway said. "However, we are playing a different hockey team that we didn’t see at the WCHA Final Five. ... We are playing Michigan and we haven’t played them much before so we're just worried about them.”
"We're playing for something different — this is a national championship," Genoway said. "We're trying to take away the pressure of what we're playing for. Hopefully it does help a bit (the comfort level), but this is a bigger stage, so we have that to think about."
“The Xcel Energy Center is a beautiful arena," Malone said. "If there is a rink out there that can rival Ralph Engelstad Arena it would be this one. I am looking forward to seeing our fans come out for the game tomorrow. At the WCHA Final Five our fans were unbelievable. It is going to be a really fun night for us.”
Again, Hakstol took the opportunity to make a quip.
"The guys are talking about having fun, I can see you had fun putting my chair by the leg of the table here," Hakstol said, addressing Frozen Four press conference host Dave Fischer. "But I didn't spill water, so that's good.
"I don't know if you can call it absolutely routine, but you try to keep everything that's under your control in a fairly regular routine. ... Enjoy the day, have a bit of fun, and when it's time to go to work, do your job. And I thought our guys have done a good job of those things."
In a more typical Hakstol vein, he admitted to not spending much emotional energy ruminating on past close calls. With this being his fifth Frozen Four appearance in seven years as head coach, and without a national title yet, there have been many games that could stick in your craw.
"I put a lot of analytical thought into past games, past seasons, but not a ton of emotional thought into that," Hakstol said. "I know where we want to go to, and we're going to work awful hard to get there. And this group has been tremendous in working towards those goals."
Michigan, of course, is the only program with more national titles than North Dakota, 9 to 7, but the Wolverines are hungry too, having not won since 1998.
“I think there are a lot of stars on their hockey team," Hakstol said of Thursday's semifinal opponent. "I think they are very deep and have a ton of good players throughout their lineup. They have a high skill level and they have a very competitive skill level. We’ve done our regular pre-scout and pre-game meetings in the lead-up during the week, nothing more and nothing less. We’ve prepared ourselves to come out and play as well as we can play. We’re trying to prepare ourselves to play our best game of the season tomorrow night, that’s the way we’ve tried to prepare.”