Minnesota State Thriving Under Hastings
Mavericks Follow New Leader into WCHA playoffs
by Matthew Christians/CHN Reporter
Take a second and think about all the variables that can affect the outcome of a hockey game.
Ice conditions, health, turnovers, mental conditioning, special teams and execution are just some of the many aspects involved in one team defeating another.
To control each of these variables, staying consistent for an entire season to finish off the year with more wins than losses is an impressive feat at any level of hockey.
Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings has made a career of controlling these variables, staying consistent and winning game after game, season after season. As a matter of fact, Mike Hastings has yet to coach a losing hockey team.
Fourteen winning years in the United States Hockey League has led him to Minnesota State, where he is currently on his way for yet another winning season, turning things around in his first season there, and possibly on the way to an NCAA tournament berth.
"I've been fortunate to coach good hockey players and be surrounded by motivated people who work hard every day," Hastings said.
Hastings' love and passion for the game started to grow much before he began coaching.
In the mid-'80s, he was working on his own hockey career, as a player under Frank Serratore. Serratore, who now heads Air Force, made Hastings a captain during his second year with the Rochester Mustangs of the USHL.
“Mike had poise, great hands and exceptional vision; he was without question, the best power-play defenseman in the league,” said Serratore, “He is a very hard worker, always has been. He possessed limited ability as a player but developed himself into a solid D-I player.”
St. Cloud State appreciated his hard work too when he came to play for the Huskies. Herb Brooks coached Hastings at St. Cloud State until a back injury ended his career as a player.
Hockey wasn’t just a game for Hastings; it was a way of life, which led him to teaching the game shortly after his career ended.
Hastings bounced back and forth between St. Cloud State and the Omaha Lancers of the USHL as an assistant coach before finally accepting a head coaching job for the Lancers in 1994.
"Mike had the passion and interest in wanting to be a coach," said Mike Guentzel, now associate head coach at Minnesota, who preceeded Hastings at Omaha.
Serratore turned the Lancers around before Guentzel had a chance to make it even better, which left Hastings feeling the need to take the program even further. Not exactly an easy task, especially for a coach in his first year. But Hastings isn’t exactly an ordinary coach. His mentality and drive to keep the Lancer organization pushing forward was instilled deep within him.
“Mike Guentzel planted something in my mind that I will never forget. ‘Make sure you leave this program in better shape than when you received it,’ I thought it was great advice," Hastings said. "It kept me focused. My goal as a coach is to progress the program and leave it better than when I found it."
Ben Robert, who had bought the Omaha organization from Ted Baer during Hastings' time with the Lancers, explained: “Mike has a brilliant hockey mind, and he is tuned in with every situation with his teams. He knows when to keep it light and tighten the belt with his players."
Throughout his 14 seasons in the USHL, Hastings proved his talent as a coach by winning five general manager of the year awards, three Clark Cup titles, two coach of the year awards and recording an overall record of 529-210-56, making him the USHL’s all-time winningest coach.
“The Lancers will undoubtedly have great seasons again in the future, but the number of great seasons the franchise experienced in succession under Mike Hastings will most likely never be matched,” said Serratore.
After time at Minnesota, an associate coaching job came about at the Nebraska-Omaha under Dean Blais. Hastings jumped on the opportunity to head back to Omaha where his family had lived for so long.
“Coaching alongside of Don and Dean was great. They’re both great human beings. They put family first and their players a close second,” Hastings said. “I enjoyed going to work every day while at Minnesota and Nebraska-Omaha”.
A new chapter began when Hastings was selected to replace Troy Jutting at Minnesota Sate. He immediately set about making it his team.
“The equipment staff, trainers, coaches and players had new expectations that were set from day one," said assistant coach Todd Knott. "With Mike, the players come first. The players are the most important part of our program.”
Sweat dripped from helmets as soon as the first drill was ran in the Verizon Wireless Center. Hastings had to begin the process of making this team his own. Off the ice, Hastings established relationships with his players, bringing his team closer together like a family.
"It's one thing to demand, but another to see players follow through and he gets that with his passion and sincere care for his players," Knott said.
From that day forward, Hastings has shown exactly why Minnesota State made the perfect decision with hiring him, piecing together a 22-11-3 overall record in his first year. The 16-11-1 mark in conference play was good enough to earn home ice in the first of the WCHA tournment. Minnesota State will host Hastings' former employer, UNO.
Going back to Omaha to coach against Blais and UNO earlier this year was an experience Hastings anticipated greatly from the moment he took the job.
“It was something I looked forward to. It was great to see Dean and his wife Jackie as well as renewing the relationships I had established over the years living in Omaha," Hastings said.
MSU took two well-earned points out of the series, winning the first night but falling the second.
Minnesota State has been transformed. Hastings has taken a team that won 12 games last year, introduced his winning style, thus giving the Mavericks a shot at advancing to the WCHA Final Five. They'll have to do it against that same UNO team Hastings helped build this weekend.
“I believe there are three attributes that all great college coaches possess," Serratore said. "The ability to recruit, the ability to teach and the ability to motivate. His infectious personality, street smarts, knowledge of the game, ability to read people and work ethic enable him to be strong in every area. His greatest strength is he doesn’t possess a weakness. When you put it all together, his skill set poses a very tough combination to beat, and his career record as a coach confirms it.”