August 31, 2005
Dahl Resigns from SCSU Post

By Jess Myers

Before folks could even brace for the headlong onslaught of cooler weather as summer quickly turns to fall in central Minnesota, an even more abrupt change came to the campus of St. Cloud State University on the final day of August. The only head coach the hockey Huskies have known in their 18 seasons as a Division I program called an unexpected team meeting on Wednesday afternoon, telling his players that his days at the helm of the program were through.

After stints as the head coach at tiny Bethel College in the Twin Cities and at Wisconsin-River Falls, Craig Dahl came to SCSU nearly 20 years ago as an assistant to the legendary Herb Brooks. He spent one season as Brooks’ right-hand man, then took over the program at the start of the 1987-88 season – the Huskies’ first D-I campaign. On Wednesday he stepped down after leading SCSU to 338 wins, five NCAA tournament appearances and one WCHA playoff title.

While rumors of Dahl’s displeasure at the actions of the SCSU athletic administration had circulated in WCHA circles for months, Wednesday’s hastily-called mandatory players’ meeting came as a surprise to most who attended.

“It definitely shocked a bunch of us,” said Huskies goaltender Bobby Goepfert. “We had no idea what the meeting was for.”

Behind closed doors, Dahl told the team that he was stepping down, effective immediately. A short time later, assistant coach Bob Motzko was named the interim head coach.

Motzko, who played for the Huskies for two seasons in the early 1980s, was hired by the school at the end of the 2004-05 season after a stint as an assistant coach at Minnesota. At the time of his hiring, it was widely speculated that Motzko was coming on board as the heir apparent to Dahl. But with two years remaining on his contract, Dahl and school administrators had said they expected the coach to complete at least one more season behind the bench.

Dahl had consulted with at least one fellow WCHA coach before deciding to resign.

“We had had conversations about that over the summer,” said Denver coach George Gwozdecky, who preceded Dahl as coach at UW-River Falls. “He knew my feelings about it. I knew he had a very good opportunity ahead of him outside of hockey, and I’m excited for him in pursuing that opportunity.

“With that said, I know he was excited about the team he had coming back,” Gwozdecky added. “So I know this was a very difficult decision.”

Dahl, while not available for comment, released a statement through the school.

"I felt it was time for me to turn the reins over to someone who would continue to build the program as I have done over the last 18 years,” said Dahl. “I also feel it is the proper time for myself personally, to enter into the business sector. I have enjoyed my 25 years as a college coach. I appreciate all of the support and relationships that I have developed with past players, coaches, and administrators, that I have had the privilege of working with during my coaching career.”

When addressing his players on Wednesday, Dahl spoke of how much he had enjoyed coaching the team and watching his players grow on the ice and in the classroom. Motzko, who attended the meeting, said that the immediate reaction from players and the community has been an outpouring of thanks to Dahl for his contributions to the program over nearly two decades.

“It’s been an emotional day for all of us, but especially for Craig,” Motzko said Wednesday evening. “He was the first guy that gave me a job, and I came back here this year because of him.”

Motzko said that Dahl had agonized over his future for much of the summer, not only due to uncertainty in the hockey program, but due to what Motzko called “an unbelievable opportunity outside of hockey.” According to Motzko, Dahl came to him on Aug. 11 and said, “I think that’s it.” Still, the decision and the announcement caught players off guard nearly two weeks later.

“We could tell he was sad, and it was kind of somber in there,” said Gopefert. “He mentioned that with everything that has happened it would be best for him to do this now. We all support him.”

Goepfert said there is general excitement with the school’s decision to put the program in Motzko’s hands, although the school’s official press release said SCSU will conduct a national search for a permanent replacement.

Huskies captain Casey Borer, a junior defenseman, said over the summer there were persistent rumors of Dahl’s unhappiness with the way he’d been treated by the school’s administration and uncertainty about the future.

“We’d all heard that talk,” Borer said. “I don’t know if that was the reason he opted to resign, but there were so many question marks in the air, that was the general feeling. We’d hear rumors that (Dahl and Motzko) would be co-head coaches and stuff, so he probably thought this was the right time to go.”

Still, there were no unkind words expressed about the coach’s decision to leave the program less than 40 days before the Huskies play their first game.

“The team gave him a nice round of applause when he left the room,” Borer said. “Nobody feels like he jumped ship on us. He left on very good terms with the boys, and we feel like we’re going from one great coach to another.”

In the mean time, Goepfert said he approaches his first season on the ice for the Huskies wondering what might have been.

“I don’t really know how to feel, because I never really got the chance to play for him,” said Goepfert, who transferred to SCSU from Providence at the end of the 2003-04 season. “We’d heard rumors that something might happen in the future, but it seemed like a far-fetched idea that coach would step down now.

“I just feel bad that I never had the chance on the ice to return the favor he did for me by accepting me to the school and to the team.”

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