Tradition dictates that coaching awards are presented to someone who has engineered the biggest turnaround from one season to the next. It’s not that those people aren’t deserving, but what of the coaches whose teams challenge for conference titles and NCAA titles year in and year out?
Dave Hakstol is one of those coaches. Despite a roster that was gutted by injuries, defections to the major junior ranks, and ineligibility and the controversy over the team’s nickname constantly swirling in the background, Hakstol guided North Dakota to the WCHA playoff championship and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA West Regional. A team that at Thanksgiving had a 4-7-0 overall record and a 2-6-0 mark in conference play hit its stride, going 22-6-2 in its last 30 games, including a 14-5-1 mark against league opponents.
There’s a reason just about everything went right for North Dakota during the last four months of the season. When the team needed timely goaltending from senior Brad Eidsness, it got it. When it needed offensive contributions from someone not named Corban Knight, Danny Kristo, or Brock Nelson, Carter Rowney and Michael Parks stepped to the fore. When players started dropping like flies due to injuries, unheralded players like defenseman-turned-forward Joe Gleason or freshman walk-ons Connor Gaarder and Dan Senkbeil ultimately proved to be more than just stop-gap options.
North Dakota is one of college hockey’s pressure cookers and the fan base, regardless of what has transpired in seasons past, has very little tolerance for mediocrity or even pretty good-ocrity. The folks in Grand Forks expect their hockey team to win; North Dakota did that this past season thanks to a masterful coaching job by Hakstol.
His Runner-Up: Norm Bazin, UMass Lowell
• INCH’s year-end awards are decided upon with input from the editorial staff of InsideCollegeHockey.com and in consultation with coaches and other college hockey followers from across the country.