Hakstol only third coach to go from NCAA to first NHL job

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Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol. (Matt Slocum/AP)

When he was hired by the Flyers and left the University of North Dakota on Monday, Dave Hakstol became just the third coach in NHL history to climb directly from the NCAA ranks to his first head coaching job in the NHL.

He hopes to be as successful as one of them, the late Bob Johnson, who directed Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup in 1991.

Johnson coached the University of Wisconsin for 16 seasons and won three national titles before being hired by the Calgary Flames in 1982. The Flames made the playoffs in all five of his seasons and reached the Finals in 1986. Johnson later coached the Penguins to the title in his only season there, and he died of brain cancer about six months later.

The only other coach to go directly from the college to the NHL head coaching ranks: Ned Harkness, who went from Cornell University to the Detroit Red Wings in 1970. That hiring didn't work out. Harkness lasted just 38 games (12-22-4).

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Hakstol, 46, had a remarkable run at the University of North Dakota - a 289-143-43 record and seven Frozen Four appearances in his 11 seasons as head coach.

"There's going to be several adjustments along the way, but I think No. 1 . . . I believe in the things that I do, and I'm not going to change that," Hakstol said. "Do I need to alter the delivery of the message? Maybe a little bit. The fact that I do not have experience at this level - I'm not going to pretend that I do. But I do have an awful lot of confidence in terms of knowing the game well, knowing how to relate and communicate with players. . . . One of the first things as I get started here - and probably one of the most important things as we move through the summer - is communicating with and getting to know a lot of our players. That's going to start to build the foundation for the plan we have moving forward."

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said his decision came down to a "gut feeling" that "comes from all the information you've gathered."

The first-year GM said he asked himself if Hakstol could handle NHL players, the much longer schedule, and the differences in the pro and collegiate games.

"And every time me I asked myself the question, the answer was yes," Hextall said.

Hextall noted that Hakstol has coached many players at North Dakota who became established NHL players, including Jonathan Toews and Travis Zajac.

"He knows these people. . . . He understands egos and stuff like that," Hextall said. "Is there a risk? Of course there's a risk. There's a risk with any coach, but I feel extremely comfortable with Dave and his abilities."

Added Hextall: "Quite frankly, if someone said to me you can bring in an NHL assistant coach or you can bring in a guy that's been in college for 11 years as a head coach, I'll take the head coaching experience. That's the valuable part."