North Dakota hockey watchers probably recognized something in the Seattle Kraken.
Current North Dakota head coach Brad Berry does. Berry, who served as Dave Hakstol’s assistant coach with the Fighting Hawks, has seen firsthand how Hakstol has evolved as a coach. From Grand Forks to Philadelphia to Toronto and now Seattle, Kraken’s current coach has made many adjustments in his then rapid rise through the NHL ranks.
“Just with (the Kraken) being a high pressure team, being competitive, being a system that takes up time and space,” Berry said. “Having a group playing five men together and not having a lot of room for opponents, in the system, in the offensive zone, the neutral zone or the defensive zone, it’s five guys playing with tight gaps and play a quick game.”
Hakstol coached the Fighting Hawks from 2003 to 2015, when he moved from the college ranks to the NHL, becoming the first head coach to do so since 1982, when Wisconsin coach Bob Johnson was named coach. leader in Calgary, and since then only Jim Montgomery has made the leap from Denver to the Dallas Stars. With the Fighting Hawks, Hakstol coached 34 future NHL players.
Philadelphia was a fit; Hakstol’s Flyers went 134-101-42 in his three-plus seasons with the Flyers, including two playoff appearances, both losses in the first round. After that, he was an assistant with the Maple Leafs, where he coached the offense.
“With every experience, you build on it and grow from it,” Hakstol said a few weeks ago before the Kraken played in Philadelphia. “You learn from both successes and failures. I really enjoyed my stay in Philadelphia. As the process progressed, I felt like we were very successful and had the pieces in place. In this first job in the NHL as a head coach, there are many things that I have experienced and that I can now apply.
Hakstol wasn’t an obvious candidate to be Kraken’s first coach, and for some, his hiring in July came as a surprise. Berry has seen how Hakstol’s coaching style has adapted since his time in Grand Forks until today, where his second time as an NHL head coach comes under entirely different circumstances.
“It’s a bit of a transition, but when you look at the NHL now and how young it is, and especially the current roster with so much college hockey, it’s a huge part,” he said. “They are relatively young. There are similar patterns from college to professional hockey; as a coach going into the professional ranks, you now only have an 82-game season, you deal with travel. It’s very different.
Under Hakstol, the Flyers enjoyed three winning seasons before being fired after a 12-15-4 start in 2018-19. Just eight games into his first Kraken campaign, there are similarities to the style the Flyers played with Hakstol at the helm.
As Berry said, their five-man system — where everyone on the ice is involved — and emphasis on stray play is familiar. The Kraken also showed a tendency to take a lot of shots from the point and drive the offense through their blue liners.
The Kraken’s aggressive forecheck would also be familiar to viewers in North Dakota, as well as Hakstol’s emphasis on speed, which has taken effect in recent weeks. Almost every practice after the five-game road trip to start the season has focused on speeding up the game, all with the goal of limiting opposition transition.
This is important for a team that can be so aggressive in their attacking side, and taking shots from the point always allows a blocked shot to create a breakaway the other way. That Hakstol and the Kraken have adapted is a positive sign of how well he has adapted as well.
“I think it’s something that grows over the year,” Kraken striker Morgan told Geekie. “The coaching staff is great, the communication is great, so trying to be on the same page isn’t as difficult as some people might think.”
One thing that differed was the number of high-risk shots the Kraken allowed, entering Saturday with the third most dangerous goal allowed. Compare that to his time with the Flyers where they ranked 12th in the fewest high-risk goals allowed five-on-five. Although in the last three games the Kraken have suppressed this, so this is a fit closer to their norm.
In a chaotic opener to the season and existing as a team overall, Hakstol’s stoic demeanor stood out through the madness. Berry will tell you that’s always been his demeanor – “He doesn’t go too high or too low” – but maybe in this kind of situation it really pays off.
“I think he’s super calm,” Kraken striker Joonas Donskoi said earlier in the season. “He has a clear system that he wants us to play with and it’s simple and I like that…. I think that’s the way to approach things as a coach, I like that. … He looks at things positively.
However, Hakstol’s tenure ends in Seattle, he has adapted a lot from his previous stops. There are shadows of the identities created in Grand Forks and Philadelphia, but Hakstol’s Kraken is something entirely its own.
“They’re a competitive group and have this all-encompassing approach, and it’s something special when you get to build your own team,” Berry said. “When players come from all over like that, there’s not that story or that body of work because it’s so new. … I think he’s done a good job of establishing an identity.
The Boston Bruins and Florida Panthers honored the late Jimmy Hayes ahead of their Saturday game.
Hayes, who played for both franchises, died on August 23 at the age of 31, and weeks later it was revealed that fentanyl had contributed to his death. Since then, his parents have spoken of addiction, a common problem in the NHL and professional sports with painkillers.
“I hope that spreading Jimmy’s story can save someone’s life,” his father, Kevin, told the Boston Globe earlier this month. “If it can save someone from pain, great. It’s so sad. I pride myself on being mentally strong enough. I’m a street guy. But there’s just no formula for it.
On Saturday, both teams wore warm-up jerseys that said “Haysey” and “Broadway,” nicknames Hayes had while playing in the NHL.
As the Sabers continue their bizarre start to the annual season, the Jack Eichel saga continues to rage, though it may be close to a resolution.
Over the weekend, there was a lot of talk that the Vegas Golden Knights would find a way to add the former Sabers captain, and they took steps to fuel that speculation. Add that he would probably be a long-term injured reserve candidate if he could have the surgery he wants in Vegas, they might just make it work financially.
Now, that could be scary.