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Minnesota Hockey: Potential Coaching Candidates with Gophers Connections

Here are the Minnesota alums and former assistants who may be up for the job

Grant Potulny had a good season at Northern Michigan
Jim Rosvold/University of Minnesota

Yesterday we talked about the potential coaching candidates for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers Hockey coach who had no previous ties to the U. Today we will look at the candidates who’s names should be familiar to Gopher fans due to their connections with the U. Some are alums, some just spent some time behind the bench as assistant coaches for Minnesota. All have spent some time in Dinkytown and know how big of a job the Gopher Hockey head coach would be.

Non-Alumni Candidates With Previous Connections:

Bob Motzko—Head Coach St. Cloud State Huskies: Age 56

Bob Motkzo is a name that is popular with many Gopher fans. Motzko was a Gopher assistant with Don Lucia from 2001-2005 and was present for the Gophers last two NCAA Championships. He was hired as the head coach of the Huskies in 2005 and is in his 13th season. Motzko has led the Huskies to their first NCAA Tournament wins, won one WCHA Regular season championship and two NCHC Championships. The Huskies won the NCHC this season and are the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament this spring.

Motzko also has some international experience as he was the coach of the US Junior National Team the past two seasons. He led the US to Gold in 2017, and the US won Bronze in 2018.

Motzko is an Austin, Minnesota native and played for St. Cloud State in the infant stage of its program in the mid-1980s.

Motzko seems very happy in St. Cloud and while many Gopher fans may want him for the job, he may not want to take it.

Mike Hastings-Minnesota State Head Coach: Age 52

Mike Hastings is another former Gopher assistant coach who is having success at a different Minnesota school. Hastings was a Gopher assistant from 2008-2009. Previous to the Gophers he was the coach and GM of the Omaha Lancers in the USHL. After leaving Minnesota he spend four years as an assistant coach for Nebraska-Omaha before taking the Minnesota State job in 2012. Hastings has led the Mavericks to three WCHA Regular Season Championships.

Hastings is fairly entrenched in the Mankato community and is well compensated. Hastings is a possibility but I believe the likelihood of him being a serious candidate is low.

Candidates who are Minnesota Alumni

Mike Guentzel-Minnesota Associate Head Coach: Age 55

Mike Guentzel is a candidate who bleeds maroon and gold. He has been a Gopher assistant for over 20 years in two different stints. Guentzel played for the Gophers from 1981-1985 and picked up some USHL coaching experience before being added to Doug Woog’s staff in 1994. Guentzel remained a Minnesota assistant until 2008 when he decided he needed to leave due to a rift with Don Lucia. Guentzel was an assistant at Colorado College for a season, then was the GM of the Des Moines Buccaneers of the USHL for a season, and then was an assistant at Nebraska-Omaha for a season before returning back to the Minnesota staff in 2011. Guentzel has a 2-1 record as an interm head coach for the Gophers during his tenure as well.

Guentzel has worked with the defense in his tenure at Minnesota and has heped sent several Minnesota defensemen into the NHL including Jordan Leopold, Keith Ballard, Paul Martin, Nate Schmidt and Mike Reilly amongst others. He is a Marble, Minnesota native and played at Greenway-Coleraine high school before playing for the Gophers.

Grant Potulny-Northern Michigan Wildcats Head Coach: Age 38

Gopher legend Grant Potulny was a Minnesota assistant for eight seasons beginning in 2009-10. After last season he was hired as the head coach of the Northern Michigan Wildcats. In his first season at NMU, Potulny took a team that was expected to finish seventh in the WCHA to a second place finish and one game away from the NCAA Tournament after a WCHA Championship game loss to Michigan Tech. He also has been an assistant coach on the US Junior National Team twice, and both times the US has come home with Gold.

Of course Potulny is still remembered for his Gopher playing career. He played for Minnesota from 2000-2004 and was the only three year captain for the Gophers dating back to 1947. He played 146 games for Minnesota and is most well known for scoring the overtime goal that won the 2002 NCAA Championship Game in overtime against Maine in St. Paul. The Grand Forks, North Dakota native played five seasons in the AHL after his Minnesota playing career, and before his Minnesota coaching career.

While Potulny checks a lot of boxes, the concern about him is that he has only been a head coach for one season and that he struggled a bit at recruiting for Minnesota.

Scott Bell-Minnesota Gophers Assistant Coach: Age 46

Scott Bell just completed his first year as an assistant for the Gopher Hockey program. Bell played for Minnesota from 1990-1995 and was a two-time captain. Prior to his year as a Gopher assistant, Bell spent five seasons as a scout for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Prior to that Bell spent six seasons as the head coach of Hamline University, a Division Three Team in St. Paul. He led the Pipers to two MIAC titles, including their first one in 60 years and coached four First Team D3 All-Americans.

The Inver Grove Heights native played several seasons on minor league hockey after the end of his Gopher career and the beginning of his coaching career.

Todd Richards-Assistant Coach Tampa Bay Lightning: Age 51

Todd Richards is a candidate that has lots of coaching experience, but none in the college game. Richards has been an assistant coach for the Tampa Bay Lightning for the past two seasons after five seasons as the head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets and two seasons as the head coach of the Minnesota Wild, and one season as a San Jose Sharks assistant. Prior to his NHL coaching he was the head coach of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the AHL for two seasons and as an assistant with the Milwaukee Admirals for four seasons. Richards also has international experience as the head coach of the US team in the world championships in 2015 and as an assistant for the US Olympic Team in 2014 and world championship team in 2010.

Richards is a Crystal, Minnesota native and played for the Gophers from 1986-1989 and was a second team All-American in 1989. He played professionally for twelve seasons in the NHL, minor leagues, and in Europe. While he has tons of coaching experience, none is college related and it would be a change.

Tom Ward-Buffalo Sabres Assistant Coach: Age 54

Tom Ward is a name that is intriguing. Ward has been a Buffalo assistant coach for two seasons. Prior to his jump to the NHL, Ward was the head coach and program director at Shattuck St. Mary’s Prep school in Fairibault for 18 seasons. He coached and brought to his program some of hockey’s biggest names in his tenure at Shattuck. Names like Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Towes, Zach Parise and others. He led Shattucks to nine USA Hockey Prep School National Championships. Prior to his tenure at Shattuck, Ward was a Gopher assistant for Doug Woog from 1995-1999.

Ward is a Richfield native and played for Minnesota from 1982-1986.

Darby Hendrickson-Minnesota Wild Assistant Coach: Age 45

Darby Hendrickson has made his name as an assistant coach for the Wild. He is in his eighth season behind the bench with the Wild after a thirteen year playing career in the NHL, AHL and in Europe. Hendrickson’s best season in the NHL came in the Wild’s debut season in 2000-2001 when he scored 18 goals in 74 games.

Hendrickson is a Richfield native and played two seasons for the Gophers from 1991-1993 before turning pro. His early departure would be one concern for him being a legitimate candidate for the Minnesota job as he is not believed to have his college degree. While some programs will allow coaches to simultaneously get their degree while they coach (Like Tony Granato at Wisconsin most recently), its not an easy task and may be a reason for Mark Coyle to look elsewhere.

Ken Gernander-Former Hartford Wolfpack Head Coach: Age 48

Ken Gernander is another unlikely name, but one that ultimately is at least worth a mention. Gernander was the Head Coach for the Hartford Wolf Pack, the AHL affiliate for the New York Rangers for ten seasons from 2007-2017. Gernander is a icon in Hartford as he played for the Wolf Pack’s for eight seasons from 1997-2005. He ted the team to an AHL Championship in 2000. He is the Wolf Pack’s all-time franchise record-holder in games played (599) and playoff games played (78). Gernander also ranks second all-time in goals (160), assists (187) and points (347) in Hartford history. He is the AHL’s all-time leader with 123 career playoff games played and is the league’s all-time leading scorer among American-born players with 624 points in 973 games.

The Coleraine, Minnesota native played for the Gophers from 1987-1991. He has a ton of coaching experience, but is now a fixture in the Hartford community and is probably not interested in the job.

Cory Laylin-Hamline University Head Coach: Age 48

Cory Laylin is a name that had surfaced at times to be a potential Minnesota assistant coach. Laylin is currently the head coach of the Hamline Pipers. he just completed his fourth season at the helm of the MIAC school. Prior to Hamline he was the head coach for two seasons of the Brookings Blizzard of the NAHL and was an Hamilne assistant to Scott Bell for two seasons.

Laylin is a St. Cloud native who played for Minnesota 1988 to 1992. He then played a long professional career in Europe. Laylin could be a potential assistant coach pick for the new head coach, but while Laylin may be a fan favorite, his lack of experience above a D3 level would be very concerning.

Dean Blais-Former North Dakota and Nebraska-Omaha Head Coach: Age 67

Dean Blais is very similar to another Gopher Hockey alum who would end up making his name at a Gopher rival. Like Badger Bob Johnson, Blais played for Minnesota and then would win multiple NCAA Championships coaching one of the Gophers most hated rivals. Blais led North Dakota to two NCAA Titles in 1997 and 2000 in his ten years in Grand Forks. He then left the college game to become an assistant coach with the Columbus Blue Jackets for three seasons before becoming the head coach and GM of the Fargo Force in the USHL for three seasons. Blais the went back to the college game and was the head coach at Nebraska-Omaha for eight seasons stepping down after the 2017 season.

Blais is an International Falls native who played for the Gophers from 1970-1973. He was a Gopher assistant for Herb Brooks during the 1976-77 season. Blais has some support as a stopgap candidate—giving him the job for a few seasons until a candidate like Grant Potulny has a bit more experience. However, Blais likes his retirement and won’t be the kind of coach who will be at the rinks watching bantam players during the summer. I don’t think Mark Coyle will look for the figurehead type coach that Blais would be.

*** Editor’s Note. For some reason the Robb Stauber profile was omitted from the original article. It has now been added in.

Robb Stauber—US Women’s Hockey National Team Head Coach

Robb Stauber is coming off of a gold medal winning performance as the head coach of the US Women’s Hockey team. His team of course defeated Canada in a shootout to win Gold at the PyeongChang Olympics in February. Stauber began as the head coach of the US Women’s team since 2017, and was an assistant from 2014 through 2017. He also served as the head coach of the Minnesota Whitecaps, an independent women’s professional team in 2015 and 2016.

Prior to his assistant role with the US Women’s team, all of Stauber’s experience had been as a goalie coach. He served as the goaltenders coach for the US Women’s team from 2011 through 2014. He was the goaltender coach for the Gophers from 1999-2008 and helped Adam Hauser and Travis Weber backstop the Gophers to back to back NCAA titles in 2002 and 2003. He also coached the goalies for the UMD women’s team from 2004-2008.

Stauber played for the Gophers from 1986-1989 and won the Hobey Baker Award as the best player in college hockey in 1988. He then played professionally for 11 seasons with the Los Angeles Kings and Buffalo Sabres in the NHL and with several teams in the AHL.

As to whether or not Stauber would want to leave his gig as the head of the women’s team— take this quote from him on the radio on Tuesday morning:

Stauber will be a popular pick with a portion of the alumni, but while he did help the US Women win gold he was criticized fairly heavily by the women’s hockey media for the way he shuffled his team’s roster leading up to the Olympics, and for his strategy during games. Just another thing Mark Coyle will need to take into consideration.

There are a few other named who have had success at the high school level in Minnesota such as Trent Klatt with Grand Rapids and Troy O’Leary at Wayzata, but I don’t have the feeling that Mark Coyle will make a selection right from the high school game. However both definitely could be names that could garner interest as potential assistant coaches.