United States Hockey League (USHL)

Minnesota State Hockey Coach Luke Strand Begins New Era In Mankato

Minnesota State Hockey Coach Luke Strand Begins New Era In Mankato

FloHockey interviewed Minnesota State's new hockey coach, Luke Strand, who comes over from Ohio State and replaces MNSU's longtime coach Mike Hastings.

Apr 19, 2023 by Tim Rappleye
Minnesota State Hockey Coach Luke Strand Begins New Era In Mankato

The Monday after the Frozen Four, reigning MacNaughton Cup and Mason Cup champion Minnesota State introduced their new head coach Luke Strand, the former Ohio State assistant and the head coach of 2022 Clark Cup champions Sioux City of the USHL. Strand’s hiring ended a frantic 11-day search to replace Mike Hastings. 

After the school’s offer to MNSU assistant Todd Knott had been rejected, MNSU President Edward Inch and A.D. Kevin Buisman were elated to present Strand to the Maverick hockey community on April 10. For Strand, his life has been a whirlwind ever since, taking over a program that had just lost two coaches and seen four key players enter the transfer portal. 

FloHockey’s Tim Rappleye caught up with the new coach—and not surprisingly—he was on the move, driving a mile-a-minute toward CCHA’s Title Town: Mankato, Minnesota.

FloHockey: Coach Strand, things have been moving in fast motion for you this past week.

Coach Luke Strand: Yeah, things have been pretty active here. Just trying to get my arms around the current roster, the incoming, and getting acclimated to the great campus and community at Mankato.

I saw that there were 10 current players at your introduction. Did that make you feel welcome?

Strand: I thought it was exceptional. The players side, they were excited to get going. From the community support side, it was really welcoming, and great to be part of. 

MNSU alum Alex Micheletti has used his media reach to post suggestions for potential Mavericks that might jump in the portal, including BU’s Brian Carrabese. You probably didn’t need the help with Brian since he played for you in Sioux City

Yeah, a lot of guys go into the portal with a destination done. Some are actively pursuing other places, and some want in because they’re not happy where they’re at. Lots of names, lots of creativity goes into it. You want to make sure you get the right person. 

There are other familiar faces on the MNSU roster, guys who like Alex Tracy and Brendan Olson who also played for you in Sioux City. That’s got to add to your comfort level.

Strand: It does. They’ve got the ability [to share] about expectations and what direction it’s going to go. 

A lot of noise has been made from MNSU’s roster losses from the portal, including scoring stars David Silye and Christian Fitzgerald, but you’ve retained studs like Sam Morton and Lucas Sowder.

Strand: I’m excited. The guys that stayed are proven guys, not only from some things that have passed, but also maybe they want to write their own chapter here. Can they move around the roster, inside of the lineup to do the damage that their ability says they can?

A lot of great coaches have come out of the USHL.

The coaching level is exceptional, the dedication to the game by the players, they’re all aspiring NHL players. The daily grind of 62 games, a year ago we played until May 22, reporting before Labor Day, that’s a grind. It allows you to sharpen your own saw every single day. The league brings out the best in you. 

You gained a reputation for analytics in Sioux City. Did you have a mentor or was that self-taught?

For a long time I tracked scoring chances, diversified in the scoring chances that really matter. A lot of things go into it: who they’re doing it against, reverse chances, what the other team’s doing against you. A lot of times it tells a story. You can get lost in the win/loss side of things. Analytics makes it a little clearer path about the direction you’re going, and not worry about the noise of the wins and the losses.

Minnesota State has owned the MacNaughton Cup for six straight years. After the upheaval in the program, your rivals are eager to seize the CCHA throne. Do you feel targeted?

Oh there’s no question. I’m sure people do feel there’s a crack in the door. I know we’ve got a group of players that know the importance of what all of their experience will add up to. There’s a little bit of the “over my dead body” mentality. They don’t care about the changes.

Did you sense that “over my dead body” mentality from the returning players a week ago when you were introduced?

Certainly. I think there was a bit of the “us against the world” feel to it. Focused on what’s next for us, making sure the new players coming in understand a culture they earned. Their experience is very important to learn from. Hopefully we’ll have an opportunity to write our own story. The guys that are returning are extremely excited about that.

You’ve got a staggering to-do list, between the transfer portal, recruiting the showcases, hiring a staff. What hat are you wearing right now?

The hat I’m wearing is my real estate hat. I was closing on a home in June in Columbus, we have a home in Sioux City, leasing a place in Columbus, it’s getting out of control. That’s a big part of life going that way. 

What about your new home town of Mankato?

It’s a great reminder of home back in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. I love the community, that they are invested into Maverick hockey. I want to learn as much as I can from the other coaches inside the university, from our athletic director to coaches of other programs. Take what they’ve seen, grow, like, love, try and make sure we get our arms around every piece.