Minnesota State head men’s hockey coach Mike Hastings took a World Junior sabbatical for USA Hockey, leading Team USA to silver after a gold medal game for the ages. FloHockey got a chance to debrief Hastings up at Ferris State during a rare pause in his whirlwind hockey life.
FloHockey: They say that silver is the most painful medal of all. Will it have a special place on your mantel?
Hastings: I feel very fortunate to have gone through what we went through with that staff and with those players. That experience, that group was special. You don’t erase 26 straight days, you don’t erase an opportunity to represent your country and go through it with a group of guys and staff like we did. It’s something that I’m very proud of.
Led by Minnesota State head coach Mike Hastings, Team USA defeated Russia 2-1 in semifinal action today at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship. The U.S. plays the winner of Switzerland/Finland tomorrow for the gold medal. pic.twitter.com/6JahfTl18p— Minn. St. Athletics (@msumavericks) January 5, 2019
Flo: Jack Hughes was playing with a banged-up shoulder, what did you learn about him?
Hastings: Competitor. He just wants the opportunity to go play. Sometimes when you’re in the coach’s seat you surround yourself with the people you trust, the doctors that were there who were phenomenal from Team USA, and as most players, sometimes they’re not always thinking about what’s best for them long-term, Jack just wanted to play.
To me, the one thing I take away is he’s a competitor. He wants to succeed anytime he gets an opportunity to pull a jersey over his shoulders. He got nicked up a little bit, so he needed some time to gain some strength so he could protect himself out there. He did that, and did really well through the back end of the tournament.
Flo: You and your assistant coach Scott Sandelin are good old Minnesota boys. Your respective NCAA teams played each other in a tournament right before you played Kazakhstan at Worlds.
Hastings: When they [Minnesota Duluth] scored the overtime winner, I probably should have been censored at that time, in the coaches’ room (laughs). You know what, I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for Scott on a couple of levels.
Professionally, you talk about a guy who’s running the program with two national championships in the last few years, and is in the finals in between. I had an opportunity to work with him, he offered me a chance to be on his staff when the World Juniors was in Grand Forks. That’s the professional side. There’s a lot of respect there.
But personally I do too. A great human being, he’s got a phenomenal family, we’ve got his son Ryan coming in to play for us, we’ve had a relationship with that family for a long time. When you can combine those two things, it’s pretty special. It was fantastic for me, both on the professional and personal side to have Scott Sandelin part of our staff. He was a big reason we had success in Vancouver.
Flo: But what about Minnesota State’s OT loss?
Hastings: He says I still owe him a beer. (laughter)
Flo: Jack Drury was one of the few 2000-born players on your team in Vancouver. Is he being groomed as a leader for the 2020 World Juniors?
Hastings: I think Drury’s going to play hockey for quite a while. Competitor. I had an opportunity to see him play early in the year at Yale, had a big-time assist. He’s a guy that can play in all aspects of the game. He’s a first line guy for them [Harvard] right now, number one power play, penalty kill, eats a lot of minutes for them, and that’s as a freshman, so he’s reliable and someone that has a very bright future. Actually, that entire group. USA Hockey is in good shape.
You look at that group and the opportunity we had to work with, there’s depth. There’s depth at the blue line, there’s depth up front. I thought our goaltending was outstanding, and there’s more coming. The 2000s and the 2001s are a special group. I think USA Hockey’s future is in great shape.
Flo: What do you take away from your World Junior Experience?
Hastings: That’s something that will probably be thought of a little bit more down the road, maybe in the summer, or when the season’s done, those types of things. Right now, you jump right back into the WCHA play, and you’ve got your own players and your own program. Hopefully we’re building relationships that will last a lot longer than just 26 days, that last for a lifetime.
Author Tim Rappleye just released his latest book: Hobey Baker, Upon Further Review (Mission Point Press, 2018). He can be reached @TeeRaps.