By Shane Frederick
Free Press Staff Writer
For a couple of the coaches involved in this weekend’s games between Minnesota State and Nebraska Omaha, this is no ordinary college hockey series.
Both Minnesota State head coach Mike Hastings and Omaha assistant Troy Jutting have deep connections to the opposing teams and communities. Hastings was UNO’s associate head coach for three seasons before replacing Jutting, who was dismissed after 12 seasons as MSU’s head coach.
“There’s a lot of special people in my life and our family’s life in Omaha, a lot of quality people,” said Hastings, who also spent 14 seasons as a junior coach in Omaha. “(UNO head coach) Dean Blais and his family and the administration there and the players there — I had the opportunity to recruit a lot of those guys. That will be the personal side of it. But ultimately we’re going down there to play two games, and that’s the business side of it.”
Jutting called the series “a little bittersweet” for the same reasons.
“I want (the Minnesota State) kids to be successful,” said Jutting, who also spent 10 seasons at MSU as an assistant and four as a player. “It’s good to see them playing well right now. I recruited all of them, and I want the best for them. By the same token, I want us to win. It’s one of those tough weekends.”
Jutting didn’t directly replace Hastings on the Omaha bench. That job went to Steve Johnson. But when another assistant departed Blais’ staff in August, Jutting, who was spending the final year of his MSU contract working as a special assistant to university president Richard Davenport, got the call.
“It’s a perfect example of how small the hockey world is with Troy there,” Hastings said, “and I coached against Steve Johnson for 10-plus years in the USHL.”
Hastings spent 14 seasons as the head coach of the United States Hockey League’s Omaha Lancers. With one year as a Lancers assistant, Hastings called Omaha home for 18 of the last 20 years before moving to Mankato.
Hastings said he hopes to get a chance to catch up with some old friends in Omaha. Despite all of the connections, he’s not looking at tonight and Saturday as a reunion.
“I know they’ll be cordial when we get to see each other,” he said. “But once that puck drops, I know (Blais is) going to be on the side of trying to make sure they get four points.”
Hastings will be doing the same. He has spent much time this week studying those players he knows so well on video and came up with this assessment: “They’re good.”
“I just look at it as game-planning,” Hastings said. “They’re good on tape. We’re going to have to be good in that building. ... It’s a difficult place to play.”
Jutting said he doesn’t believe the coaches’ history with their old programs will factor into this weekend’s outcome.
“The reality is, the kids play on the ice,” he said. “So it’s not an advantage one way or another. The coaches don’t play any shifts.”