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October 9, 2012

Frederick column: Hastings enters exclusive club

MANKATO — The fraternity of college hockey coaches is a small one, and those who are or who have been part of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association form an even smaller, exclusive club.

That group, in its current format, is about to begin its final season together before being broken up into new leagues. But any talk of the Big Ten and the National Collegiate Hockey Conference was put aside during a during a conference call on Tuesday morning involving the WCHA coaches.

Each coach got a chance to talk about this year’s teams, but most started their statements by first welcoming new Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings to their club.

“It’s great to have Hasty in the league,” Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore said. “He’s a great coach and a good man. It will be fun to coach against Hasty.”

It didn’t take long to figure out how small the college hockey world really is, as some of them talked about their connections with Hastings. They must have known it was only a matter of time before he joined them.

Hastings worked as an assistant for Minnesota’s Don Lucia and Nebraska Omaha’s Dean Blais over the last four years. Wisconsin’s Mike Eaves was an assistant coach at St. Cloud State when Hastings played there in the ’80s, and Serratore was an assistant coach there with Hastings in 1993-94. The Huskies’ current coach, Bob Motzko, went to school with Hastings there.

“It’s good to see him back where he belongs, running his own program,” Motzko said.

Even Colorado College coach Scott Owens got into the act, mentioning his rivalry with Hastings when the two faced each other as successful junior coaches in the United States Hockey League. Owens coached at Des Moines, while Hastings was in Omaha.

When Hastings was in the USHL, of course, many of those coaches recruited his players.

“It’s a privilege to be part of the WCHA and to be back with a lot of people I consider friends, competing against them,” Hastings said on Tuesday’s call.

The WCHA coaches made sure they didn’t leave out Hastings’ predecessor, expressing kind words for Troy Jutting, who ended up as an assistant coach for Blais at Nebraska Omaha.

Blais joked that he has one of the best fishermen in the league in Jutting but added that “I couldn’t think of a better guy” for the job. “He seemed to be a perfect fit for us, especially with our young players,” Blais said.

Said Denver’s George Gwozdecky: “It’s going to be great to have (Hastings) at Mankato, and Troy Jutting is remaining with us, and that’s a good thing.”

College hockey’s regular season begins on Friday night, and Minnesota State’s first conference games begin two weeks later at St. Cloud State.

At that point, the kinds words stop, and the club gets a little more competitive.

Shane Frederick is a Free Press staff writer. Read his blog at mankatofreepresshockey.blogspot.com, and follow him on Twitter @puckato.

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