SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Mike Hastings often talks about the small world of college hockey coaches, but it doesn’t get much smaller than the collection meeting up in the NCAA West Regional this weekend.
“It’s special for me,” said the Minnesota State coach, who has close ties with the other three coaches in the tournament.
Scott Sandelin, who coaches today’s Mavericks’ opponent, Minnesota Duluth, was the head coach of the U.S. Junior National Team in 2005 and hired Hastings as an assistant. Also, Sandelin’s son, Ryan, will play for Minnesota State starting in 2019.
St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko was an assistant coach at St. Cloud State when Hastings arrived there in 1986. Prior to that, Hastings played junior hockey for Air Force coach Frank Serratore in Austin.
“It’s special,” Hastings said. “You don’t get that in a regional, you just don’t, because you’re not that intertwined. We’ve been to a lot of different places (for regionals). We’ve been to Worcester, Toledo, Notre Dame. You just don’t have those connections. It’s unique.”
The other coaches — as well as their assistants — are all connected to each other, too, and, during his press conference Thursday at the Denny Sanford Premier Center, Serratore called the others “three of the best operators in college hockey. Case closed.”
The coaches used some of the time in their individual press conference to trade a few barbs with each other.
“What a good little player he was,” Serratore said of Hastings. “I used to have to follow him home from practice. He was a little bit of a (expletive). But could he trigger a power play.”
Said Hastings: “I told my dad when I came back (home from playing in Austin) that’s who I learned to swear from. That’s what Frank taught me.”
But the coaches also expressed their mutual respect for each other.
“I think they do tremendous jobs with their teams,” Sandelin said. “They’re good people. They’re not ego guys; they’re hard-working guys. They do a tremendous job coaching, and they’re fun guys to be around."
Serratore heaped praise on Hastings for the job he’s done as a coach.
“He’s got it,” he said. “He’s got that gift. He’s got that it factor as a coach. He’s done it at every level.
"He’s won and he’s won big wherever he’s at. He’s very, very special. Mark my words, he’s going to last a long time, he’s going to win a lot of games and he’s going to win a lot of championships.”
Motzko was an assistant coach for Serratore when he coached at Denver, and the two have remained close. Serratore said Motzko “is like a brother to me.”
Motzko, who will face his friend in today’s first game, was quick to remind that the four coaches will be all business on the ice today with a trip to the Frozen Four on the line.
“If we weren’t playing hockey we’d all have a good time this weekend,” he said. “It would be a great weekend. The problem is we’ve got hockey games to play.”