UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

Q&A with Seattle Kraken coach Dave Hakstol

UND alum, former hockey player and coach answers UND Today’s questions

Dave Hakstol
Dave Hakstol, Seattle Kraken head coach, is known for his stoic game face and unflappable manner on the bench. Photo courtesy Seattle Kraken.

In this, the third in a series of stories on Dave Hakstol – head coach of the NHL’s Seattle Kraken, former UND hockey coach from 2004 to 2015 and player from 1989 to 1992 – Hakstol discusses a range of subjects during a question-and-answer session with UND Today.

Hakstol began his coaching career in 1996 with the Sioux City (Iowa) Musketeers in the USHL. From there, he came to UND in 2000 as an assistant coach before being named the University’s head coach in 2004.

In 2015, he left UND to become a head coach in the NHL with the Philadelphia Flyers, where he served until 2019. After two seasons as an assistant coach with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Hakstol in 2021 was named the first head coach of the Seattle Kraken, the NHL’s newest team.

In just their second season, the Kraken qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs where they eliminated the Colorado Avalanche, last season’s league champions. Hakstol was one of three finalists for the Jack Adams Award, the NHL’s coach of the year honor. Last month, the Kraken extended Hakstol’s contract through the 2025-2026 season.

“We believe we are heading in the right direction with Dave as our head coach and it was important to show that confidence with this contract extension,” said Ron Francis, Seattle Kraken general manager. “Dave and his staff have done a great job of creating a close-knit, team-first mindset in our locker room, and their work ethic helps set the tone for our team.”

Q&A with Dave

How have you been able to get off to a good start so quickly with the Seattle Kraken, a new expansion team?

The progress that we made this year was really important. We knew there was a process in front of us and it’s not a quick process to truly build a strong, deep, successful hockey team. We’ve had the great fortune to have outstanding ownership from our management from Ron Francis and the group there. His entire team is tremendous. And we’ve had the opportunity to be part of that.

Building is not that easy. A lot of times it’s not going to move on a linear path. The first year was a struggle, but we felt that internally, we made some progress. The second year, it was really important to show some of that progress. We did that in the regular season. And then we gave our fan base the opportunity to experience a playoff run. We would have liked for it to be a bit longer, but it was a really hard-fought, well-earned playoff run. Our fans got the chance to enjoy that. It helps grow and build some of that history we want.

Dave Hakstol
During his coaching career, Hakstol has made it a point to work with players as individuals. Photo courtesy Seattle Kraken.

If the Kraken had gone on to the next level in the playoffs against the Las Vegas Golden Knights, would you have made any changes to what your team was doing?

We wouldn’t have changed a lot; possibly a couple of adjustments. Vegas was so strong up the middle with their centermen. Their defense was a big, physical group that cover a lot of space. But the way our team played, we would have been looking forward to the matchup. The morning of Game 7 against Dallas, you wake up and you’re one of five teams still alive in the NHL playoffs. So our sole focus was on getting through Game 7. We felt confident that we could do that. All the while, you have to do some prep work because the next series is going to start in less than 48 hours after Game 7.

We felt like our game was suitable to go up against and have an opportunity against Las Vegas, even though they had been a juggernaut the last couple of weeks. We would have looked forward to that opportunity. We felt like we matched up pretty well. We play a different style, a different game than they do. We would have had to be at our very best to make that a tough series.

In watching your post-game comments, you often display the ability to break down how a positive or negative hockey play developed farther back in time than what the average fan might consider. How do you view that aspect of the game from a coaching perspective?

I’d use the term sequences. The game is a series of sequences. It’s not a series of individual plays. An entire period is not connected, but there are a lot of sequences within games that are connected. That might mean it’s 15 seconds. It might mean it’s 30 seconds. That might mean it’s three or four shifts that are connected. But sequences during games are what I look at.

When you think back to your playing days at UND, what are some of the memories that stand out?

Dave Hakstol
Hakstol at UND 1989-1992

Thirty-plus years ago, you learned through every experience, whether they’re positive experiences or challenging experiences. My playing days in North Dakota were no different. It felt like such a short time. I only had 2½ years. I’d hoped to have a full three, but that just wasn’t to be. I enjoyed every minute of it.

I look back to my freshman year (1989-1990) and the series that ended our year at Boston University. At that point in time, our team was one of the deepest teams in college hockey, but we ran into another extremely deep team. Boston University beat us in three games in their building. As a player, that’s the series I look back on. I’d like to have the opportunity to go back and try to affect the outcome because I believe that could have led us to a national championship.

In terms of my time in Grand Forks, a lot of those teammates are still good friends today. We stay in touch. Those are bonds that never leave. It goes beyond that. It goes to some of the professors that I had at the time. Judy Jahnke (currently the records officer at the Nistler School of Business & Public Administration) was my advisor in the School of Business at that time. She’s remained a close friend and somebody I stay in touch with many years later.  I’ve built a lot of bonds and a lot of friendships over that time that always remain very important in my life.

What is it like to deal with the media at the NHL level?

It’s one of my biggest areas of growth. I’m really just comfortable and relaxed with the media. I jumped from Grand Forks and the University of North Dakota, where media days were Wednesday afternoons with three, four or five – maybe up to 10 – different reporters. So jumping into the Philadelphia market was a little different and one that I actually enjoyed. A lot of the media members there could be pretty blunt, could be pretty harsh, could have an edge. But in all honesty, it was a great spot for me to learn, to grow and to get better at the craft of working with the media. It’s a really important part of the job. You’re giving messages on a daily basis to your fan base, to your players and to the hockey world. It’s something that deserves a lot of attention and care as to each and every one of the media members.

It’s something I’ll continue to work at. I watch other guys in other sports, other coaches and other people and how they handle themselves. There are some really intelligent, well-spoken people out there. I think it’s an area that always deserves a lot of attention. You try to do the best job possible for yourself and your organization, as well as the media members who are there every day.

Do you still have much contact with UND hockey coach Brad Berry?

The seasons are so busy that we probably don’t talk as much as we’d like to, but we live in the same neighborhood in Grand Forks during the summers. I certainly pay very close attention to what’s happening with his teams and the success that he’s had. We came to UND a long time ago (2000) as assistant coaches together. We’re very similar in that we’ve been very appreciative of all the opportunities the University of North Dakota and UND hockey has provided for us and our families.

Dave Hakstol
Hakstol with the goatee.

Finally, sometimes you’re wearing a goatee and sometimes you’re not. What’s the decision process for determining when you wear the goatee?

There’s not much of one. I started the first goatee because of COVID. I got bored one day in Toronto. I was quarantined in a hotel and I decided to stop shaving. The second time was for the playoffs this year. I decided to keep it just because my daughter hates it a little bit. So I kept it for a few weeks.