UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

Leadership in three words: ‘We, us and our,’ says Brad Berry

Each day provides a new opportunity for improvement, UND hockey coach says

UND hockey coach Brad Berry provides advice on effective leadership as the latest lecturer in UND’s 18:83 Speaker Series. Photo by Joe Banish/UND Today.

Editor’s note: A video of UND Coach Brad Berry’s 18:83 Speaker Series talk is available at the bottom of this story.

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For anyone who has played organized sports, the adage “There’s no ‘I’ in team,” is likely familiar.

As head coach of one of college hockey’s most storied programs, Brad Berry understands the importance of operating as a cohesive unit as well as anyone. Now in his ninth season behind UND’s bench, Berry visited campus on Wednesday to chronicle his four-decade journey in the sport as a player and coach and offer advice on effective leadership.

His speech was the latest installment of UND’s 18:83 Speaker Series. The talks take place each Wednesday afternoon at the Memorial Union’s Social Stairs. Speakers time their addresses to about 18 minutes and 83 seconds, a number coinciding with the university’s founding year.

Befitting a hockey coach, Berry’s address required about 10 minutes of overtime.

A native of Bashaw, Alb., Berry spent 112 games patrolling the blue line as a defenseman for UND from 1983-86. He then played professionally for more than a decade – including stints with the Winnipeg Jets, Minnesota North Stars and Dallas Stars of the National Hockey League – before entering the coaching field.

In 2000, just one year after hanging up his skates, Berry was hired by then-Head Coach Dean Blais as an assistant at his alma mater. He left UND in 2006, making stops as an assistant coach and scout with the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League, and Vancouver Canucks and Columbus Blue Jackets of the NHL, before returning to Grand Forks in 2012 to serve as an assistant to Dave Hakstol.

At the start of the 2015-16 season, Berry took over as the program’s 16th head coach, after Hakstol left to become the head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers.

“I didn’t know I’d be here this long,” Berry said. “But at the end of the day, I love every minute, and that’s why I’m still here.”

Berry talked about building a culture at UND — that is, a set of values that permeates the organization from the top down. He emphasized that a positive culture is something that is earned, not given.

“One thing about culture, is it takes a long time to build — you have to keep working at it,” he said. “But it takes a short amount of time to lose it. If you don’t have an opportunity to talk about it on a daily basis, then you’re losing momentum on building your culture.”

Berry added that there are three main variables everyone associated with UND hockey can control to help build a positive culture:

  • Attitude: You get to start each day with a score of 0-0, regardless of how the previous day went.
  • Work ethic: Skill only gets one so far, as effort and integrity are great equalizers.
  • Choices: Knowing the difference between right and wrong. Berry said his father once told him “The longer you have to think, it’s probably not a great choice.”

Also key to UND hockey’s culture, according to Berry, is open communication among all staff, coaches and players. Such an environment fosters a sense of trust and caring, he said, traits he considers essential to the success of the program.

“You have to have a touch with your players on a daily basis,” he said. “Different things as far as getting to your players — whether it’s hockey related or not. Communication is a big thing.”

Berry cited a meeting he and his fellow freshmen teammates had with UND’s coaching staff, on the importance of putting the program before self.

“There were nine of us freshmen from all over, and everybody had a bit of swagger to them,” he said. “You were one of the better players on your junior team coming in. I can remember (former head coach) Gino Gasparini saying, ‘Sit down in front of me right here.’ He grabs a jersey, and it has the name on the back – Berry, number three – and he goes, ‘You know what? This isn’t as important as what’s on the front.’ He turns it around and says, ‘That logo right there is more important than the name on the back.’ Very simple, succinct and direct.”

Brad Berry discusses his leadership philosophy as coach of UND’s hockey team, during the most recent 18:83 Speaker Series address. Joe Banish/UND Today.

With this lesson in mind, Berry said UND hockey operates under the principle of “we, us and our,” with the program’s success dependent on the actions of all involved.

Berry also said improvement is a marathon, not a sprint, and encourages his players to embrace the aphorism “each battle is won or lost before it is fought.” The phrase is prominently displayed on the walls of the players’ entrance to Ralph Engelstad Arena.

“We want to engage our guys right away,” he said. “They know how important each and every day is, because it’s a chance to get better as an individual and a group.”

Other traits Berry considers important for leadership:

  • Let others do their job: Don’t micromanage; having faith in your subordinates’ abilities gives them a sense of gratification, responsibility and growth.
  • Be an encourager, while still holding others accountable: Telling others you believe in them motivates them to persevere in the face of adversity.
  • Have a sense of humility: Check your ego at the door, and be grateful for the opportunities you’ve been presented with.
Attendees gather at the Memorial Union’s Social Stairs for UND hockey coach Brad Berry’s 18:83 Speaker Series address. Joe Banish/UND Today.

Berry concedes that high expectations surrounding UND hockey sometimes lead him and his staff to “get caught up in hanging green and white banners,” of which there are no shortage displayed from the rafters of The Ralph. The program’s eight national championships rank second in NCAA history – one behind co-leaders Michigan and Denver. UND also ranks fifth in all-time Frozen Four appearances with 22 trips to the national semifinals.

Individually, Berry has been named National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) coach of the year on four occasions and was co-recipient of the Spencer Penrose Award as NCAA coach of the year in 2020. Additionally, he is the only coach in NCAA history to lead his team to a championship in his inaugural season, when the Fighting Hawks defeated Quinnipiac to win the program’s most recent NCAA title.

However, Berry said instilling the traits of good character into his players is as important as on-ice results.

“The biggest thing that I want, is having somebody who turns out to be an unbelievable person, a great father and husband in the community,” he said. “A lot of kids come here with great parenting, morals and ethics. We try to finish the product. We try to turn them from adolescents into grown men and give them a great start in life once they leave North Dakota.”

Despite having resided throughout the United States, Canada and Europe in the course of his playing and coaching career, Berry said Grand Forks is and will always be home.

“I’ve been here a long time, and I want to be a part of this family at North Dakota for a long time,” he said. “It’s a special place.”

The 18:83 Speaker Series continues March 13 with Dr. Joshua Wynne, dean of UND’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences.