SIOUX CITY– Dave Hakstol hasn’t forgotten about Sioux City.
In fact, he seems to remember everything about his four years there.
He remembers the day he got the job as the head coach of the Sioux City Musketeers, his first game behind the bench, the name of the waiter at his favorite Sioux City restaurant, and all the people who helped Hakstol launch a career that has taken him to hockey’s highest level.
(Un) lucky break
Hakstol, currently the head coach of the NHL’s Seattle Kraken, got his coaching start back in 1996 when he took over one game into what proved to be a bumpy season for the Sioux City Musketeers. Hakstol replaced former Musketeers’ coach David Lohrei, who abruptly resigned after leading the team for five seasons.
Up to that point, Hakstol had intended to continue pursuing his playing career. However, Hakstol’s life changed forever when he suffered a season-ending knee injury, in December 1995, while playing with the Minnesota Moose of the International Hockey League.
Hakstol spent some time helping out the Moose as an assistant during his injury rehab, but wasn’t planning on becoming a coach at such a young age. At just 28 years old, his immediate plans involved going to Europe to keep playing professionally once his knee had healed.
But on Sept. 30, Lohrei resigned in Sioux City and the Muskies needed a coach.
USHL commissioner Gino Gaspirini, who was Hakstol’s coach during his playing career at the University of North Dakota, put his former player in touch with the Musketeers front office, who quickly offered him the chance to lead a young squad in need of a steady hand.
On Thursday, Oct. 3, 1996, Hakstol accepted the job, and started his new life behind the bench.
The next morning, Hakstol and the Musketeers hopped on an early morning bus to Rochester, Minn. where they lost that night to the Rochester Mustangs, 16-4, in Hakstol’s first game.
“I describe it as a kind of whirlwind,” Hakstol said. “You never discover how much you don’t know until you step into a new coaching job, and that was exactly what I discovered that weekend, and for the better part of the first couple months of that year.”
Things got better for Sioux City the next night, as Hakstol got his first victory in a 7-3 Sioux City win over Waterloo. But the rest of the first season was a bumpy introduction to the coaching life for the young Hakstol.
The Musketeers wound up finished with a 9-43 record in Hakstol’s first season. Despite the Musketeers on-ice struggles, Hakstol knew Sioux City was where he wanted to be.
When an opportunity arose in December for him to leave the Musketeers and play again at the professional level, Hakstol turned it down. He decided that if he was going to coach, he was going to be “all in.”
“It didn’t take me very long to think about it,” Hakstol said. “I knew I was doing what I wanted to do, and I knew at that point in time, I was all in on that pathway.”
The next rounds
Hakstol’s Musketeers rebounded the next season, finishing with a 35-18 overall record before losing in the first round of the USHL playoffs.
In Year Three, the Musketeers went 34-19 and lost again in the first round.
Sioux City made the playoffs once more in Hakstol’s final season with the Musketeers, losing in the first round of the playoffs after finishing the regular season with an overall mark of 27-26.
Following the 1999-2000 season, Hakstol left Sioux City to take an assistant coaching job at his alma mater, the University of North Dakota. He was eventually promoted to head coach and led UND to seven Frozen Four appearances. During his tenure, Hakstol was a finalist for National Coach of the Year eight different times.
The big leagues
These days, Hakstol’s hockey life has taken him west, to The Emerald City.
After a three and half year stint as the head coach of the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers from 2015-2018, and two years as an assistant with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Hakstol was hired in June of 2021 to be the first head coach in the history of the Seattle Kraken.
The team has had a roller-coaster of an inaugural season, currently sitting in last place in the Pacific Division with a record of 23-43. While the team has struggled in its first season, Hakstol’s been able to turn programs around before.
He’s was in a similar situation 26 years ago in Sioux City and he sees some parallels between his current team and the one that gave him his start.
“There are similarities when you are building a team with new people,” Hakstol said. “You have to set the standard, set the foundation, and building from the ground up is an awesome opportunity, but it’s work day in and day out. You have to pay attention to who you are, who you want to be, and the work that we have to do to get there. So, absolutely, I draw on things from my time in Sioux City and every year since. “
With his busy NHL coaching schedule, Hakstol hasn’t made it back to Sioux City for a visit in several years, but he still keeps a piece of his heart in Northwest Iowa.
Whenever he does manage a visit, his stops always include the Tyson Events Center, which opened after he left for North Dakota, and his favorite local eatery, the Horizon Family Restaurant.
Hakstol pays close attention to the exploits of the current crop of Musketeers, and was particularly impressed by the team’s three-game weekend sweep against Lincoln and Sioux Falls, which took place on the weekend of April 1 to April 3.
That weekend, the Musketeers outscored their opponents, 20 to 6, with Dylan James leading the team with seven total goals.
“It’s going to be guys like that, with real good God-given ability that know how to work every day, and are looking to improve what they do, and do it every day, that are going to be the ones from today’s Sioux City Musketeer roster that someday play at the NHL level, ”Hakstol said.
Hakstol still has plenty of friends from his time in Sioux City, including some of his old billet families, along with former Sioux City players and coaches he still sees around the NHL.
He is close friends with current Musketeers coach Luke Strand, who raved about Hakstol’s coaching acumen and character.
“Hak is an unbelievable human being, and an unbelievable hockey coach” Strand said. “But the person supersedes the coach. It’s exciting when guys come through before they had success, and continue to blaze a trail for themselves. The guys that have played for him in the past have great fond memories of him, as does Siouxland. He has well-earned that respect. ”
Hakstol claims to remember every win and loss from his Sioux City tenure, from the regular season all the way into the playoffs. But what he remembers most fondly is how the town and its people shaped him into the person he is today, and helped turn him into a coach capable of leading a team in the NHL.
“The culture of Sioux City, it’s about the people and the passion that they have,” Hakstol said. “You’ve got a lot of people who care. They put a lot of time in, whether it’s people that are in paid positions, or volunteer positions, or billet families. The culture that creates is unparalleled. It’s awesome, and it’s a great place for a young man to go play and grow up and be a part of something. ”