Hartzell would bring 25-years of junior hockey experience to UAA job

Jeremy Peters

Kevin Hartzell views his visit to UAA this week like a blind date.

He's getting to know the UAA athletic department and hockey community while they get to know him. Both parties can later decide whether he will be a good fit as the Seawolves next hockey coach.

"I don't even know what the job pays," Hartzell said during a public forum at UAA on Wednesday. "When they tell me what the job pays, I might go running out of town. There are still a lot of things I don't know, so I am probably the only person that sat up here and just told you 'I don't know,' "

Hartzell, 55, does know he loves to coach hockey. His most recent coaching stint came with the Sioux Falls Stampede of the United States Hockey League, the best junior league in America. He coached the Stampede from 2005-2012, the latest piece of a 25-year USHL career that was broken up by an executive career in marketing and sales.

Though Hartzell is still getting to know UAA's program, he said bad news travels, and he is aware of some aspects he would change. Without going into specifics, Hartzell said the key to recruiting good players is making current players happy.

"There's pieces of the program that have to improve, because the players know it," Hartzell said. "The greatest recruiter is a great program."

Coaching junior hockey, Hartzell has been on the other end of the college recruiting conversation, helping kids decide where to play. One of the first things he told his players to do was call anyone they knew who played for a prospective program and see what kind of reviews the program generated.

"They are your greatest recruiters, not the coach," Hartzell said. "Don't ever let anyone tell you the coach is a recruiter. Your players and your alumni are your greatest recruiters, and the problem has to be solved there before it can be solved anyplace else."

Hartzell hasn't coached at the college level, but he has coached players who went on to play at the highest college level and professional level. Former players coached by Hartzell include Nate Prosser of the Minnesota Wild and Stu Bickel of the New York Rangers. In seven years coaching in Sioux Falls, Hartzell said 15 of his players went on to play in the NHL.

"You don't take a high-end player and change them, you adapt to them," he said. "That doesn't mean you coddle them, but if you have Wayne Gretzky here, and Wayne Gretzky says he wants to come to UAA, I'm not gonna say, 'Wayne, I like the dump-and-chase, what do you think?' No, we find Jari Kurri for Wayne Gretzky."

Hartzell is not expecting UAA to land the next Wayne Gretzky anytime soon, but the same principle applies to all players, he said. If UAA needs to put together a team of gritty skaters, then Hartzell would try to find players who complement one another.

"You just want to find people who are passionate about the game and people you are proud to go into battle with," he said.

One of Hartzell's favorite moments came while listening to a radio interview of his former player Jack Connolly, who won the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey's most outstanding player in 2012 and won an NCAA championship with the University of Minnesota Duluth in 2011.

"They asked Jack Connolly, 'How was your time in Sioux Falls?,'" Hartzell said. "He said 'Hartzell was one of the best, no, probably was the best coach I ever played for, because he studies his players and he just helps you get better.' "

"What else is there to it?"

Reach Jeremy Peters at jpeters@adn.com or 257-4335.