Back in May, when the Philadelphia Flyers made Dave Hakstol the first NHL coach since Bob Johnson to go directly from a college to the NHL, many wondered if general manager Ron Hextall had made a gamble that would never pay off.
Not Capitals right wing T.J. Oshie and defenseman Taylor Chorney.
Both played under Hakstol at the University of North Dakota and with Brooks Orpik questionable for Thursday night’s game with a lower-body injury, both could be in the lineup when the Capitals visit the Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center (6:30 p.m. pregame, CSN).
“He really, really cares about his players, first and foremost,” said Oshie, who played under Hakstol from 2005-07 and recorded 41 goals and 97 points in two seasons with the Fighting Sioux.
“He’s disciplined but fair. If you’re not sticking to the plan he’s gonna let you know and practice you hard. He knows how good guys can play and if you’re not playing your best he demands more out of you.
“On the other hand, when you play well and do what he asks and you stick to the game plan, he’s fired up and he comes in screaming and excited. He’s a fun coach to play for.”
Lately, hockey has been anything but fun in Philadelphia. After an impressive 4-2-2 start to the season, the Flyers have lost six of their last seven games, including a 4-0 setback to the Colorado Avalanche Tuesday night in which the players were booed off their home ice.
Losing is something to which Hakstol is unaccustomed. In 11 seasons at North Dakota his teams went 289-143-43 and reached the NCAA tournament in each season, advancing to the Frozen Four seven times.
“He’s a very, very fair coach,” said Chorney, who played under Hakstol from 2005-08 and invited his former coach to his wedding. “He expects a lot from his players but at the same time if you’re willing to pay the price and compete hard and do all those old-school things, I think you’re going to like to play for a guy like him.
“I loved playing for him and I know Osh loved playing for him.”
Chorney, whose father, Marc, and Hakstol have been friends for years, said he thinks Hakstol will be able to help restore the Flyers’ reputation as a winning franchise if given the time.
“He’s definitely going to bring a change in culture there,” Chorney said. “I don’t know what it was like before (under Craig Berube) but I think he’s going to raise the expectations and expect a lot from his players and I think guys will respect him for it.”
In what seems like an annual tradition in Philadelphia, Hakstol has been handed a goaltending dilemma involving Steve Mason and former Caps netminder Michal Neuvirth, who was acquired as Mason’s backup over the summer after brief stops in Buffalo and Long Island.
In eight starts, Neuvirth is 3-3-1 with a 2.08 goals-against average, .939 save percentage and a league-best three shutouts, but allowed a bad-angle goal to Jarome Iginla Tuesday night. In seven starts Mason is 2-4-2 with a 3.34 GAA and .902 save percentage.
Chorney said he thinks the Flyers have the players in place to make Hakstol’s first season a successful one.
“They have really good players, good goaltending and I think he can do really well,” Chorney said. “He’s going to expect a lot from the guys and they’ve got no choice. He’s the coach and you’ve got to answer the bell.”
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