More than a few eyebrows were raised when Dave Hakstol was hired as Flyers head coach on May 18, 2015.
After all, he was the first hockey mentor to make the jump from college to the NHL without previous pro experience in about three decades.
No question, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall was breaking with convention.
Hextall knew if the Hakstol experiment didn’t succeed he would be second-guessed no end.
Well, so far, after three-plus seasons, the reviews have been fairly positive.
Hakstol, who was hired out of the University of North Dakota (where Hextall’s son, Brett, played by the way), has taken the Flyers to the playoffs in two of his three seasons behind the bench.
If Hakstol is still behind the bench at this season’s end, he will become the second-longest tenured coach in Flyers’ history, trailing only Hockey Hall of Fame legendary coach Fred Shero.
All of this background information serves as a preface to the Flyers’ Black Friday matinee meeting with the New York Rangers at the Wells Fargo Center.
The rebuilding Rangers are coached by none other than David Quinn, who was hired out of Boston University this past offseason.
It’s a good guess the Rangers’ braintrust took a look at Hakstol’s body of work in Philadelphia during the hiring process, as did the Dallas Stars when they hired former Flyer player Jim Montgomery out of the University of Denver.
So far, so good for the Rangers.
They enter this game as perhaps the hottest team in the NHL, with an 8-1-1 mark over their past 10 games and sitting in a virtual tie with Columbus for the Metro Division lead.
This is noteworthy because many hockey observers had pegged the Rangers for non-playoff territory.
Hakstol can be credited with breaking a so-called barrier.
He was asked at practice if he gets any gratification for paving the way for guys like Quinn (who, unlike Hakstol, did serve one year previously in the NHL as an assistant coach with the Colorado Avalanche some 10 years ago and also head coach of an AHL team).
“Well, as long as we beat them, yeah,’’ Hakstol said with a chuckle.
“I’ve known Quinn for a long time. He’s a good coach, a real competitive person. I’m happy to see him get the opportunity. He’s certainly earned it, at all levels. He’s gone through a lot of different channels to gain his opportunity and so I was happy to see him get that opportunity.’’
Does Hakstol think we will start seeing more college coaches come into the NHL ranks?
“There are good coaches everywhere,’’ Hakstol said. “At some point, I’m sure you will see more.’’
Every NHL team is faced with back-to-back games on its schedule. No problem there, it’s just the way things play out because of travel considerations, building availability, etc.
Here’s the rub with the Flyers, who have 14 consecutive-day situations: 13 of them finish up on the road, such as this weekend, where the Flyers play at home Friday, then visit a tough Toronto club on Saturday night.
You won’t get the Flyers to complain about this, mainly because it might come out as excuse-making for a loss.
But it will be interesting to track this statistic throughout the Flyers’ season, particularly in the spring playoff-chase stretch run, when games seem to take on more meaning.
It’s hard enough playing games in a non-home setting, but when you have to play the day before (and, in some cases, the home team didn’t), it makes it just that much tougher.