Denfeld News

May 23, 2011
Duluth News Tribune

UMD Bulldogs find loss follows success
By Kevin Pates

Minnesota Duluth’s championship season continues to touch the men’s hockey team nearly six weeks after an NCAA title victory.

Assistant coach Brett Larson accepted the head coach and general manager position with Sioux City (Iowa) of the United States Hockey League on Friday and is leaving the program after three successful years.

Since beating Michigan on April 9 in the Division I final: UMD has had freshman defenseman Justin Faulk, junior winger Mike Connolly and senior wingers Justin Fontaine and Kyle Schmidt sign professional contracts; while UMD head coach Scott Sandelin signed a five-year contract extension. Larson, 38, a Duluth native and former UMD captain, starts his new job today.

“I’m a Duluth guy and a Bulldog through and through, but I’m also like any other assistant coach. My goal has been to be a head coach,” Larson said Sunday. “If we hadn’t won the national championship, I’m not sure I would’ve gotten a chance like this.

“It was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do, to tell Scott I was taking this job. UMD wanted me back and made me a good offer. Working with Scott (Sand­elin) and our staff the last three years, and with the players in our program, prepared me for this opportunity. I owe a lot to them.”

Larson was approached by Sioux City officials 10 days ago and talked by phone with Craig Woodcroft, one of three owners based in St. Louis. Woodcroft also got Sandelin’s input last week, and Larson was flown to St. Louis for a Thursday interview and agreed to a four-year contract. Woodcroft said he received 70 applications for the job, and six candidates were interviewed.

Sandelin agreed to his contract extension last week and is working with UMD officials for improved contracts for his assistants, including Derek Plante, beginning his second season. UMD assistant coaching contracts are typically on a one-year renewable basis. Larson made $68,000 in 2010-11.

“Brett is a great communicator, excellent coach, good recruiter and has a great work ethic. It’s a big loss for us, but he was going to be a head coach somewhere, soon,” Sandelin said Sunday. “I’m happy for him.

“We have a great assistant in Derek, and we’ll look for a great replacement for Brett. There’s been a lot of movement in (Division I) coaching the last two months, and I feel our program is attractive to coaching candidates.”

Sandelin said he hopes to have the assistant coaching job posted this week and make a hire sometime in June. He went through the hiring process a year ago when Plante was picked to follow Steve Rohlik, who became an associate head coach at Ohio State.

Sioux City coach Luke Strand, 38, a former Wisconsin-Eau Claire player, was fired April 22 after two seasons and a record of 58-47 and 15 overtime losses. The Musketeers were 31-23 in 2010-11 and lost in the first round of the U.S. Hockey League playoffs. Assistant coaches Cam Ellsworth and Keith Paulsen have remained with the team.

UMD went 71-40-15 in Larson’s three years as an assistant, advancing to the NCAA tournament twice. Woodcroft, whose group has owned Sioux City for one year, said UMD’s style was a critical element in the coaching choice.

“Brett brings a high-octane brand of hockey to Sioux City,” Woodcroft said in a news release. “His teams have a reputation of being fast, offensive-minded and physical, evidenced by the championship team Brett helped build. We were impressed by his work ethic, passion and knowledge of the game.”

Larson played professionally for 12 years, including as a player-coach with the San Diego Gulls of the West Coast Hockey League, before joining UMD’s staff in 2008-09. The former defenseman played 133 games with UMD through 1995.

“This was an opportunity I had to look at. And the more the (Sioux City) owners talked about their vision for the team, the more excited I became about the chance to be a head coach,” Larson said.

One of his first official duties will be attending U.S. Hockey League general manager meetings Friday in Chicago.

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