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Gasparini turns around programs

Courtesy Photo Gino Gasparini, president of the United State Hockey League, speaks following the 2006 USHL All-Star game.

GRAND FORKS — The University of North Dakota men’s hockey program began to flatline in the 1970s.

After going six consecutive seasons without a winning record, UND looked to Gino Gasparini to revive the program.

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In Gasparini’s first year, UND went from 13-19 to 30-11-1 and Western Collegiate Hockey Association champions. A year later, UND won the national championship. By the end of his tenure at UND, he was the program’s all-time winningest coach (and he still is).

The St. Cloud State hockey program hit an uneasy time in the summer of 2011 as the WCHA broke up and the league’s high-profile teams bolted for other leagues. The Huskies were initially left out.

St. Cloud State looked to Gasparini, hired earlier as a consultant, to help guide the ship through rough waters.

By the end of re-alignment, St. Cloud State was in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference along with UND, Denver, Colorado College, Miami, Western Michigan, Nebraska Omaha and Minnesota Duluth.

This weekend, the first NCHC matchup in Ralph Engelstad Arena and the first-ever for the Huskies, Gasparini will fittingly be honored for his achievements. A ceremony will be conducted prior to Saturday’s opening faceoff.

“He had a major impact on everybody that he coached and everybody that was part of the program,” said UND coach Dave Hakstol, who was Gasparini’s captain for two seasons in the 1990s.

Gasparini won a program-record 392 games in 16 seasons at UND, leading the program to three NCAA national championships and four MacNaughton Cups. He also put together the 1986-87 team, generally considered the best team in program history.

“The things that stand out to me: He was very prepared but he demanded that his players were very prepared. And he demanded that his players competed at a high level. He was able to motivate people within a program to be able to do that. I think that’s why he was so successful.”

UND assistant coach Dane Jackson, who also played under Gasparini, said: “I learned a lot. He’s definitely a coach that taught you a lot about hockey and equally as much about life off the ice, how to handle yourself and how to take care of things. He was a guy who taught a lot of life lessons. He was very impactful and influential to young players and people.”

Many of Gasparini’s former players are still involved in hockey.

UND’s entire coaching staff — Hakstol, Jackson and Brad Berry — played under Gasparini. So did Minnesota Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin and assistant coach Jason Herter. Omaha coach Dean Blais was hired as an assistant by Gasparini.

Other former Gasparini players are coaching at all different levels from Dave Tippett and James Patrick in the NHL to Cary Eades in the United States Hockey League to Dixon Ward at the midget level to Grant Paranica and David Marvin at the high school level.

“That’s a great tribune to Gino,” Hakstol said. “Guys learned the game under Gino. They learned the Xs and Os. Again, going back to preparation, motivation and competition, guys learned to do those things on a daily basis with Gino.”

Gasparini, who also served as UND’s athletic director, was the commissioner and president of the USHL for 15 years after leaving UND.

“He was a guy that took the program to another level as far as national success, exposure and recruiting great players,” Jackson said. “When he took over, there was definitely a change in the direction of the program.”

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 13th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.

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