Six miles outside of Duchess, Alta., a small town scratching the surface of 1,000 people is where the Battlefords North Stars head coach and general manager Kevin Hasselberg fell in love with the game of hockey.
While living on a ranch, Hasselberg attended a school that housed about 300 students at the time, and in those adolescent years his passion for the sport grew.
“The local minor hockey system needed more players and they approached my parents to see if my brother and I would be interested in playing, and it all took off from there,” Hasselberg said.
“Believe it or not, I still speak with the man that approached my parents. He has helped us find many players and is a great friend to this day.”
Hasselberg, of course, accepted the opportunity to play, and it was a decision that altered his life. In a small town like that, it was difficult to build an entire team of 15 skaters or so, but they made do with nine to 10.
“I think what I remember most was just playing. It was never structured, or designed to beat an opponent,” the 39-year-old coach said. “It was simply, let’s get on the ice and giv’er.”
The North Stars skipper remembers the old style of hockey and describes his play as a swift-skating grinder, a mentality he carries over into his coaching. He reminisced about hearing his parents cheering him on from the crowd, calling out “wheel” whenever their son found himself in the offensive zone. Back then, they were taught to work hard. They were encouraged to make the highlight reel play, and if it didn’t work, he and his teammates would try harder, whether it was during shinny or on the outdoor ice surface.
“I remember that lesson and it has become a big part of who I am today. Gosh we loved the rink,” Hasselberg said.
After his playing career, Hasselberg wasn’t quite dead set on being a coach, but he knew he loved everything about the game, and eventually, with some help from a good friend, he was able to dive into life behind the bench.
“I just loved being at the rink. Curt Allen, who was a very influential coach and late dear friend, got me to help coaching and I never really stopped. I enjoyed it and it’s brought me and my family to where we are today. My wife and I have an interesting, one of a kind love story, so things really just happened,” he said.
There is no doubting Hasselberg has become one of the more successful coaches in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. He is coming off one of his best seasons, earning him the prestigious Coach of the Year award. He has been teaching at the junior level for 17 years, in Saskatchewan, Alberta and a brief stint in British Columbia. It’s not an easy feat to earn a spot at the junior level, though. Hasselberg needed his start somewhere, anywhere. For him, it was with a group of four to six year olds.
“I don’t remember the fine details about it,” coach said. “But I do remember the feeling and how it became so uplifting and satisfying for me. I stepped on the ice with an amazing group of kids who are all adults now. I was the assistant [coach] and I didn’t know a whole bunch about teaching the game, but what I did do was make it fun. I chased those kids around the ice, poked fun at them in the lines, dragged them around with my stick and shared laughs.”
Hasselberg also reflects on the time when he taught his daughter, and was always impressed with the way she handled her business on the ice.
“Shauni, she was so eager and she was good. Looking back at it now she held more discipline on the ice than I did, and she was five. I was fortunate she was up here visiting during the Kindersley series, we got to go on the ice together before practice. It was perfect. My favourite times as a coach were spent on the ice with Shauni and Dyllan, my kids. I can’t imagine how hard it was on them having me as a dad in this business.”
A coach, but a father first, is the type of man Hasselberg is. He is a tough but fair teacher who always tries to get the best out of every player that walks into his locker room. His makeup is something that can’t be duplicated, and he has a couple of people to thank for that.
“My character is deeply molded from my parents,” Hasselberg said. “The two hardest working people, who ingrained what working hard means and doing your best. The cornerstones of my philosophy have come from them.”
Going from the Olds Grizzlys in the Alberta Junior Hockey League from 1999-2010, six of those seasons as the head coach, to the Alberni Valley Bulldogs of the British Columbia Hockey League, to five seasons with the North Stars, Hasselberg has always lived the life of a die hard hockey fan. When asked about what he would be doing if he wasn’t coaching, Hasselberg was at a loss for words, but reflects on the incredible ride he has taken.
“I really don’t know, maybe ranching with my parents. It has always been about hockey,” he said. “It has been amazing, you really have to reflect on the experience you had, the people you meet, and the people that have helped you along the way to really appreciate the game. Answering this really makes me think of my wife and kids and what they have gone through and how this sport has molded our family.”
When he is not on the ice at practice, behind the bench during games, working the phones and driving his North Stars branded car to recruit players during the off-season, Hasselberg says, undoubtedly, he loves to spend time with the people that mean the most to him.
“I haven’t done this enough, but I really like travelling. Leah has put together some amazing trips for us and I love getting away and spending quality time with her and our kids. In addition to that, I love going back to the ranch and helping my parents. It’s how I was raised and being back in that environment puts things back in order when they start to spin out of control.”
To get to where he is today, Hasselberg received a phone call from Jeff Battah, a good friend of his, letting him know about the job opening. Like many jobs, he had to go through a lengthy interview process. When all was said and done, the North Stars found themselves a new coach after Hasselberg moved across two provinces to get to the Battlefords. You can say the organization made an intelligent move, as their overall record now sits at 174-84-10-14 since he took over the reins. This is a decision he thoroughly enjoyed as well.
“This is a community that loves hockey. It is driven by passionate people. Any coach would agree, if it was about the game and love of the game, this is where you would want to be. I don't think this community is given the respect it deserves, nor does the SJHL.”
Hasselberg is a young, approachable coach with a bright future. If you are trying to find him during the hockey season, look for the man wearing the black and white North Stars track suit, he will be more than willing to talk about the game he so passionately studies.
Looking forward, the coach dreams big and knows one day he will be contributing in the NHL, under the brightest lights of them all. For now, his eyes are dead set on bringing the Canalta Cup to the Battlefords.