For so long Kevin Hartzell was considered to be an example of the United States Hockey League’s stability among coaches.
Hartzell was fired by the team on Monday after his seventh season resulted in a season where youth, a lack of scoring and the loss of elite talent resulted in the Stampede faltering and finishing last in both the Western Conference and the USHL.
The former University of Minnesota captain completed his 14th season as a head coach. His career was one of the most successful in the USHL having amassed more than 400 wins while winning two Clark Cup trophies and two Anderson Cup titles as well.
He previously coached the defunct St. Paul Vulcans for six seasons where he won 195 games, according to the Stampede’s website.
Hartzell between his stops in St. Paul and Sioux Falls established himself as one of the league’s best coaches. Coming into the 2011-12 season, he had won 30 or more games in four of his five seasons.
This year wasn’t as kind to Hartzell who led the Stampede to a 17-36-7 mark as he coached one of the league’s most inexperienced teams.
Sioux Falls’ season started rough when brothers Ryan, Connor and Mike Reilly (Minnesota) all left to play for Penticton (BCHL) joining up with Mario Lucia (Notre Dame/Minnesota Wild), a 2010 Stampede Entry Draft Pick, spearheading one of Junior ‘A’s most prolific team.
If the Reillys and Lucia had stayed, it could have very well been the difference between finishing last or making the playoffs in a Western Conference where talent, regardless of experience, paid dividends.
Yet Sioux Falls struggled offensively scoring a league-worst 127 goals while its defense and goaltending gave up 215 goals after establishing itself as one of the better defenses earlier in the year.
Forwards Kyle Rankin (Princeton) and Justin Selman (Michigan) tied for the team lead in points with 34. They finished in a tie for the league’s 59th leading scorer as three players in the league had more goals then the two had points put together.
All of this resulted in the Stampede being a dismal minus-283 on the season while racking up 1,020 penalty minutes, the fifth-most in the USHL.
Whoever replaces Hartzell walks into a team which does have a strong future depending upon how players develop.
Sioux Falls could return up to 16 players including goaltender Charlie Lindgren and Todd Skirving, who finished fourth on the team in points with 25 last season. The team also made six selections in last week’s USHL Futures Draft taking St. Mary’s Prep forward Cody Milan with the ninth overall selection.
Hartzell becomes the sixth head coach to be fired in the league this year and the most recent since the Indiana Ice fired former Yale assistant Kyle Wallack prior to the start of the Clark Cup Playoffs.
In all, 12 of the USHL’s 16 teams have hired new head coaches in the last season either due to coaches leaving for college jobs or being fired.