Coach Mike Hastings looks upon the ice at the end of the bench

Mike Hastings is a winner.

You could say that about a lot of head coaches, but in the case of the new leader of Wisconsin men’s hockey, he’s literally posted winning records in all his 25 seasons across college and junior hockey. And that counter will soon turn to 26, as the Badgers complete a stunning turnaround for a program that had just suffered five losing seasons over the last six.

This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Hastings’s new team. But by the midpoint of the season, the Badgers had already won the Holiday Face-Off tournament and reached a top-10 national ranking (including a stint as number one). The UW is poised to return to the NCAA tournament this March, led by a physical, disciplined defense, a puck-controlling, opportunistic offense, and the smothering goalkeeping of Kyle McClellan ’23, MSBx’25.

How does Hastings do it? He drills consistency, not just on the ice, but also in life. You’ll often hear him call it the “dailies” — an almost obsessive focus on all the little things a player can control throughout the course of a day to set himself up for success. It starts by waking up with a positive mindset and ends with a reflection.

“That’s really all we ask the guys to do,” Hastings says. “We don’t ask them to be perfect. But we do ask them to be okay with their self-evaluation and get prepared for the next day.”

It’s an accountability approach that Hastings refined at Minnesota State University, where he turned the Mavericks into a mighty force over 11 seasons and reached the NCAA title game in 2022. The .719 win percentage over his tenure made him the nation’s active leader and ranked as the third highest in the history of NCAA men’s hockey.

Hastings’s ties to Minnesota run deep. He was raised in Crookston and played college hockey for Saint Cloud State before embarking on his coaching career there. To leave his home state required an irresistible offer from across the border.

“In my mind, Wisconsin was one of the best, if not the best, head coaching positions in the country,” Hastings says. “It’s just something that you don’t say no to.”

When Hastings accepted the UW’s offer in March 2023, one of the first people to send a congratulatory text was, remarkably, the man he replaced: Tony Granato ’17. “I think that speaks about Badger family,” Hastings said in his introductory press conference. “It’s humbling. I think it’s a special place.”

Hastings credits this season’s success to the immediate buy-in from returning players, such as stars Cruz Lucius x’26, Mathieu de Saint Phalle x’24, and Mike Vorlicky x’24. They’re joined by eight freshmen and four transfers, three of whom followed Hastings from Minnesota State, including top contributors Simon Tassy x’25 and David Silye MSBx’25. The roster displays all the hallmarks of a Hastings-coached team on the ice: tough, unrelenting, and never beating itself.

The program also got a boost when Todd Knott, Hastings’s longtime assistant, turned down a head coaching offer from Minnesota State last spring to join the UW as associate head coach. Knott earned the 2023 Terry Flanagan Award for his career body of work and is regarded as one of the best recruiters in college hockey.

“There’s just a passion that he brings in relationship building. He’s a head coach in an associate head coach position,” Hastings says. “When I’ve gone to coach USA Hockey, he’s stepped in, and we’ve never missed a beat.”

As easy as he’s made winning look, it took Hastings years to actually enjoy it. In 1994, at age 28, he became the head coach of the United States Hockey League’s Omaha Lancers — admittedly before he was ready. He recalls a player approaching him toward the end of that first season and asking whether he ever smiles.

“I was coaching out of fear and insecurity when I started, and those young men probably paid the price for it,” Hastings says. “What I learned from it was that if you can build relationships with players and show them that you care as much about them as people as you ever do as players, you can get somewhere together with them.”

Amid a 26th straight season of winning hockey, Hastings has brought the Badgers a perfect balance of high standards and close support.

“When you surround yourself with good people and talented players who are willing to buy into working together,” he says, “you can accomplish some very special things.”

Published in the Spring 2024 issue


  • Roger Brooks March 29, 2024

    Can’t think of a better example where a coach has made such a huge and immediate impact!

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