Fresh faces reign behind West benches
The NAHL will usher in its newly formed West Division with four new head coaches this season, all of whom boast proven track records of winning and development.
Josh Hauge didn’t have to move far to take the head coaching reigns in Fairbanks. He served as an assistant coach under Ice Dogs headman Rob Proffitt for the last three seasons before Proffitt stepped aside to assume the team’s general manager duties.
Hauge, a former Coach of the Year in the Minnesota Junior League who aided in the development of 12 Division I recruits from last season’s Ice Dogs team, is ready to make the most of his new opportunity.
“I’ve wanted this chance for three years and I couldn’t be happier,” said Hauge, a Minnesota native. “I hope to continue the tradition and the reputation that Coach Proffitt has built, and I’m excited about the potential the team has for this season.”
Down Highway 3 in Wasilla, another Minnesotan will call the shots as Dave Boitz was recently tabbed the new head coach of the Alaska Avalanche.
No stranger to the NAHL, Boitz served as the North Iowa Outlaws’ head coach since the team’s inception in 2005-06 and guided the club to its first ever Central Division regular-season championship last season.
Boitz, who helped promote five his players to collegiate opportunities last year, is looking forward to a fresh start in Alaska in its quest to assemble a winner.
“I couldn't be more excited about moving here, both from a hockey and a lifestyle standpoint,” said Boitz. “This team was very young and talented last year and I’m very excited about the possibilities for the upcoming season.”
Even further south in Kenai River, the Brown Bears also tabbed a new head coach with no shortage of NAHL experience.
Brent Agrusa guided the defunct Helena Bighorns of the AWHL and NAHL for three seasons, compiling over 100 victories while moving over 30 players onto the Division I, Division III and minor-pro levels.
“The people associated with the Brown Bears are all top-notch,” said Agrusa, a Michigan native. “They’re all very passionate to see that this team becomes one of the premier organizations in the NAHL.
“I feel very fortunate to be back in the NAHL, and to be surrounded with a great staff and community support.”
Paul Baxter might not having any coaching experience in the NAHL, but his resume on the professional front is as impressive as they come.
After 13 professional seasons as a player - eight in the NHL - the Wenatchee Wild’s first head coach went on to serve as an assistant coach for the Calgary Flames, Florida Panthers, San Jose Sharks and Chicago Blackhawks.
Baxter, from Winnipeg, also guided Calgary’s top minor-league affiliate, the Salt Lake Golden Eagles, to the International Hockey League (IHL) Turner Cup championship in 1988.
Baxter can’t wait to introduce one of the top junior leagues in North America to Washington state.
“The players, staff and ownership are very excited about the opportunity in Wenatchee,” said Baxter. “It’s a beautiful city and we look forward to providing excellent entertainment while being actively involved in the community.
“We believe our inaugural season will be a great experience that the players and supporters will cherish forever.”
Next week, NAHL.com will profile the league's Central Division coaches.