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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Harrington Intent on Building Program with Minnesota State Women's Hockey

John Harrington is in his first season as head coach of the
Minnesota State women's hockey program
They say, “Those who can’t do, teach.” But that is not exactly the case for John Harrington, who is in his first season as head coach of the Minnesota State women’s hockey program.

Harrington, a native of the Iron Range in northern Minnesota, was a standout prep forward at Virginia (Minn.) High School before he landed a spot with Gus Hendrickson’s program at Minnesota-Duluth. He lettered for four seasons from 1975 to 1979 with the Bulldogs and upon graduation, was invited to try out for the U.S. men’s hockey Olympic Team. History tells us that the American squad, comprised of young college hockey players, miraculously earned the gold medal at 1980 in Lake Placid, N.Y. Including an assist on Mike Eruzione’s memorable game-winning goal vs. Russia, Harrington finished with five points on five assists in seven games at the Olympics.

Harrington went on to play for the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League, and later for Lugano in the Swiss league before returning to the U.S. National Team from 1981 to 1983. He then rejoined the national team for the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo before retiring and starting his coaching career at the University of Denver. After much success with the Pioneers, Harrington returned to Minnesota in 1990 as an assistant coach for St. Cloud State University. A few years later, he accepted the head coach position at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., where he led the Johnnies to a 241-142-31 record with four Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play-off and five regular-season titles, along with five NCAA tournament appearances from 1993 to 2008.

Today, Harrington has taken on the position of the Minnesota State women’s hockey program and is in the process of building a program, much like what he went through at St. John’s. “I think the wide range of experience that I’ve had as a coach has helped me a lot,” said Harrington. “Developing relationships with the players is most important; communicating is huge.” Harrington is in his first year of coaching women and is learning to coach a bit differently. “Women want explanations,” said Harrington. “I have to spend a proper amount of time with them and doing repetition is crucial because they ask more questions than men.”

Minnesota State men’s hockey head coach, Mike Hastings, who was a defenseman at St. Cloud State University when Harrington was an assistant coach with the Huskies men’s hockey program in the early 1990’s and he echoes Harrington’s sentiments regarding experience being a key to success moving forward. But feels that there’s much more to it than that.

“I think the with a guy like John Harrington you have someone who can make an immediate impact based on a couple of things. One, his playing experience at all levels is something that he can use to relate to with his student-athletes,” said Hastings. “And his coaching experience at all levels provides him with a foundation of experience and perspective that is hard to duplicate. He’s focused, driven, and a caring guy in which family comes first. That’s his #1 passion. But a close second is his pursuit of trying to improve every day with that program.”

Those that have watched this year’s Minnesota State team can see that there appears to be a bright future for Harrington and the Mavericks in the years to come. The program has made a move to Verizon Wireless Center in downtown Mankato where the facility has gone under an $8-million dollar upgrade to locker rooms, equipment, athletic training and work-out areas.  And a new coaching staff under Harrington’s veteran watch will also play a role in the transition.

 “We are going to have to have some patience to build the team back up,” said Harrington. “We need to make these steps where we want to be. Minnesota State can certainly get in the middle of the pack and play with the teams that are ranked nationally. Anyone can advance through the tournaments, we just need to build up our confidence first.”

Working with a young team this year (the 2015-16 team has 19 freshman and sophomores on its 25-player roster) and developing the relationships needed to build the team back up is the program and staff’s priority.  “Ultimately, though, It comes down to coaching on the ice,” said Harrington.

             Contributed by Amber Dahl, Athletic Communications intern


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