Former Austin Maverick has come a long way with Minnesota State
Published 7:04 pm Tuesday, April 3, 2018
Mike Hastings’ Austin Mavericks teammates quickly took to calling him Barney, after the character from the “Flintstones” cartoon.
Hastings was undersized for defenseman at 5 feet, six inches, but he could play.
A rink rat from Crookston, Minnesota, he instinctively knew how to play offense and run a power play and smart enough to earn an appointment to the United States Military Academy, at West Point.
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Hastings, who is the head hockey coach at Minnesota State University, remembers his official visit: His dad was proud. His mom was shedding tears as he got on the plane. They weren’t prepared for the news he gave them when he returned — that he wouldn’t attend the Academy.
“I wasn’t mature enough at 18 years of age to make a nine-year commitment,” Hastings said. “It’s four years of college plus a five-year military commitment. It seemed like too long a time for me.”
Hastings was content to go to college and play Division III hockey when fate intervened. He got a call from Frank Serratore that summer asking him to play in a hockey camp in Brainerd. Serratore recruited from hockey camps working as a scout for Chuck Grillo. At the camp were several of the guys who would played for him with the Mavericks the previous season.
“Mike was a known commodity because he put up offensive numbers in high school,” Serratore said, “but he was raw defensively. You could tell he loved playing though.”
The camp was an eye-opening experience for Hastings.
“I met the scariest human being in my life — Mike Castellano,” Hastings said.
Castellano was a Rochester John Marshall grad, at 5-11 he wasn’t really physically imposing, but he had a monster of a shot from the point. He was a gregarious personality and played with a steely-eyed meanness. His appearance contributed to his reputation. He wore black-rimmed glasses with tape around the edges.
From West Point to Serratore, Castellano and the Austin Mavericks. His parents bought in but on one condition — he had to continue his education. No taking time off just to play hockey. Hastings agreed to their terms.
In late summer of 1984 Hastings showed up on the front stoop of Jed and Nancy Dudycha, big hockey fans living on the east side with their young family. From the moment he arrived at his billeted family’s house, he fit right in.
Nancy washed his clothes and cooked for him, effectively becoming a second mom. Hastings reciprocated. When he wasn’t busy doing his schoolwork at Austin Community College and playing for the Mavericks he would hang out with the Dudychas instead of hanging out with teammates.
“If it weren’t for them, I don’t know if I would’ve made it,” Hastings said. “I was kind of a momma’s boy. They helped me get by and grow up.”
When started with the Mavericks, he didn’t know how to play a one-on-one. That changed. He got to be devastating good hip checker, making the proper read and using the leverage he came by naturally to tee off on puck carriers coming through the neutral zone.
“Mike was great at it. He could get a line on guys and flip them just like you’d see the pros do,” remembered Castellano.
The Mavericks won the regular season league title, lost to the St. Paul Vulcans in the play-offs, but still made it to the national tournament in Chicago. The following year Hastings returned. This time to Rochester after the Mavericks became Mustangs. Once again the team made it to the national tournament, and Hastings got an offer to play at St. Cloud State.
Hastings decision to get into the coaching profession came wrapped in a rather abrupt ending. On a road trip out east early in his sophomore year, he fractured two vertebrae in his lower back, ending his playing days. The coach, Craig Dahl, let him keep his scholarship money on the condition he start to help the coaching staff.
Through the lobbying efforts of Serratore and Mike Guentzel, both of whom coached the Omaha, Hastings got his big break as a head coach in 1994. He took the reigns of one of the league’s most robust franchises, winning three championships and never having a losing season in 14 seasons.
He ran into Bob Motzko when he made a return to the USHL in Sioux Falls. Motzko’s style of team’s style of play in distinguishable, Hastings says. “Bobby’s teams have always allowed creativity; he allows them to make plays. He provides an atmosphere where talented players can flourish, but not at the expense of taking care of things defensively.”
And he added one more thing. “It’s amazing how his teams play best at the most important times. That’s a gift.”
The respect is mutual, however. “Mike is one of the premier coaches in the college game,” believes Motzko.