By Chris Langrill
The Idaho Statesman
BOISE, Idaho – Idaho Steelheads president Eric Trapp traveled with the team when it went to Alaska to play the Aces in the first game of the ECHL’s National Conference finals.
Idaho won 1-0 and Trapp said there was plenty of excitement from the Idaho contingent after the game — except from coach Derek Laxdal.
“I was like, ‘Will you just smile?’ ” Trapp said. “And he came back with, ‘Well, this is just one game.’
“I said, ‘Enjoy the moment!’ ”
People around Laxdal know that story exemplifies the coach’s work ethic. He’s an intense, goal-driven person who cares deeply about the game of hockey.
His family has learned to adapt to his dedication, and his players have learned to appreciate his passion for the game.
It’s that passion that’s helped the Steelheads team he coaches go up 2-1 against Alaska, with the winner of the series going on to play in the Kelly Cup finals. Game 4 is at 7:10 on Sunday at Qwest Arena.
“He’s very cautious,” Hali Laxdal said of her husband. “He’s always been that way, especially during the playoffs.”
Hali said she and their two daughters were thrilled to see Laxdal show some emotion after the Steelheads closed out the Las Vegas Wranglers in the conference semifinals.
“He turned around and put his arms up toward the crowd,” Hali said. “You don’t get to see that very often. He never gets too excited or too ahead of himself.”
After the Steelheads lost Game 3 on Friday night, Laxdal said he was up until 2:30 in the morning watching video of the loss. He said he wanted to see if he could spot anything that might help his team prepare for tonight’s game.
That preparation is what makes him a good coach, said veteran Lance Galbraith, who has seen his share of coaches while playing for five AHL teams and three ECHL teams.
“I just like how he’s always prepared,” Galbraith said. “Guys love playing for him because of his energy and he always wants to be prepared.”
Fans cheer for the players after big wins, but those same players know their coach has something to do with the team’s success.
“He deserves a lot of the credit,” Galbraith said. “His commitment is one of the reasons we are where we’re at right now.”
Laxdal said he makes a point to get away from the game when he can. He said he likes to run or work out to vent.
Golf is another option, but that doesn’t work out sometimes.
“The problem is, I’ll get on the golf course and I’m focusing on golfing, and all of a sudden, this thing (his cell phone) starts ringing,” Laxdal said. “Then all of a sudden, I’m thinking about hockey again, and the slices come into play.”
His playing partners will tell him to just turn the phone off or leave it behind, but he’ll have none of that.
“One time I was recruiting a kid, and I had him. I had him signed,” Laxdal said. “So I went fishing for three days, and I called him when I got back and he had signed with another team.
“So, when I’m golfing I could lose a player,” Laxdal said. “So, you understand, when I go golfing and that thing rings, I’ve got to take it.”
Hockey has always been a part of Laxdal’s life. He began playing the sport when he was 3 years old growing up in Stonewall, Manitoba, Canada. As a child, his favorite team was the Toronto Maple Leafs. In 1984, a dream came true when the Maple Leafs picked him in the eighth round of the NHL Draft.
He played professional hockey for almost two decades and spent 67 games in the NHL before embarking on his coaching career.
Laxdal, 41, talks with a quiet sense of pride when discussing the fact that he made it to the NHL.
“To be able to say that you played at the highest level, and you did OK … There’s not a lot of guys who get that opportunity,” he said.
One of his proudest moments was his first NHL goal, scored early in the 1988-89 season in Chicago while he was with Toronto (he was later traded to the New York Islanders).
“To score in the old Chicago Stadium was absolutely incredible,” Laxdal said. “They had the pipe organ and when you’d stand there for the anthem, you’d have goosebumps going through you.”
The Maple Leafs organization framed the puck from that first goal, and it now hangs in his office.
“I put that up on the wall more as a conversation piece,” he said. “But when players come in the office and I tell them that they need to drive to the net more, they know that I’ve been there.”
Hali Laxdal admits that sometimes her husband spends more time in that office than he should. But she also said he’s a good father to their daughters, Jaime, 14, and Jessica, 16.
“He’s a great father,” Hali said. “He’s overprotective.”
There are times, however, that Hali has to coach the coach.
“Recently,” she said, “I was telling him something that he and our youngest daughter should do. And he said, ‘After the playoffs.’ And I said, ‘Hmm, you’re a father now, whether it’s the playoffs or not.'”
Even so, Hali admits that hockey is the world that their family revolves around. She even has a theory as to why he spends so much time at the office.
“It’s hard for him,” Hali said. “He’s in a house full of girls, and he’s not in his element here. I think he feels a little out of control at home, and that’s why he enjoys being in the locker room.
“It’s all hormones when he gets home.”