By Chris Langrill
The Idaho Statesman
BOISE, Idaho – Derek Laxdal is enjoying his inaugural campaign as coach of the Idaho Steelheads so much he’s decided he’d like to stay in his position for years to come.
Laxdal became the head coach Aug. 4, about two months before the season started. He took over after John Olver abruptly resigned in the offseason. At one time Laxdal sounded like he might be interested in using his stop with the ECHL hockey franchise in Boise as a steppingstone to other jobs.
But now Laxdal says he may stick around for a while.
“I’ve already got my game plan for next year,” Laxdal said. “We’re building a house here. We’ve sold our house in Wichita (where he coached in the CHL last year). We plan to be here for the next five or 10 years.”
That sounds just fine to two people whose votes play a large role in Laxdal’s approval rating, Steelheads general manager Eric Trapp and president Glenn Stanford.
“We’ve been very happy,” Trapp said, adding that any evaluation of Laxdal needs to come with the understanding that he only had two months to recruit players and build a team before the season started.
“We’re on the right path,” Trapp said. “Next year, with a full year to recruit, we’ll do even better.”
“Absolutely, he’s been successful,” Stanford said. “He’s done a wonderful job of putting a team together and then molding it into a good, hard-working team.”
Stanford said the team’s hard work is an extension of the coach.
“He’s a very hard-working guy,” Stanford said. “He comes to work early in themorning and he’s constantly trying to improve the team.”
Stanford said he knows Laxdal’s wife, Hali, and their two teenage daughters, Jessica (15) and Jamie (13) might have something to do with the coach’s decision to put down some roots.
“Hali told me one time that, including his playing days, they moved 35 times,” Stanford said. “That can get old.”
Laxdal admits his girls will play the “moving card” from time to time.
“When things are going well for them, you don’t hear from them,” Laxdal said. “But if they want something, they always bring back, ‘We should never have moved from blah, blah, blah.’ “
Laxdal said it would take a mighty tempting offer to uproot his family again.
“I’m not looking at moving up or going anywhere,” Laxdal said. “I think I owe it to my family to be a little bit stable. And this year has made me a better coach. You have to adapt and change every day.”
Laxdal said part of that change will be in the way he recruits during this offseason.
“If I go back and know what I know now, with the ECHL salary cap, I would probably (have) offered a few more high-end guys more money,” Laxdal said. “But to be honest, by the time I got here there weren’t a lot of high-end guys out there. But it’s a learning process and something we’ve learned for next year.”
At least one longtime fan is willing to stick around to see the results. Russell Cash has been sitting next to the opponent’s penalty box since the inception of the Steelheads, and he likes what he’s seen so far out of Laxdal.
“I think he’s doing a really good job,” Cash said. “Coming in like he did, I think it’s outstanding. He didn’t get a full recruiting season.”
Cash has also noticed a change in the team’s play.
“I kind of like his open, run-and-gun style, compared to (Olver’s) trapping style,” Cash said.
Cash admitted that the change in style is also probably because of rules changes. But that ability to adapt is exactly what has impressed veteran forward Scott Burt.
“He’s not afraid to actually take some advice from the guys,” Burt said. “If we say, ‘Hey, we should try this,’ he actually listens and takes it in.”
Blake Forsyth played for Laxdal in Wichita, and he said Burt’s take on the coach is exactly why he followed him to play in Boise.
“He’s definitely a players’ coach,” Forsyth said. “He’s played at every level himself, so he knows exactly what we’re going through each day.”