The University of Saskatchewan (U of S) Huskies men’s hockey program has a rich history that goes back more than a century but the 1982-83 team holds a special place as the only squad to win a national championship.
Among the players on that team is current Vancouver Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins, who credits his time with the team for setting him on the path to the NHL.
It’s safe to say the 2015-16 season doesn’t rank all that high on the 59-year-old’s list of favourite hockey memories. In his second year with the Canucks, Desjardins experienced something virtually unheard of in his coaching career – he missed the playoffs.
“Overall, we weren’t good enough, we just didn’t do what we needed to do but it’s certainly motivation for next year. That was a tough year and I certainly don’t want to go through it again,” Desjardins said.
Since getting his first WHL job with the Saskatoon Blades nearly two decades ago, Desjardins has made a habit of taking his teams to the post-season.
The roots of that success go back even further to his playing days with the Huskies.
“When Dave King was there, we were 3-21 and he came in and we went to national finals three years in a row and it was the first time I thought ‘maybe coaching might be OK. I might try that,’” Desjardins said.
In fact, Desjardins is part of a unique group of Huskies alumni. He’s one of four former U of S hockey players now serving as head coaches in the NHL along with Glen Gulutzan (Calgary Flames), Todd McLellan (Edmonton Oilers) and Mike Babcock (Toronto Maple Leafs).
Maybe it’s something in the Bridge City’s water?
“I don’t know why it is but the other coaches are great … it’s kind of an honour to be part of that group, like that’s an outstanding group,” Desjardins said.
WATCH: Former Blades goalie Braden Holtby returns to Saskatoon after winning Vezina Trophy
Whatever the reason, the Climax, Sask., native knows his time as a Huskie was an instrumental part.
“In a lot of ways it’s home here. I enjoyed my university career here and so many good friends through that time too. You think about the championships whenever you’ve played on a team like that … it’s always special,” Desjardins said.
He is in Saskatoon this week taking part in the 2016 Driving Fore Prostate Golf Classic alongside NHL hall-of-famer Bryan Trottier. The event took place Tuesday at Dakota Dunes Golf Links and supports the St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation.