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Minnesota Duluth men’s hockey assistant coach Derek Plante explains a drill to participants at a UMD Squirt hockey camp this week. Plante will coach the U.S. U-18 team in the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com

UMD assistant to coach US Under-18 team

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Derek Plante earned success on the ice at Minnesota Duluth and in the NHL, and later behind the bench as an NCAA men’s hockey title-winning assistant coach at UMD.

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Now the 43-year-old Cloquet native, who is entering his fifth season as a UMD assistant, takes the next step in his hockey career as head coach of the United States Under-18 Select Team at this month’s Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup.

The eight-team international tournament is set for Aug. 11-16 in Breclav, Czech Republic, and Piestany, Slovakia.

“I’ve learned a lot in the last five years and this will be another chance to learn,” Plante said earlier this week. “As the head coach, you make all the decisions and your success or (failure) all depends on you. I look forward to that.”

Success has overridden failure throughout most of Plante’s career. He scored 92 points as a senior — the second-highest single-season total in UMD history — and his 219 career points ranks behind only Dan Lempe’s 222. He was named the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Player of the Year and USA Hockey’s Male Athlete of the Year in 1992-93.

Plante went on to enjoy an eight-year stint in the NHL, scoring 96 total goals with Buffalo, Chicago, Philadelphia and Dallas. He won a Stanley Cup in 1999 with the Stars before finishing his pro career in Europe and Japan.

But it was his seven times representing Team USA at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships that gave Plante some of his best memories. Now back on the international scene as a head coach, he fondly recalls those days.

“It’s a chance to put on a USA jersey and fight for your country, and that kind of thing always appealed to me. I’m patriotic that way, I guess,” said Plante, who was an assistant coach for the U-18 team a year ago. “I grew up in the era of the ’80 Olympic team and (fellow Cloquet native) Corey Millen played in the ’84 and ’88 Olympics. Getting a chance to play for six national teams and a world junior team, USA Hockey’s been good to me.”

UMD head coach Scott Sandelin said he is glad to see Plante get his chance to lead a team.

“It’s a great opportunity for him to be the head guy and get that experience at an international tournament,” Sandelin said. “From a coaching standpoint, it’s a great opportunity to be in that lead position.”

Plante balances desire to be head coach with family

As with many NCAA Division I hockey programs, UMD has lost talented assistants to head coaching ranks as Steve Rohlik and Brett Larson moved on in recent seasons.

That’s the nature of the business.

For Plante, who lives in Hermantown with his wife, former UMD softball and     basketball standout Kristi Duncan, and their three hockey-playing boys, Zam (9 years old), Max (8) and Victor (6), he is somewhat conflicted about becoming a head coach.

“I’m caught in between a little bit,” he said. “It’s nice to just be in Hermantown and have a place for the kids to grow up, but, personally, at some point I’d like to be a head coach.

“All the parts of (being an assistant) are great. If there’s one downside, the family part is tough at times. I like to travel and I like the recruiting, the scouting and the coaching. I like all those parts, but the (combination) of all those parts can be a little overwhelming for a family.”

The busy life of a Bulldogs assistant coach includes several recruiting trips to western Canada — a veritable UMD pipeline — and scouting various festivals and select camps, not to mention the current international assignment.

“It’s a time-consuming job,” Plante said. “It’s darn near year-round with all the festivals and midget hockey. There are a couple weeks in May and at the end of August where it’s not busy, but it’s pretty much a year-round deal with alumni relations, recruiting, scouting, coaching. There’s a lot that goes into the life of a college coach. I won’t sugarcoat it, there’s a lot to it.”

But by all accounts, Plante has all the right tools to succeed if he ever gets that opportunity.

“Some guys want that and some guys don’t,” Sandelin said. “But I can see where he’s one of those guys who would certainly want that. He’s passionate about hockey and he’s gaining valuable experience with us and with the international team.

“He has a good eye for talent. He was a hell of a player himself so he likes those types of players. He’s a lot like I am — he’s picky when it comes to a lot of things about players, which is good. He relates and communicates well with the players. He loves coming to the rink and is so passionate about UMD and hockey. It’s a great trait to have.”

A players’ coach if there ever was one, Plante is always raring to go before practices and games.

“If there’s one word to describe him, it’s ‘energy,’” senior winger Adam Krause said. “He loves the game more than anyone I’ve ever seen. If his body didn’t tell him ‘no,’ he’d probably still be playing. He brings so much energy and enthusiasm. He flies around at practice and does the drills with us. He’s good for the young guys and the older guys because he keeps it light at practice.”

Krause, like many veteran players on the team, was mainly recruited by Larson before he left to coach in the United States Hockey League. But Plante continued the recruitment process after Krause committed as he did with sophomore Kyle Osterberg, who committed as a high school freshman.

“He showed the most interest out of anybody I talked to throughout my recruiting,” Osterberg said. “He also showed that he cared, not just about the hockey aspect, but also about my school and what happens beyond hockey. That’s what helped me make my decision.”

  • Plante leaves today for Washington, D.C., where the U.S. team will practice for three days at the Washington Capitals’ practice facility and then travel overseas. The U.S. team includes Lakeville South junior-to-be Nick Swaney, who has committed to UMD.

Other teams vying for the Hlinka Cup are Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden and Switzerland. Team USA, the 2013 runner-up, is in Group A with the Czechs, Finland and Russia. The Americans open Aug. 11 against the Czech Republic in Breclav.

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