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Plante aims for gold

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Derek Plante’s hockey career has come full circle. From his standout career at Cloquet High School, to a Hobey Baker finalist at UMD, to Stanley Cup winner with the Dallas Stars, Plante literally has almost done it all.

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Now, he can add head coach to his resume.

The 1989 CHS grad was recently named head coach of the United States U-18 Select team for the upcoming Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup, which will be held Aug. 11-16 in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Plante, who serves as an assistant to Scott Sandelin with the Bulldogs, will guide 23 of the nation’s top young talents in an important international tournament.

“It’s really exciting,” he said. “Last year I was an assistant (to head coach Bob Corkum) so I know what the tournament is about, know the format and hopefully the players that it takes to have success in that tournament. It’s a fun process, picking a team.”

Plante’s team was runner-up last year, with the USA falling 4-0 to Canada in the title tilt. This year, he gets to run the show.

He will take five players with him who won the U-17 Five Nations Cup last year and knows he will have a very skilled group with which to work. Last year’s Hlinka team had eight Minnesotans; Plante’s team will have only three.

“Our coaching staff has picked a good team,” Plante said. He was assisted in the process by former Bulldog defenseman Guy Gosselin. Other assistant coaches are Pat Mikesch of the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers, longtime USA hockey assistant Nick Fohr, and Pat Boller of the AHL’s Hartford

Wolfpack.

“In terms of your top six (forwards), you want great skill guys,” he said. “You want as much skill as you can get. After that your last seven forwards are guys who can kill penalties and be ‘tweener’ players who can step up. But you need to be physical and strong in this tournament. The players are more physically mature.”

After an exhibition against Slovakia on Aug. 9, Team USA will play its three qualifying games against the Czech Republic, Russia and Finland on consecutive days. That will require some conditioning and hard work.

But it’s Plante who gets to call the shots.

“It’s my first head coaching job, and it’s a little nerve-wracking,” Plante said. “Obviously, I want to do things right and get it all figured out.”

Plante has two good mentors — his current boss, Scott Sandelin, and his father, longtime Hermantown coach and former CHS goaltender Bruce.

“Actually, I take something from all the coaches I’ve had back to Bill Kennedy and the youth coaches,” Plante said. “So much of coaching today is player management, getting kids to play and hoping that tactically you are sound. I’m not a yeller or a screamer.”

However, getting players to play in the Hlinka tournament shouldn’t be too hard. The players are taking part in the event in the year before their NHL draft year, which means scouts will be watching.

“It’s their first chance to get seen against the best players at their level in the world,” Plante said. “There aren’t a lot of spectators at the games but each NHL team has scouts and sometimes general managers there to see the best players head to head.”

The event is named for Hlinka, a former Vancouver Canucks forward and influential hockey figure in the former Czechoslovakia who died in a car accident in 2004 at age 54. The international aspect of the tournament named after him appeals to Plante as well, since he has now been given a good coaching assignment by USA Hockey.

“That’s a big thing,” Plante said. “That involvement (with USA Hockey) is good. Becoming a head coach even for a short time is a good thing because you make the decisions, everyone comes to you with the questions and you have to have the answers. We’ll go where I go, and there’s a bit of pressure in that.”

Plante hopes to build on last year’s runner-up finish.

“I don’t think we’ve ever won a gold medal at that event,” he said. “This is a good chance to grow as a coach, help USA Hockey and see if we’re good enough to win a gold medal this time.”

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