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Wisconsin men's hockey: Madison Capitols coach and GM Luke Strand named top assistant

Badger coach Mike Eaves finally has his top assistant, as Wisconsin native Strand is tabbed to succeed Gary Shuchuk.

Larry Radloff

It's been more than two months since Wisconsin men's hockey coach Mike Eaves fired his assistant coaching staff. The move came on the heals of the Badgers' worst-ever season, as the team ended 4-26-5.

On Tuesday, multiple reports, including the Wisconsin State Journal's Andy Baggot and our own hockey writer emeritus Andy Johnson, confirmed that the top assistant coaching job will be filled by Luke Strand. Strand is an Eau Claire native who played his college puck for the Blugolds. He was most recently the coach and general manager for the Madison Capitols of the USHL.

Though he has no Division I coaching experience, Strand was the head coach at UW-Eau Claire and an assistant at St. Norbert College. He worked with the Green Bay Gamblers and Sioux City Musketeers in the USHL as well as with Calgary Flames' farm team Abbotsford Heat and Minnesota Wild farm team Houston Aeros in the AHL. Strand also coached the U-16 boys Team Wisconsin team that went on to win a national championship.

Strand was a candidate for the Capitols job when the team started operations in 2013-14, but they ultimately chose Sun Prairie native Steve Miller. Miller then abruptly left the team after one season and Strand received the call.

It seems, though, that Wisconsin was always a goal of his. Despite just one year with the Capitols, Strand is joining Eaves' staff on what is said to be a two-year contract per Baggot. No official announcement has come from the university as of Wednesday morning.

The search to fill this position has been ongoing and full of rumors. Baggot reported Eaves initially offered the job to Fred Harbinson of Penicton in the British Columbia Hockey League, but he turned it down. There's been rumblings of Eaves speaking to former Badger Don Granato, but no formal offer was ever made and Granato seems to have chosen the US National Development program.

So Strand is very publicly not the first choice for the role, but a quick Twitter search of his name shows support and kind words for him.

The hiring of Strand and John Hamre, who will be the new director of hockey operations, fills two needs on Eaves' staff, but he's still openly searching to fill the other assistant position. Though there are a few names being bandied about, there doesn't seem to be a clear consensus on who will be tabbed to fill out the coaching staff.

The Badgers open their season on October 9 against Northern Michigan at the Kohl Center.

Update: From the Wisconsin release about Strand's hire:

"I am excited to get a coach of Luke's background to join our staff," Eaves said. "If you look at his resume, in kind of academic terms, he's got his Ph.D. in coaching.

"I say that because I feel like I got the same degree because we both worked for Kevin Constantine [former NHL coach for San Jose, Pittsburgh and New Jersey]. When you work for Kevin, you do thing in the hockey world in terms of stats and details that you never thought were possible. Kevin was doing analytics when it wasn't called analytics, so Luke has that kind of background in terms of hockey."

When asked about his decision to join the Badgers staff, Strand explained, "the opportunity to be at the University of Wisconsin for me is a bucket-list opportunity that in being from the state is impossible to pass up."

Strand will move his office about three miles, from the Alliant Energy Center to the Kohl Center, as he comes to the Badgers after spending the past year as the head coach and general manager of the USHL's Madison Capitols.

"When I asked Luke why he wanted this job, he said it was because of the 'W.' He is a Wisconsin lad," Eaves stated. "He played at UW-Eau Claire, coached at UW-Eau Claire and got his coaching start up at St. Norbert's with Tim Coghlin. He's been in Green Bay. He knows what the `W' is all about. That was an important factor."