P.K. O’Handley was facing the painful prospect of an early end to his hockey days when concussions disrupted his college career as a goalie at Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
O’Handley instead found a solution that greatly extended the amount of time he would spend in the sport.
UW-Eau Claire coach Mike Eaves and his successor, Troy Ward, gave O’Handley a chance to get involved in coaching. More than a quarter century later, there is no end in sight after O’Handley became the first man to serve in 1,000 games as a United States Hockey League head coach.
“Those guys gave me an opportunity to start coaching,” said O’Handley, the coach of the Waterloo Black Hawks. “I had a passion for this game all my life and the thought of stopping was real at the time.
PK OHandley“I got the opportunity to stay in it and start coaching and I got that bug. I still have that bug today.”
That is clear.
While racking up milestones that emphasize the length of his career, O’Handley shares a passion with the junior hockey players whose careers he is helping launch.
“One of the attractive things for me is that I’ve always wanted an opportunity to coach in the NHL,” O’Handley said. “Whether I do remains to be seen, but the beautiful thing about the USHL is that even though it is a league for amateurs, it is run like a professional league.”
O’Handley reached his 1,000th game in the league on March 9 with a 4-3 shootout win over the Dubuque Fighting Saints. It was the team’s 30th win of the season, marking the eighth time in O’Handley’s 11 seasons with the Black Hawks that they have reached that level.
Another milestone is right around the corner. O’Handley is 494-434-72 in the USHL, including 354-247-51 at Waterloo, moving him within range of joining Mike Hastings, Dave Siciliano and Bob Ferguson as the only coaches to win 500 career USHL games. Hastings holds the record with 529.
O’Handley said he has received help at home in remaining dedicated to the demands of his profession.
“My wife Maria has been with me from the start,” O’Handley said. “She’s my ultimate supporter and, in a lot of ways, my coach.
“The highs and lows of hockey are just that — way high and way low — sometimes. You need someone solid in the background, and I have her. She’s got it figured out. She understands the job and she understands the sport.”
The sport has taken O’Handley around the world. After starting in the USHL with the North Iowa Huskies, O’Handley left to serve as an assistant coach on the professional level with the ECHL’s Florida Everblades, helping the team to the league’s regular season title in 1999-2000.
The two-time USHL General Manager of the Year and two-time Coach of the Year returned to the league in 2002 with Waterloo.
Along the way, he has also been heavily involved with USA Hockey. He was part of medal-winning efforts in four international events before serving on the U.S. coaching staff for the 2009 World Junior Championships and then winning gold in November 2010 as the head coach of the U.S. Junior Select team at the World Junior A Challenge.
“Those two really stand out,” O’Handley said. “ ... To play in the World Junior Championships and be a part of it in Canada, playing Canada on New Year’s Eve was special.”
O’Handley has no intention of reducing his commitments to the game.
“I’m thinking it’s going to slow down a little bit, but it never does and that’s good,” he said. “We’ve gone year-round with whenever our season ends, our draft, and then tryout camp and it starts again.”
There is a simple explanation for his ability to manage that routine year after year.
“I loved the game, and I’ve been around it all my life,” O’Handley said. “I can’t even imagine, even after 1,000 games in this league, doing anything else.
“I’ve enjoyed it. There’s nothing else I’d want to do.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Head coach North Iowa Huskies 1991-98 with a 140-187-21 record.
Head coach of Waterloo Black Hawks 2002-present with a 354-247-51 record.
Anderson Cup as USHL regular-season champion 2006-2007.
Clark Cup as USHL playoff champion 2003-04.
USHL Coach of the Year 2002-03 and 2006-07.
USHL General Manager of the Year 2002-03 and 2011-12.
Coached the last two NCAA Frozen Four MVPs — Parker Milner of Boston College and J.T. Brown of University of Minnesota-Duluth — at Waterloo.
Coached current NHL players Joe Pavelski of the San Jose Sharks and Craig Smith of the Nashville Predators.
Took Waterloo team to Russia for Junior Club World Cup in August 2012. Team earned silver medal.
Head coach for gold medal 2010 World Junior A Challenge.
Assistant in 2009 World Junior Championships.
Played goaltender at Wisconsin-Eau Claire before becoming an assistant coach there.
Assistant coach with ECHL’s Florida Everblades.
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