With less than two months before the puck drops in the 2011-2012 Minnesota high school hockey season, two-time defending Section 1AA champions have yet to officially name a coach for the upcoming season and the position appears to be in limbo.
Longtime Panther hockey coach Randy Schmitz was let go from his coaching position for unspecified reasons in August. Schmitz was also the coach for softball at Lakeville North and the district is actively pursuing a replacement for that position as well.
Numerous hockey-associated websites list Rosemount’s Trent Eigner as being hired for the job, but as of this report, his contract has not been approved by the School Board, and bumps in the hiring process may be getting bumpier.
After a brief statement about the district’s coaching renewal policy at the board’s Sept. 27 meeting, the board pulled approval of the winter coaching positions from the agenda and tabled the issue for further discussion without stating a reason.
A special closed meeting was held by the School Board on Tuesday, Oct. 4 concerning Eigner’s potential employment. It has not yet been confirmed what issues may surround Eigner’s hiring, but the process is also being delayed by a grievance filed by Schmitz. Schmitz is expected appear before the board at another closed session on Tuesday, Oct. 11 to dispute his firing.
“My understanding is that the situation has more to do with the past coaching staff and whether the process took place correctly or not,” said Eigner with regard to the hiring delay. “I have to proceed as if I’m the coach, and that’s what I’ve done.”
When asked about reports his hiring might be in question, Eigner said “I’m not privy to those meetings” and said those questions would better be directed to school administration.
Lakeville North Activities Director Robert Ertl said the issue was an internal matter and declined to comment on any issues surrounding the coaching position.
Eigner, whose resume includes playing for Rosemount High School from 1984-1988, Miami (Ohio) University and a six-year professional minor league career, was recently hired by Rosemount as the co-head coach for their varsity girls’ hockey squad. Eigner was also the head coach of the El Paso Buzzards of the Central Hockey League from 2000-2002.
Eigner, a father of five sons, opened The Pond ice skating rink in Rosemount in 2008 and has been involved in coaching and instruction of youth at that facility since then as well.
“Obviously with five sons of my own I’ve always aspired to coach on the boys’ side,” said Eigner of his jumping at the Lakeville North opportunity so soon after his Rosemount hiring for the girls’ team. “Logistically the opportunity was going to have to come south of the river, so when the Lakeville position opened up I was thrilled at opportunity.”
Eigner said he has assembled a staff that includes former Minnesota Gopher hockey standout and San Jose Shark Ryan Kraft, as well as former University of North Dakota and Carolina Hurricane player Brad DeFauw.
But whether Eigner and his seemingly talented staff will ultimately get the chance to step on the ice with the Panthers is still uncertain.
“I don’t know,” said Eigner. “I know it has been their (school administration) intention of going through with the hiring process.”
The Panthers finished last year with a record of 13-14-1 but beat to earn their second straight berth in the state tournament. The Panthers ultimately won the .
Schmitz and longtime assistant coach Paul Rutt were both named Section 1AA Coaches of the Year for the second consecutive time last year by the Minnesota Hockey Coaches Association. Eigner’s apparent hiring of his own staff means Rutt will also not be back with the team.
Lakeville Patch will have more on this story as details become available.