One of Derek Laxdal’s favorite things about coaching is seeing his players move on to bigger and better things.
He’s been monitoring young players since beginning his coaching career with the Odessa Jackanapes as a player-coach in 2001. His career has come full circle as he has the Texas Stars on track to make the playoffs for the fifth straight year.
“It’s always nice when a player when he moves to a different team he takes the time to stop by,” Laxdal said. “There are a lot of great moments, but that’s pretty special. It makes me appreciate what I’m doing more.”
Texas has won three straight games and most recently beat the Tucson Roadrunners 6-2 in the most physical game of the year. The Stars had a franchise record 53 minutes in penalties and Tucson had 77 minutes. The combined 130 penalty minutes is the most in team history.
Laxdal’s coaching career began when a coach from his playing days in England let him know about an opportunity in Odessa. It’s a good thing he drove into town at night, because otherwise, he might not have stayed.
“It’s not the prettiest area, but the people were fantastic,” he said. “It was a tough role because I was assistant hockey director doing both scheduling and recruiting. It was quite a task and I didn’t get paid a lot. I sacrificed a lot for my wife and two girls early on.”
He spent three seasons with the Wichita Thunder of the Central Hockey league and made it to the semifinals in back-to-back years. From there he took charge of the Stars’ ECHL affiliate Idaho Steelheads for five seasons.
He returned to his native Canada in 2010 to coach the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League until finding his spot behind the bench with the AHL’s Stars in 2014.
In 13 full seasons as a head coach, Laxdal has never missed the postseason and won the Memorial Cup with the Oil Kings in 2014. The only time he’s missed the postseason period was his first year with Wichita when he took over in the middle of the season.
“When you’re in the ECHL, you’re trying to make the players better,” he said. “If you can kind of plant seeds about work ethic being a good citizen and role model, it’s going to set them up for after hockey. Here in AHL, we’re trying to keep the dream alive. It doesn’t matter if you’re 33 years old or 23, you want to try and sell the same message.”
Karl Taylor has worked with and against Laxdal dating back to his time as coach of the Reading Royals in the ECHL. He’s quick to point out his winning record in head-to-head contests against Laxdal.
“We always had good battles,” Taylor said. “In the ECHL when we were running our own teams. We used each other to scout other teams and we had a working relationship but when the puck dropped we tried to beat each other.”
Laxdal said because of the wealth of experience Taylor has, he’s treated more like a second head coach than an assistant.
The two tossed path when Taylor was coaching the Ontario Reign from 2008-2011 in the ECHL. The two met again when Laxdal’s Oil Kings beat Taylor’s Portland Winterhawks, with whom he was an assistant, in Game 7 of the Memorial Cup Finals.
“He’s straightforward,” Taylor said. “I have to soften him up a bit and make sure he’s not sticking to just the tiny details. We work together on everything. I’ve been a head coach and he knows that and we bounce things off each other.”
The Stars continue the season this weekend, wrapping up a five-game homestead with a pair of games against the Chicago Wolves Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 7 p.m. before hitting the road for a six-game West Coast road trip.
Laxdal’s career as a player spanned nearly two decades and he spent time with the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Islanders in the NHL, scoring 12 goals with seven assists in 67 career NHL games.
His next goal is to make it back to the league, this time behind the bench.
“Everybody wants to coach and play in the NHL,” Laxdal said. “I’ve played there and I’d love to coach there. But you have to do the job where you are. I love the development role and I love being a part of the Texas Stars.”