P.K. O’Handley announced Tuesday he will begin his 20th season with the Waterloo Black Hawks organization by turning full attention toward serving as the team’s President of Hockey Operations while transitioning out of an active coaching role.
“I have said many times that the purpose of the USHL is development, and that applies to coaches, referees, team executives and professional staff, and obviously the players. Today’s announcement represents an opportunity for me to take my own step forward,” O’Handley said, adding, “I would like to take a moment to recognize my wife, Maria, because many of the things that come with coaching elite level teams can’t often be put aside when you walk out the rink doors. Her love and support have been my foundation for the 19 years we have been here and long before that.
“From a coaching standpoint, I was fortunate to learn so much when I joined the North Iowa Huskies in 1991, and then to have the tools to build a winner in Waterloo beginning in 2002. I am looking forward to finding and mentoring a new head coach who will continue to provide the high quality of development and consistent results which have become the respective expectations of Black Hawks players and fans.”
The Black Hawks have already started the process of screening candidates for the head coaching vacancy. O’Handley and team management hope to announce a new hire by early August. Inquiries related to the position will only be answered through email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We owe it to our players to get the best possible candidate and to bring him here swiftly,” said O’Handley. “On the subject of players, it is very important to me to thank them – both present and past – because they are what this job has been about, and I am very proud of the successes they have achieved in hockey…even more for what they have achieved as people.”
Forward Joe Pavelski is the player most widely associated with O’Handley’s coaching efforts in Waterloo. Before becoming a fixture in the National Hockey League – as well as representing the United States in the 2010 and 2014 Olympics – Pavelski was a Black Hawk from 2002 to 2004, O’Handley’s first seasons with the organization. In 2002/03, Waterloo won a then-organizational record 38 games and the USHL Eastern Division title. That summer, Pavelski was selected by the San Jose Sharks during the NHL Draft, becoming the first of more than four dozen NHL picks to skate for O’Handley’s Black Hawks.
A season later, Waterloo scrambled from the depths of the USHL standings into the last Clark Cup playoff spot. After defeating the Eastern Division-winning Chicago Steel in a five-game series, then sweeping the Danville Wings, the underdog Hawks met the 2003/04 regular season champion Tri-City Storm. Waterloo won Game One and Game Two on the road before clinching the Clark Cup in Game Four with a 2-1 home ice victory on May 5th. It was the first league title of any kind for the Black Hawks in 25 years. Waterloo’s nine victories during the 2004 postseason are among the 63 O’Handley would win while leading the Hawks to the playoffs 15 times.
At the end of the 2004/05 hockey season, Waterloo alumnus Andrew Thomas was a member of the NCAA Champion Denver Pioneers, less than 12 months after raising the Clark Cup. Twenty-four additional players who have been on O’Handley’s lineup card have won Division I college titles in the 16 years since. Meanwhile at Young Arena that season, continued enthusiasm about the Black Hawks organization’s resurgence under O’Handley helped the club win the second of three USHL Organization of the Year awards.
“There are many people who have made important contributions from an organizational standpoint,” said O’Handley. “The Black Hawks and I have been exceptionally blessed to have men and women in the front office who have worked extremely hard on necessary things that make the team go and make the games great for fans.
“From the standpoint of hockey operations, [Trainer] Todd Klein was here when I arrived and is the best at what he does. [Strength Coach/Equipment Manager] Spenser Popinga is multitalented, and his commitment to excellence is second-to-none. [General Manager/Associate Head Coach] Shane Fukushima deserves recognition for his assistance over 15 years with the Black Hawks. [Senior Advisor] Mike Brown and [Radio Announcer] Tim Harwood each bring thoughtful perspective and a ‘big picture’ view of hockey in Waterloo. We’ve all spent about a million miles on the bus together, and under those circumstances, you really come to appreciate what level of personal and professional investment has been put into this organization. There are many other assistant coaches and staff members who have been part of the team since 2002, and any recognition I have been given is a reflection on their hard work.”
Individually, O’Handley would earn his second USHL Coach of the Year honor in 2006/07 as the Hawks claimed their first junior era Anderson Cup. Posting the league’s best record, Waterloo set a new club mark for wins (39). Over his 19 seasons, O’Handley was named Coach of the Year four times (2002/03, 2006/07, 2013/14, and 2017/18) and General Manager of the Year in three seasons (2002/03, 2011/12, and 2017/18). The 2006/07 campaign also culminated in Waterloo’s second of five appearances in the Clark Cup Final (2004, 2007, 2008, 2012, and 2014).
Three months after reaching the 2012 championship round, the Hawks set out on one of the organization’s most audacious enterprises, traveling to Siberia for the Junior Club World Cup. Entering the competition which featured teams from ten countries, Waterloo claimed the silver medal. No American entry ever finished better at the event. Although the Junior Club World Cup was a rare opportunity to bring his entire team on a transnational trip, it was far from O’Handley’s only experience at an IIHF-sanctioned competition. In 2009, he had served as an assistant for the U.S. National Junior Team. O’Handley also led U.S. Junior Select Teams on several occasions, including at the 2003 and 2005 Viking Cup competitions and during the World Junior A Challenge in 2007, 2010, and 2017.
Arguably Waterloo’s most talented team under O’Handley took the ice in 2013/14. Black Hawks fans cheered the club to a 44-11-5 record which included a 16-game winning streak spanning more than a quarter of that season. The Hawks were unbeaten in regulation over 23 games from November 23rd through February 8th. Waterloo’s 2013/14 roster included five players who have reached the NHL so far: Brandon Montour, Zach Sanford, Cal Petersen, Patrick Russell, and Mark Friedman.
On January 18, 2014, the Black Hawks edged USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program Under 18s by a 2-1 score in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The victory was O’Handley’s 390th regular season win since coming to Waterloo. Coupled with 140 victories over seven seasons with the North Iowa Huskies, his career total of 530 surpassed former Omaha Lancers coach Mike Hastings for a new USHL record. O’Handley continued to break new ground, reaching the 600-win threshold on St. Patrick’s Day in 2016 with a dramatic 6-5 result against the Muskegon Lumberjacks. Less than three years later, the count climbed to 700 with a 5-3 win over the Madison Capitols on December 15, 2018. O’Handley’s regular season victory total now stands at 778, including 638 for Waterloo.
“On game night, all of the league’s coaches are focused on winning; when it comes to general managers, it’s always about improving their teams. The intensity of competition season after season has challenged me, and made me better, and I hope they would say the same things about coaching against me over the years. I’m proud to say that so many of those men have become good friends outside the two-and-a-half hours on game night,” O’Handley said.
Along with his counterparts, O’Handley took a formal role on multiple occasions in charting the league’s competitive direction. He was a founding member of the USHL’s Competition Committee and also previously served as chair of the league’s General Managers’ Committee.
The Black Hawks earned the third Anderson Cup of O’Handley’s career with a 38-14-8 record in 2017/18. The team featured 2018 NHL second round draft pick Jack Drury (Carolina Hurricanes). Drury is one of seven Waterloo skaters selected in either the first or second round since 2013. The group also includes Ian McCoshen (2nd, Florida Panthers, 2013), Montour (2nd, Anaheim Ducks, 2014), Brock Boeser (1st, Vancouver Canucks, 2014), Shane Bowers (1st, Ottawa Senators, 2017), Dylan Samberg (2nd, Winnipeg Jets, 2017), and Vladislav Firstov (2nd, Minnesota Wild, 2019). So far, 21 Black Hawks alumni who have skated for O’Handley have made their NHL debuts, with 13 members of that group appearing at least once during the most recent NHL regular season.
“During my years on the bench, the Black Hawks have consistently taken the ice with the highest caliber of hockey talent from throughout North America and beyond,” O’Handley noted. “We will continue to be a destination for players who aspire to make their mark on college and professional hockey, but most importantly, we are committed to finding young men of strong character. I believe that combination of talent and character is bound to bring us on-ice success and athletes who our fans will find it natural to cheer for.”
In between USHL coaching stints in North Iowa and Waterloo, O’Handley spent four seasons as an assistant coach for the Florida Everblades of the ECHL. He played college hockey at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where he also first entered the coaching profession.
“Coaching has been part of my entire adult life,” O’Handley reflected. “I would like to thank the many, many, many people I have learned from, worked with, and who have helped me to this point. Most of all, I would again like to thank all the players I have had the privilege to coach. I look forward to watching this coming season as new Black Hawks continue to build on the solid foundation that has been established here in Waterloo.”
The Black Hawks begin the 2021/22 campaign on September 23 against the Green Bay Gamblers during the USHL Fall Classic.