Dean Talafous has always had a coach’s mind.
Growing up in Hastings, Minnesota, he watched older players on outdoor ponds along with the Minnesota North Stars not just out of fandom, but also to learn from them.
He mimicked their every move, teaching himself how to not only become a better player, but how to help his team become better in the process.
“I always tried to just teach and coach myself,” Talafous recalled. “Coaching was just kind of innate in me I think.”
Following a seven-year NHL career that included stints with the Atlanta Flames, North Stars and New York Rangers, Talafous put that secondary sense to use, first at D-III University of Wisconsin-River Falls (seven seasons) followed by Division I Alaska-Anchorage (five seasons) before embarking on a high school coaching career in Hudson, Wisconsin.
Learning from the best
“I was fortunate to have these three coaches coach me: Herb Brooks, Fred Shero and Bob Johnson,” Talafous said. “Three Hall of Fame coaches who were all really big on development and skills. They were all great teachers and great examples that I got to play my career under.
“Some players, they go and just play and don’t really pay attention to the coaches as much as I did. I was so intrigued how they each taught the skills and they always had a way to teach us players not only on-ice aspects of the game, but the community aspects of playing and representing your team. I was all in on all of those things. It made me a better player, sure, but it really was prepping me to be a coach.”
Talafous spent his final professional season with Brooks in New York. Deciding to retire after that season, Brooks made a call to the University of Minnesota on Talafous’ behalf, urging them to consider hiring the player with a coach’s sense.
“I was out of hockey and didn’t know what I was going to be doing,” Talafous said. “So when I got the call, I was thrilled to start as an assistant coach at the University of Minnesota. That’s when I really just fell in love with coaching.”
By the (note)book
Talafous signed his first professional contract with Atlanta following his junior season at the University of Wisconsin after capturing the 1973 NCAA championship.
He returned to Madison to complete his degree in education at the age of 30.
“I took two notebooks to my classes—one for the grade in the class, and the other to figure out how this applies to being a better coach,” said Talafous. “How could I teach them to be better players and bring them together the same way we work toward improving them as students.”
Talafous was a guy constantly armed with notebooks to aid in his coaching endeavors.
“My first head coaching job we were losing horribly,” he recalled. “When I went to the (AHCA) coaches convention in Florida, I picked out the six winningest coaches in college hockey and I asked them all the questions and filled five notebooks full. When I went back years later after a national championship (in 1994 with River Falls)…I thanked them and they had no idea why. I laughed and said because before I had talked to you guys I had won two games and then I talk to you guys and win a national championship.”
Talafous admits he still has the notebooks. He retired from coaching for about two years before he was making “myself and my wife miserable” and he missed hockey too much. He has been with the Hudson High School varsity team for the past four seasons, making four consecutive state tournament appearances complete with back-to-back titles in 2017 and 2018.
“Coaching is just something I love to do,” he said. “I never looked at it as work. It’s just something I wanted to get better at every day and pass that on to players. I’m thankful that I’m still asked to be on the ice.”
Being an alum is ‘being part of a family’
Coaching has provided Talafous with ample opportunities to stay in touch with former coaches, teammates, officials and anyone one in the hockey community he has had the fortune to cross paths with. The Minnesota NHL Alumni outings and meetings have provided another source of connecting and networking for Talafous as well.
“You’re never really totally out of touch with players you played with,” said Talafous, who also owned and operated Total Hockey Training before handing the reigns off to his son, Pete, in 2011. “I can go anywhere and if there’s an NHL guy that I didn’t talk to, or maybe I didn’t even like when I played against him, if I see him poolside, it’s like we’re best friends.”
Talafous retells the story of getting a call from Dennis Potvin to help him open up a Total Hockey Training center.
“It was like we were best friends, and he was my hero,” Talafous said with a chuckle.
“Whether it’s players you coached or players you played with, hockey is a small world,” he continued. “Everyone walks into an arena and you somehow know them in one way or another. It’s really nice to stay connected like that and just be a part of the big hockey family.”