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Another milestone for O’Handley

Jim Nelson

WATERLOO, Iowa — Before P.K. O’Handley coached his first game in the United States Hockey League, he had a list of duties to perform.

O’Handley, who graduated from Superior Senior High School in 1985, sold tickets to fans from the North Iowa Huskies’ ticket window. He connected all the beer kegs to the taps, made sure the handful of dasher boards the team had sold were hanging, and he set out the programs.

Then, after all of that, O’Handley got to coach.

“We got smoked 11-1 by Thunder Bay,” O’Handley recalls. “And I remember Dave Siciliano shaking my hand after that drumming.

“It was a tough start because we had nothing. I learned a lot in Mason City. We had some really strong teams my last four years and that was a credit to the players. The players were outstanding. We were small market, smallest.”

O’Handley won 140 games with the Huskies before venturing to the ECHL where he was an assistant coach for the Florida Everblades.

In 2002, then Waterloo Black Hawks owner Butch Johnson lured O’Handley back to Waterloo.

Since then, O’Handley has coached a lot of games in Waterloo and more than 1,000 in his USHL career, most in the USHL. He’s won a Clark Cup and two Anderson Cups and won 459 regular-season games.

On St. Patrick’s Day O’Handley reached another milestone when the Black Hawks defeated the Muskegon Lumberjacks 6-5 at the L.C. Walker Arena in western Michigan.

The decision was the 600th regular season USHL victory for O’Handley, who became the first coach in league history to reach that mark.

While O’Handley doesn’t like to talk about his milestones, he admits he remembers almost every detail of every game he coaches.

“If you ask Maria (O’Handley’s wife) she will tell you I have a memory like an elephant,” smiled O’Handley. “But I could probably tell you within a millimeter of being right or wrong who was on the ice and how that team was built for whatever milestone I was involved with.

“I enjoy being the coach of the Waterloo Black Hawks. The good, the not good and the in between.

“I can’t say one win is more special than the other. I’m just part of the team. I’m just the guy who has been around the longest other than Todd (Black Hawks’ trainer Todd Klein).”

While O’Handley didn’t want to narrow down his favorite games, there are some that get him smiling, laughing and talking.

For instance, all Waterloo Black Hawk fans remember current San Jose Shark star Joe Pavelski leading the Black Hawks to the Clark Cup championship in 2003-04. But many forget, Waterloo was on the outside looking into the playoffs with three games to play.

“I will tell you exactly how that happened. Our guys were loose because we won the night before and I think in a lot of ways we forgot we had to win in Green Bay to get in,” O’Handley recalled. “So I threw a garbage can before we got on the bus that day and then we went to Green Bay and spanked them.”

That victory clinched a playoff spot for Waterloo.

Another memorable game came three seasons later with the Black Hawks on the verge of clinching the Anderson Cup that goes to the regular-season champion. In a battle at Cedar Rapids, Paul Weisgarber had scored to put Waterloo ahead late in the game.

“He prayed the rest of the game,” laughed O’Handley. “It was unbelievable. He scored that goal and the guys are jacked up. The play is going on and Paul is the only guy still sitting on the bench and he is rocking back and forth.

“I yell at him, ‘Hey, Weisy, what are you doing?’ He responds, ‘I’m praying coach.’”

Two seasons ago, O’Handley passed former Omaha head coach Mike Hastings as the all-time wins leader in the USHL with his 530th victory, beating the U.S. 18 squad in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“That was fun. The most interesting thing about that was one of the first people I heard from was Gary Bettman (commissioner of the NHL),” O’Handley said.

O’Handley appreciates milestones, but says none of them would have been achieved if not for his players, assistant coaches, trainers and front-office staff.

Those are the people he would rather talk about.

“You go through so much when you do this as a coach, coaching staff and training staff,” O’Handley said. “You have a responsibility to mold these guys into the best people they can be and the best hockey players they can be at the same time.

“Winning matters. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been about winning, but winning the right way. We try to win the right way and I think we have. The right way to me is with some class and hopefully the players behave and play the game the right way. They play within the rules as much as possible and play hard.

“Sometimes you are more successful than other years. That is the part of me when you start getting to the larger milestones that I care about most. Maybe there is some vindication we have done some things right with a lot of good people.”

Saying that, O’Handley recalls a recent conversation he had with Cedar Rapids head coach Mark Carlson, who just coached his 1,000th USHL game last month, the only other coach in the USHL to do so besides O’Handley.

“I told Mark I have hit a couple of milestones and I never allowed myself to enjoy them,” O’Handley said. “I encouraged him to enjoy it. I’m having a hard time because of the playoff race we are in following my own advice. But hopefully there is a moment that allows that to happen.”

The Black Hawks play three Western Conference opponents for the final time during the regular season this week. Tuesday, Waterloo visits the Des Moines Buccaneers before making their way to Lincoln to face the Stars Friday.  Back on home ice Saturday, the Sioux City Musketeers will be on hand for a tilt with the Hawks at Young Arena.

NOTES: O’Handley was inducted into the Superior High School Academic & Sports Hall of Fame in 2013. … O’Handley lives in the Cedar Valley, Iowa, with his wife, Maria, and yellow lab, Arnie. Their adult son, Zane (Angela) lives in Mason City. The O’Handley’s enjoy spending time with their grandson, Kellen, and granddaughter, Elena. … After completing his playing career as a goaltender at UW-Eau Claire, O’Handley began coaching as an assistant with the Superior Spartans.

— Copyright (c) 2016, Waterloo-Cedar Falls (Iowa) Courier/Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.