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Gift from the hockey gods: How Kale Dolinski made his way to the desert

Greg Powers is ASU's head coach and recruiting coordinator. But it wasn't recruiting that brought in the best player in ASU history.

Kale Dolinski skates onto the ice in his final trip with the pitchfork on his sweater: the 2014 national championships.
Kale Dolinski skates onto the ice in his final trip with the pitchfork on his sweater: the 2014 national championships.
Michelle Hekle/Hekle Photo Images

Greg Powers was sitting in his office at Hannah-Shea Consulting in 2008 when his phone buzzed. His old friend Jeremy Goltz texted him, asking him to help coach the Arizona State hockey team.

The idea intrigued Powers. He was a star goalie for the Sun Devils from 1995-99 and the poor end to his playing career left a bad taste in his mouth. He accepted.

But the first year under Goltz did not go as smoothly as the two had hoped.

"We were absolutely horrible," Powers said.

Goltz and Powers had ideological differences on how the team should be built. Goltz believed the team should be constructed with players who want to come out and be part of a team. As the team got better, he reasoned, more players would come to ASU to play hockey.

Powers wanted to recruit.

"He says this all the time, it's more of a reload league," Goltz said. "Go out and reload every year, go out and get guns, go out and get this top talent rather than foster the in-house talent."

Recruiting, after all, was in Powers' DNA.

asu hockey powers

Greg Powers has been key in building an ASU hockey power (Courtney Pedroza/House of Sparky).

Powers started his own executive recruiting firm, Hannah-Shea Consulting, in which he helps companies fill holes at the highest levels. Companies are his clients, and he finds executives for them. He is a recruiter for businesses.

Which makes him a good recruiter for a hockey team. If he can convince a high-ranking worker to leave his or her position to join another company, he can convince a college-age athlete to come play hockey in Arizona.

"I call him silvertongue," Goltz said.

Following the 2009-10 season, with only two years at the helm, Goltz resigned to focus on his youth hockey league, Mission AZ Ice, which he started in 2006.

Goltz's departure left the Sun Devils without a head coach, but a silver-tongued assistant in whom the players had full trust. At the time, the players were part of the vote to have head coaches hired and Powers came two votes shy of a unanimous selection.

Greg Powers was named head coach in 2010.

"That's when the magic happened," said team general manager Ken Lind. "Greg is the driver, Greg is the magic."

His recruiting acumen helped build ASU into the ACHA power it is today. Even as assistant, he saw the value in that, and became ASU's de facto recruiting coordinator. Powers recruited an influx of talent including Lee Stone and Declan Lau and one transfer, Joe Schweiger from Eastern Michigan University.

They were the core that began the turnaround for ASU hockey. In Powers' first year as head coach, the team scaled as high as the No. 8 national ranking and went to the national tournament. It has made the tournament in every season since, winning it all last season.

But sometimes Powers hasn't needed to recruit. His reputation at ASU spread, leading to him receiving a "gift from the hockey gods" in the form of the best player to ever strap on skates at ASU: an email from Kale Dolinski.

"When I made the team, and he had his one-on-one meetings, he said, ‘I promise you Kale, if you stay here, you will win a national title.' " - Kale Dolinski

Dolinski started his ACHA career in 2010-11 with Minot State University, and made an immediate impact in the league. He won the ACHA Rookie of the Year when he scored 33 goals and dished out 44 assists. The 77 points would stand throughout his career as a personal best. Minot State made a trip down to Arizona where he played both ASU and Arizona that season, and against the Sun Devils Dolinski recorded four goals and an assist in only two games. Powers would remember him.

Dolinski originally chose to go to school in Minot, N.D., but it never felt comfortable to him. He is originally from Regina, Saskatchewan, a city less than 250 miles from Minot and with a population just under a quarter-million people, according to a 2014 report from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Minot is much smaller than his home, and he said he didn't love the small-town feel of it.

"I think I was a bit lost," he said.

He was mulling a scholarship offer from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, but ultimately chose Minot State.

"I definitely felt ostracized from the team in Montreal, then when I went to Minot, honestly the guys were great," he said.

But he only lasted a year in Minot before it got to be too much for him.

"I would see the same people on the same walk every single day of my life," he said. "And there's nothing wrong with that, but I feel like I need a bigger city. I was used to living in Regina, and didn't even think that was big. I kind of wanted to go somewhere where I didn't know anyone.

"So when I played Arizona State and Tucson, it was like holy (expletive), this is pretty cool," he said. "I loved the cactus, the weather, you can go golfing anytime you wanted to. I was going through some personal stuff and I just wasn't happy (at Minot State)."

asu hockey dolinski

From Minot State to ASU, Dolinski is one of the best players in ACHA history (Michelle Hekle/Hekle Photo Images).

Dolinski also had a teammate at Minot State that pushed him toward Tempe. Lee Stone was a Powers recruit who played for the Sun Devils in 2009-10 when Powers was an assistant coach, and transferred to Minot State for personal reasons after the season.

When Stone decided it was no longer feasible to attend ASU, Powers helped him find a new school to play.

"One of the reasons I have as much respect for Powers as I do is that he went above and beyond to help me find a few different options that financially could fit what I wanted to do," Stone said. "He could have just said ‘Hey, thanks for coming,' and kind of closed the door, but he put in a lot of work to make sure I had somewhere to play that was going to work for me, and I kind of owe him the world for that."

To this day, Stone is a hockey coach in British Columbia, and also works as an area scout for ASU.

But Stone first started repaying Powers when Dolinski told him he was considering leaving Minot State. Stone downplays his involvement in Dolinski's transfer, but Powers and Dolinski both claimed he was a big reason Dolinski went to ASU.

Dolinski and Stone were not only teammates, but roommates and good friends in Minot. At the time, Dolinski did not know ASU even had a hockey team, but Stone spoke very highly of the team, the school, and especially Powers, and the respect he had for him.

"I think that's a big catch for a hockey player, to go to a program with a coach that actually cares," Stone said. "Not just about winning and losing, which obviously is a big piece of the puzzle, but cares about you as a person. When I talked to Kale, I made that pretty clear to him.

"If I had to pinpoint one thing, I think that was kind of the selling point on him making the move," Stone said. "I may have opened the door ... but I think Coach Powers, and the respect that he showed, kind of sealed the deal."

So Dolinski decided to transfer. He enrolled at ASU, and emailed Powers letting him know that he was coming to Tempe, regardless of whether or not he got to play hockey. Education was the priority to him, and he wanted to be somewhere that he was comfortable.

"He just embodies perfection. You can't replace a kid like that, it just doesn't happen." - Greg Powers

Powers said when he received the email from Dolinski, what he called "one of the most influential emails in the history of the program," he immediately sent an email to the ACHA commissioner to make sure Dolinski's transfer was within the league rules.

"I wanted to pick up the phone and call (Dolinski) and start engaging, but I can't," Powers said.

As soon as he heard back, he reached out to Dolinski and told him to make sure he communicated with coaches at Minot State about his decision to leave. After he did that, Powers told Dolinski he could come to tryouts. But Powers had already pencilled him into the top line: A player of Dolinski's caliber had nothing to prove at tryouts.

Minot State players and coaches did not exactly take his departure easily. Dolinski said his former coach at Minot State, Wade Reiger, still does not talk to him, even in the handshake line following ASU-Minot State games.

"I took a lot of abuse," Dolinski said. "I got called a traitor and things like that."

Dolinski said when Minot State played ASU after his transfer, players on the Minot State team who played with him said he was a cocky player and talked him down to the current Minot State players.

Then came the 2012-13 season, which was up to that point ASU's best season ever, when it was eliminated in the semifinals of the national championship to Lindenwood. The national champions that year? Dolinski's old Minot State Beavers.

"It stung," Dolinski said. "You got guys like Wade, the head coach at Minot, just looking at me, almost like ‘this is your grave and you dug it.'"

Dolinski said he didn't hold animosity toward all his former teammates. He mentioned Cam McGeough and Wyatt Waselenchuk, a goaltending rival of ASU's, as players for whom he was happy. He grew up with McGeough and still has Waselenchuk over for dinner on occasion.

It was the second time Dolinski watched a team he could have been a part of win a national title. The McGill Redmen also won the 2012 Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS, the Canadian equivalent of the NCAA) University Cup national championship.

"Everyone is winning these rings, right? I'm just like, God, I want a ring," he said.

He finally did get one in 2014 when the Sun Devils won their first national title. He also got a touch of revenge along the way. In the quarterfinals, Dolinski's Sun Devils beat Waselenchuk and McGeough's Beavers 4-0.

asu hockey dolinski

Kale Dolinski celebrates a goal against the University of Arizona, Jan 27, 2012, one of his 55 points against the Wildcats in his career. (Michelle Hekle/Hekle Photo Images)

Dolinski still thinks about that run in 2014, where his team went 38-2 and captured the national title. He is thrilled it happened, but if he were to take Powers' words from three years earlier as prophecy, he wouldn't have been surprised.

"I swear to God (Powers) said this. When I made the team, and he had his one-on-one meetings, he said, ‘I promise you Kale, if you stay here, you will win a national title.' "

And he did in 2014, finally getting the monkey off his back.

Powers also promised him he would win Player of the Year, which he also did in that 2013-14 season.

Dolinski finished his career as the best Sun Devil hockey player ever, both statistically and in the mind of those who knew him best.

Powers: "He just embodies perfection. You can't replace a kid like that, it just doesn't happen."

Stone: "I don't think I've seen a player in the entire league that was as good as Kale was. ... When you talk about a complete player, and a player you want on your team, Kale Dolinski is about as close as you can possibly get to a perfect player."

Lind: "Kale Dolinski is the single greatest hockey player in the history of ASU."

The stats back up their claims. He spent four years in the league (three with ASU), and lit the lamp 107 times and added 146 assists for 253 points in his career. An average season for Dolinski was nearly 27 goals, 37 assists and just over 63 points.

As an added bonus for ASU fans, Dolinski brought his next game to another level against rival Arizona. In 24 games against the Wildcats between his Minot State and ASU days, he tallied an eye-popping 55 points.

And following the 2015-16 season, the first season he is eligible, it would surprise no one to see Kale Dolinski enshrined in the ACHA Hall of Fame.

Powers has done a lot of significant things as the recruiting maven for ASU. He brought in Colin Hekle, Danny McAuliffe, Jordan Young, Ryan Ostertag, Robert Levin and nearly everyone who helped the Sun Devils lift the Murdoch Cup in 2014.

But he didn't recruit Dolinski. Call it good karma, call it luck.

Whatever you call it, it was the best recruiting move Powers never had to make.

asu hockey dolinski

The No. 17 will always hold a special place for Sun Devil fans who saw Kale Dolinski play (Michelle Hekle/Hekle Photo Images).