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Tony Gasparini excited for the challenge as he returns to lead the Sioux Falls Stampede

More than two decades ago, Bob Motzko hired a goalie just out of college as an assistant coach with a new USHL team. Now the Stampede are one of the most renowned programs in the league, and that former goalie is coming back to run the show.

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Tony Gasparini, right, and his son Mario hold the Stanley Cup in the summer of 2014 in Grand Forks when Gasparini — then a scout for the Los Angeles Kings — got his day with hockey's most famous trophy.
Contributed / Sioux Falls Stampede

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – If you can get Tony Gasparini on the phone these days, even for a few minutes, consider yourself fortunate. With the NHL Draft a month away, this longtime talent evaluator for the Los Angeles Kings has his hands full with his current job. And when the draft concludes, Gasparini’s hands will be even more full with his next job.

Starting in July, Gasparini will return full time to his roots in the hockey world, as the new vice president of hockey operations and general manager of the USHL’s Sioux Falls Stampede.

“Tony is widely regarded as a top hockey mind and his ability to build teams and evaluate, recruit and develop elite hockey players from all over the globe is second to none,” said Stampede managing partner Brian Schoenborn, in a statement released by the team. “With our incredible fans, corporate partners, facilities and community, our goal of being the top athlete development franchise in the world is within our grasp. Tony will be instrumental in getting us there.”

Gasparini, 47, is originally from Grand Forks and played 15 games in goal during his college career at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Not long after hanging up the pads, he was hired as an assistant coach for the Stampede under Bob Motzko in 1999.

“That’s one of the big-time programs in all of North America, and they couldn’t be putting in the hands of anybody better in this business,” said Motzko, now entering his fifth season as head coach of the Minnesota Gophers. “I knew he was a go-getter and I was impressed by him. I didn’t know he was that good, that quick. I didn’t realize he had that kind of talent. He is a bulldog recruiter and evaluator, and he’s got one of the best eyes for talent in the business.”

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After two seasons as Motzko’s assistant and two more as the head coach of the Stampede, Gasparini went the college route, as an assistant coach at Union under Nate Leaman, then was hired by the Kings in 2005. He quickly earned a reputation as one of the best talent scouts in North America and became the first North Dakotan to have his name inscribed on the Stanley Cup,when Los Angeles won hockey’s top trophy in 2012 and again in 2014.

Gasparini said he was not out there looking for a new job, but the idea of taking over the Stampede was certainly a homecoming of sorts.

“Being that it was Sioux Falls and it’s a place that I hold close to my heart because this is where I got my start, it kind of turned into something that became very attractive,” Gasparini said. “It kind of surprised me how excited I was to look at a new challenge.”

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Family foundation

The son of legendary college hockey coach John “Gino” Gasparini, who led North Dakota to a trio of NCAA championships in the 1980s, Tony said he learned much of his love for the game at home, and while working for Motzko.

“I was pretty fortunate that I grew up in a hockey environment and consider my dad one of the smartest hockey people that I’ve ever been around,” Tony said. “And to have Bob as a close friend, I can’t not use those resources when I’m confronted with problems and confronted with questions, which are always going to happen.”

Gasparini joins the Stampede at a time when the hockey hype in South Dakota is at a fever pitch. The USHL team has had a loyal following for years, and we are roughly 15 months away from Division I college hockey coming to the market as well with Augustana coming on line as members of the CCHA under head coach Garrett Raboin.

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In his first 29 games in the USHL, Sioux Falls Stampede defenseman Cole Miller had a goal and six assists. He committed to play college hockey at St. Thomas on Feb. 1, 2022 and plans to be on campus in the fall of 2023.
Adam Thury / Sioux Falls Stampede

The Stampede have missed the playoffs the past two seasons under head coach Marty Murray, who came to the USHL after a successful run with the Minot (N.D) Minotauros in the NAHL. Gasparini is in the process of gathering information and evaluating what is working and where changes may be needed in Sioux Falls.

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“We know there are going to be changes to the day-to-day operation because of some of the things I want to implement here but as I’m gathering information, we’ll find out how much change is actually needed,” he said. “Marty’s record with Minot speaks for itself. He did a wonderful job there. Unfortunately the transition hasn’t been with the same level of ease as he had in Minot, but we’ll see what we can do together and if it’s going to work together.”

Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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