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Column: Garrett Raboin's personality, past experiences make him a good choice for Augustana

As a player, the former defenseman was a walk-on, an All-WCHA pick and two-year captain.

2022 Frozen Four Wednesday
Minnesota Gophers coached Garrett Raboin (right), Bob Motzko (second from right) and Ben Gordon (third from right) talked on the ice during their team's Wednesday, April 6, 2022 practice before the NCAA Men’s Frozen Four at TD Garden in Boston, Mass.
Jim Rosvold / The Rink Live

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — So you want to start an NCAA Division I men's hockey program from scratch.

Wait, what kind of coach wants to take on a task like that? Garrett Raboin's experiences were part of the reason why he ended up setting himself apart from other applicants for the job at Augustana University, a job he accepted on Monday.

Working with University of Minnesota head coach Bob Motzko for the last 10 years was something that helped his case. Motzko has led St. Cloud State (2013) and the Gophers (2022) to Frozen Four appearances, four conference regular season championships, two conference tournament titles and he has been the head coach for Team USA for the World Junior Championships twice.

Assistant coach Garrett Raboin Gophers mug 19-20.jpg
Garrett Raboin
COURTESY OF UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA ATHLETICS

"You start with the breadth of his experience," Augustana director of athletics Josh Morton said of Raboin. "Given how much he's worked with coach Motzko means a lot and it says something. We had to find somebody who was willing to embrace starting something because it's not for everybody. It's a challenge.

"This is going to be Augustana's hockey team, so it has to look different than North Dakota or St. Cloud State. It has to be ours. We wanted someone who was going to embrace that. Then join that ultimate success with someone who is humble enough to be a good teammate."

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Raboin's ability to take on a challenge has been proven as a coach and as a player. These days, most people who coach in college bring coaching experience from junior hockey with them to their first college coaching job.

Raboin retired after playing two seasons professionally in Finland. His first job coaching came the season after that with St. Cloud State. He spent about the first half of that season being pretty quiet during practices, taking it in and went on recruiting trips with assistant coach Mike Gibbons. The two had many conversations about the recruiting process, what to look for, how to talk to players and parents.

This is going to be Augustana's hockey team, so it has to look different than North Dakota or St. Cloud State. It has to be ours.
Josh Morton, Augustana AD

He grew into a coach on the ice with a voice and proved to be a good recruiter. In his six seasons as an assistant with the Huskies, SCSU went 139-83-15, made five NCAA tournament appearances, won three regular season conference titles and an NCHC playoff title.

Declined a chance to apply at SCSU

When Motzko took the head coaching job at Minnesota, he encouraged Raboin to apply for the SCSU opening. Raboin declined and decided to join Motzko's staff at Minnesota.

"Four years ago, I was needing to develop in terms of seeing a program and a culture shifted," Raboin said. "When I started at St. Cloud State, we made the Frozen Four my first season. I was part of that shift in culture maybe as a player, but not as a coach. I needed to get outside of my comfort zone. I had been at St. Cloud State for an awful long time and that was really my family.
"It was a bigger challenge at the University of Minnesota. I can tell you four years after the fact that I'm so proud of what coach Motzko and his staff — including myself — has achieved. We really feel like after Year 4, that program is in a great place and in an upward trajectory."

Wait, a culture shift at Minnesota? Well, if you don't remember, in 2017-18, the Gophers went 10-12-2 in the Big Ten, 19-17-2 overall, lost in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament and missed the NCAA tournament.

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Those first two seasons was not easy with the Gophers, who went 20-18-10 in the Big Ten, 34-30-11 overall and missed the NCAA tournament twice. The last two seasons, Minnesota the Gophers have gone 34-12-0 in the Big Ten, 50-20-0 overall, won the conference playoff title and reached an NCAA regional championship game in 2021; won the Big Ten regular season conference title, reached the conference championship game and got to the Frozen Four for the first time since 2014.

That's a culture change.

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Former walk-on becomes All-WCHA defenseman, 2-year captain

So let's go back to Morton's comment about embracing a challenge and being a good teammate. A couple of the ultimate tests of those characteristics came for Raboin as a player.

4 30 20 GarrettRaboin2010.jpg
St. Cloud State defenseman Garrett Raboin (7) carries the puck in a game against the University of Minnesota on Jan. 23, 2010, at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis.
Brace Hemmelgarn / Courtesy of St. Cloud State University

After playing at Detroit Lakes High School, Raboin played three seasons of junior hockey in the United States Hockey League for the Lincoln Stars. His first season in juniors, he had 10 points and was a minus-26 in 59 games and the Stars missed the playoffs. He had 16 points and was a plus-5 and helped the Stars reach the playoffs his second season. In 2005-06, he had 29 points, was a plus-22 and the Stars made it to the second round of the playoffs.

And Raboin was getting most of his recruiting interest from Division III programs. Then Motzko, who took over the SCSU head coaching job that season, showed up with an offer. Raboin could walk on for the Huskies.

"He said he didn't have a scholarship (for me), but if I went to work for him and worked hard, he'd take care of me," Raboin said in his statement on Tuesday when he was formally introduced at Augustana. "Safe to say, he lived up to that promise. He's more than a coach and a mentor — he's family — and I can't thank him enough."

Raboin also lived up to his part. He played in 156 college games, he had 83 points (ninth all-time among SCSU defensemen), was named to the All-WCHA team twice and was a two-year captain. His senior year, he helped SCSU win its first NCAA Division I tournament game.

"It's the journey. I just live in the moment," Raboin said. "I have such a fun time at the rink every day and I truly enjoy being around good people and players who are eager to learn, but moreso players who care about the program and the team and want to see everyone realize a greater opportunity."

When Raboin was asked if he was going to miss Motzko, his good sense of humor appeared.

"I'm going to put a picture of him up in my room," Raboin said with a laugh. "He's got to have a Fathead by now."

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Mick Hatten is a reporter and editor for Forum News Service and helps manage TheRinkLive.com, a website dedicated to hockey. He began working for Forum Communications in November 2018 and has covered St. Cloud State University hockey since 2010. A graduate of St. Cloud State, he has more than 30 years of experience as a journalist and has been a youth hockey coach since 2014. mhatten@forumcomm.com
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