ruff hakstol feature

The pride of Warburg

Raised on the farms and outdoor rinks of small-town Alberta, Dave Hakstol and Lindy Ruff are getting a rare chance to reconnect in Slovakia

Quinton Amundson
May 16, 2019

Warburg, Alta., is pulsating with enthusiasm.

It was already an incredible feather in the cap of the village of just over 775 people to have two native Warburgers – Lindy Ruff and Dave Hakstol – among the NHL head coaching ranks at the same time.

But now the two men have united to help steer Canada’s National Men’s Team at the 2019 IIHF World Championship.

“To have them on the same coaching staff is out of this world,” says Lindy’s father Leeston Ruff, a longtime Warburg resident. “Lots of times bigger centres like Leduc or Edmonton don’t have two [residents] on the same staff. Everyone in town so excited and proud.”

Hakstol, 50, and Ruff, 59, are basking in this experience of working together on the bench, and bonding over their shared hometown away from the rink.

“Things come back to you such as the arena, the curling rink and the different things that make up the personality of our town,” says Hakstol. “We have had some good laughs about the memories we made there. It’s been great.”

While the two coaches have recently established a relationship, their parents have been friends for decades.

Farming is a tie that binds the Ruff and Hakstol families together: Leeston would sometimes help Ed – who passed away in 2005 – and Theresa at harvest time, and Leeston and Ed once took a road trip together to attend a farming expo.

Theresa says the farming lifestyle taught him lessons that have helped her son as a coach to this day.

“He learned teamwork when he was very young. All of us – him, his dad, brother, sister and me – worked together as a team to get work done from silaging and working with the cattle.”

Leeston is sure the two of them have conversed how farming taught them the value of hard work.

“I am sure they are talking about handling bale, picking roots and picking rocks. This is where the working hard comes in, and I am sure they are grateful for that,” says Leeston with a laugh.

Ruff indeed appreciates that being the son of farmers taught him the value of hard work. He also cherishes Leeston and his mom, Shirley, for ensuring that he and his three brothers were afforded the time to enjoy playing baseball and hockey – even if long commutes were required.

“At one point Warburg was too small that there weren’t any hockey teams,” he says. “My older brother, Randy, played in Leduc and I played in Drayton Valley. One parent had to drive 35 miles to Leduc, and the other parent had to drive 35 miles to Drayton Valley. You can imagine the travel just to get us to practice and games. It says a lot about what they wanted us to experience.”

Hockey – of course – unites two families as well in more ways than one.

While the coaches did not really cross paths in Warburg due to the eight-year age difference between the two, Ruff was on Hakstol’s radar from a very young age.

“He was a guy that everyone in the community looked up to in terms of wanting to follow that pathway and become a hockey player,” says Hakstol.

The more immediate hockey connection between the two families was that Hakstol was a teammate of Ruff’s younger brother Brent, who passed away in the Swift Current Broncos bus crash in 1986. The coaches discussed playing the game, Leeston driving them both to tournaments and school and Hakstol and Brent Ruff playing the game in the local Warburg Arena.

Ruff and his family played a central role in the establishment of the Warburg Arena in the early 1970s. Before that, he had played pretty much exclusively on outdoor rinks in Warburg, and in neighbouring communities like Winfield and Breton.

“To raise the money for the roof over the rink in Warburg, we walked in a lot of walkathons. In the summer we would walk over 20 miles, and we would have people sponsoring each of us 10 cents a mile.”

He visits the arena sometimes when he comes home to Warburg. He also likes to visit the curling rink in town as well; several years ago, he booked the rink so that he and the other members of the Dallas Stars coaching staff could have a fun little bonspiel.

Hakstol has not had the chance to share the Warburg experience with any of his hockey colleagues yet, but he says he treasures every chance he gets to go home.

“At the end of the day, the best thing about going home is that you are who you were when you grew up.”

The road to the finish line at the IIHF World Championship is still nearly two weeks away, but if Canada does win the gold medal, Ruff says he could envision him and Hakstol bringing the trophy to Warburg together for a celebration.

“That would be amazing,” says Theresa excitedly.

For more information:

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 284-6484 

[email protected] 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 777-4567

[email protected]

Jeremy Knight
Manager, Corporate Communications
Hockey Canada

(647) 251-9738

[email protected]

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