Lincoln Stars head coach Chris Hartsburg is leaving the team to take the same position with the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League, the Stars announced Thursday.
Hartsburg will replace former Erie coach Kris Knoblauch, who Hartsburg served as an assistant for in 2013-14, helping the Otters from a 19-win season in 2012-13, to 53 wins in his one year as an assistant. Knoblauch left the Otters to take an assistant coaching job with the Philadelphia Flyers of the National Hockey League.
“I would like to thank Ryan Schiff and Jon Hull for giving me the opportunity to be the head coach of this great team in this fantastic city,” Hartsburg said in a news release. “Lincoln will always hold a place dear to my, and my wife, Lindsay’s, heart as this is where our son Greyson was born and we could not have asked for a better place to raise him. I would like to thank the unbelievably passionate fans that stuck with us through the first year and were able to enjoy the fruits of our hard work as a staff to create a team poised to challenge for the Clark Cup this upcoming season. I would like to thank the players because, without their relentless commitment, I would not be receiving this opportunity. Lastly, I would like to thank Mick Berge, Corey Courtney, Clay Adams and Matthew McGreevy as our time spent together created lifelong friendships.”
The United State Hockey league is to not only help develop players, but coaches as well. When the opportunity arose, Hartsburg knew he could not pass it up.
“That was one of the main reasons I went to Lincoln,” Hartsburg said later in a phone interview with the Journal Star. “To me, I wanted to find out if I could be a head coach. Fortunately, I was given the opportunity by Jon and Ryan to lead the team and do so where I thought we made a lot of strides in the last two seasons.
“(Lincoln) got me to where I am now,” he added, ”they gave me my first head coaching job. We had a little whirlwind in the first year and we learned to adapt, and learned to get better.”
The Stars were no stranger to success under Hartsburg, becoming one of the most improved teams under his guidance. They finished a combined 83-83-14 in his three seasons.
Lincoln went from 18-37-5 (41 points) in his first season in 2014-15 to 33-24-3 (69 points) in his second year. The 28-point improvement and a playoff berth marked one of the largest turnarounds in United States Hockey League history.
“We are very grateful and fortunate that Chris chose Lincoln,” Stars general manager Jon Hull said. “When we were going through this process originally, we wanted a guy that could take charge and be a good role model for the kids, and certainly lay a foundation of what we feel needs to be for a winning organization, and obviously Chris did that. We are excited and happy for Chris, and certainly he has a great opportunity, and we are supportive of his decision to go to Erie.”
Under Hartsburg, 40 players went to Division I hockey schools and seven players were drafted by NHL teams. Five players who Hartsburg coached in Lincoln were selected in last Saturday's draft — Ryan Poehling (Montreal Canadiens), Jack Badini (Anaheim Ducks), Wyatt Kalynuk (Flyers), Cayden Primeau (Canadiens) and Sammy Walker (Tampa Bay Lightning).
An immediate search for a head coach has begun, with no time table on when Lincoln's next coach will be announced, according to Hull.
“Right now it's some tough shoes to fill,” Hull said. “We need to try and find a replacement that we feel can continue the process that Chris left off.
“The most important thing for us is to formulate a list, and make sure we do our research on those individuals and find out what about them attracts us. We want to make sure we do it right and don't rush the process. We will know when the timing is right.”
Additionally, the contract of assistant coach Clay Adams will not be renewed for the 2017-18 season.