Chris Tok had been an assistant coach for the past 10 years in junior and college hockey and wanted an opportunity to prove he could be a head coach.
This season, Tok will get that chance when this spring he was named the first bench boss of the North American Hockey League’s (NAHL) expansion Austin Bruins.
“After 10 years as an assistant, you either commit yourself to being an assistant for the long term or you want to be a head coach,” Tok said. “The opportunity to coach in the North American Hockey League is a great opportunity and with a new team, I know I’ll have a lot of pressure on me not only to succeed on the ice, but to also reach out to the community and bring some of the fans back who were fans the last time junior hockey was in this town.”
The past four seasons, Tok was an assistant coach for Michigan Tech University (WCHA) under Jamie Russell and Pat Mikesch. Prior to that, he helped coach the Waterloo Black Hawks of the United States Hockey League (USHL).
At each stop, Tok said he took valuable information and stored it away for when he would become a head coach.
“I learned a lot in both places,” said Tok. “I think I learned how to deal with people on and off the ice, how to run the team on and off the ice and how to deal with the business side of hockey.
At Michigan Tech, Jamie, Pat and I would have different philosophies about things and we would sit down and discuss how to go about things. Here in Austin, our owner, Craig Patrick, has pretty much given me carte-blanche status when it comes to hockey operations. I can sculpt the picture I want with this team and see that everything goes the right way. That’s pressure for sure and junior hockey, as with any level of hockey, is a year-round job.
“In the WCHA, I had three main jobs: recruiting, coaching and taking care of academics. Now, I have more wide-ranging responsibilities. I have to be the face of the team and get the support of area businesses, make sure we have enough billet families, make sure the locker room is ready to go, make sure the equipment is ordered - stuff like that.”
A Minnesota native (Coleraine), Tok said that fact had a little bit of leverage when the chance came to coach the Bruins, but being that Coleraine is five hours from Austin, it’s still a hike to go back home. That doesn’t mean, however, that the role of family didn’t come into play.
“My sister and her three young kids are about an hour-and-a-half away, so our son will get to see his cousins a little bit more,” Tok explained.
Tok also hopes that while he feels a strong coaching resume only goes so far, the fact the Bruins are an expansion team will hopefully entice high-talent players to want to come play in Austin this year.
“I think we’ve already found some diamonds in the rough and we have two more camps this summer,” said Tok. “Most teams have returning guys and certain positions set, but being that we’re a totally new team, nothing has been set yet. I hope players notice that and want to come here and play and grab one of those roster spots. I think we can definitely pull in some high-caliber kids for sure.”
Tok, who played four years at the University of Wisconsin (WCHA) from 1991-95, also played six years of pro hockey before choosing coaching as his career. He said his name may also be a recruiting point for players, but name alone doesn’t mean success in the present.
“I’ve been through what all these kids are preparing to go through,” said Tok. “I’ve played college hockey, I’ve played pro and I’ve coached junior and college. I have connections and I’ve worked under some great coaches. That being said, a resume is only on paper and I think making a kid feel comfortable playing here bodes well for the future.”
While the dog days of summer are far from dull, Tok is looking forward to the season-opening NAHL Showcase Tournament in Blaine, Minn., in two short months.
“When Blaine is here, that means a lot of the other stuff is done and gone and we can concentrate on playing hockey,” Tok said. “It will be good to see what we have and see our guys against the other teams in the league.
“It’s definitely an exciting time in Austin right now and we’re looking forward to the season.”