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For all their obvious differences, however, as the two men settle into life in Fairbanks, a number of shared characteristics have risen to the surface -- common qualities that helped spur Athletic Director Forrest Karr's decision to bring them to the university in the first place.
First and foremost, both men are proven winners. DelCastillo has had tremendous success at building Division I hockey programs at Division II schools into national contenders: the exact situation he finds himself in with the Nanooks. In the four seasons (1998-2002) that DelCastillo was an assistant coach with his alma mater, St. Cloud State University, the Huskies boasted the second-highest winning percentage in college hockey, amassing an 83-34-6 overall record. Just before coming to Alaska, DelCastillo helped guide the University of Nebraska-Omaha to their first-ever NCAA tournament berth in 2006.
"Working at St. Cloud, Nebraska-Omaha, being a general manager and running my own team [the Rochester Mustangs] in the USHL [United States Hockey League], all those experiences have been valuable," said DelCastillo. "You take all the good things with each individual you work with, learn from that and carry it with you."
As for Johnson, one glance at his NBA championship ring -- a product of his years playing alongside Moses Malone and Julius "Dr. J" Erving with the Philadelphia 76ers -- speaks volumes about his competitive pedigree. His desire to win spills over into his coaching as well, as Johnson has rung up a 184-60 mark in eight seasons at two Florida high schools.
Just as important, however -- both DelCastillo and Johnson are firmly committed to academic success as well, a value that has become a benchmark of the Alaska Nanooks athletic program. While winning games is certainly a high priority for the two coaches, so is the development of their student-athletes.
"Success off the floor is paramount," said Johnson. "Less than 1 percent of all collegiate basketball players make it to the NBA. Maybe 2 percent make it into foreign professional basketball leagues. So, as a head coach, it brings joy to see an individual prepared for life when they leave here, whether it is to continue their basketball career or to go get a job and become a concerned, productive citizen."
When it comes to academics, DelCastillo and Johnson practice what they preach, as both hold master's degrees in sports management. DelCastillo earned his degree from St. Cloud State, while Johnson graduated from Florida A&M in 2006.
"I take my responsibility no different than being a professor in the university," added DelCastillo. "From 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. every day, whether we are in the weight room, on the ice or in a classroom session, I am teaching them and helping prepare them to move into life after college and be successful in whatever they decide they want to go into."
Neither DelCastillo nor Johnson, however, expects to have a smooth and easy road this season. When competing in a league as tough as the Central Collegiate Hockey Association or the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, a team can go only as far as its coach can take them. With that in mind, the two men realize how important their leadership skills will be in their first year with the Nanooks.
"Regardless of how much talent they have, you need players who are willing to accept your vision," said Johnson. "If you don't share the same vision, then someone is going to go in the wrong direction, and you can never have success when people are going in different directions."
Likewise, DelCastillo knows it is up to him to help set an example for his team to follow. "To be a good coach, it takes discipline, hard work and sacrifice. Those are key words that I use with my players, and I would never ask my team to do anything more than what I expect from myself," said DelCastillo. "To me, winning on the ice is just a by-product of doing things right all the time, whether it be in the classroom, in the community or in practice."
Four months on, and the two coaches have found another thread that ties them together -- both are happy to be a part of the Alaska Nanooks and excited to see the results when they put the pieces of their teams together for the coming year.
"I am very happy and grateful for the opportunity to coach these young men who have been entrusted into my leadership," said Johnson. "Certainly I am looking forward to the season. I feel that I have surrounded myself with an excellent assistant coaching staff, and the knowledge I gather from the individuals around me will only make me that much better as a coach."
"I am really excited to get going; all the guys here are really excited to get the season underway," added DelCastillo. "We are going to take care of the things on a day-to-day basis that lead you to be successful, and hopefully at the end of 60 minutes we end up on the right side of the scoreboard."