Trent Klatt had never considered being a coach.
When a group of Klatt’s friends approached him about the idea, he was hesitant, but eventually came around. He even got the chance to coach his own kids in youth hockey.
The boys varsity head-coaching job at Grand Rapids (Minn.) High School opened up and that same group of people approached him again. This time, Klatt wasted no time taking his place behind the bench for this traditional northern Minnesota hockey powerhouse.
During his first year, Klatt coached his team to a third-place finish at the Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament. This year, in just his second year at the helm, he helped guide the Thunderhawks to the state championship — Grand Rapids’ fourth overall and first since 1980.
“The guys I have are passionate about the game of hockey and it’s in their blood,” Klatt said. “It’s a neat experience to be around a group of payers that love the game as much as they do. This community here in Grand Rapids has been phenomenal. They’ve been huge supporters of this hockey team for many, many years.”
For Klatt, who played 14 seasons in the NHL and later served as the head amateur scout for the New York Islanders, there’s just something about a community standing behind a team.
It’s even more special when it’s an entire country.
The Minnesota native competed for Team USA in the 1991 IIHF World Junior Championship and at the 1999 IIHF Men’s World Championship where he developed friendships with players from other parts of the United States while representing his country.
“It’s special because you put jerseys on all the time – you’re on this team and that team – but then, all of a sudden it says ‘USA’ on the front,” Klatt said. “It puts you in a different place because now you’re not talking Minnesota or Grand Rapids, you’re talking the world. It’s a pretty awesome feeling.”
Two of Klatt’s players at Grand Rapids, Gavin Hain and Blake McLaughlin, had that same special chance to compete in red, white and blue. Both were selected to the U.S. Under-17 Select Team last year, and they embarked with a simple piece of advice from their high school coach.
“I said, ‘hey, go have fun,’” Klatt said. “’Just enjoy the moment, and just play the game of hockey. Just because you have a different jersey on doesn’t mean you have to play a different way.’”
Klatt wasn’t always around in his community as much as he would have liked. He joined the Islanders organization in 2010, but the long hours and time away from home eventually prompted him to step down as head amateur scout in 2015. It was at that same time the head coaching job at Grand Rapids opened up.
Still, finding a balance between family and hockey can be a challenge. But Klatt has found a rhythm that allows him to be fully present wherever he is.
“When I’m home, I’m home,” Klatt said. “I leave all my hockey stuff at the office at the rink. I just try not to intermingle all of them. The biggest thing for me is leaving all the hockey stuff at the rink and not bringing it home with me.”
At the rink, Klatt shares his experiences with the kids on his team – translating them into lessons. Whether it’s experiences in youth hockey, with USA Hockey, the NHL or anywhere in between, Klatt’s grateful for the chance to give back.
“I’ve been so blessed, so fortunate and so lucky to have made a career out of the game of hockey,” Klatt said. “I’m not saying anybody else has to think this way, but for me, I find it pretty selfish to not give back ... Kids these days are so eager to sit and listen.”
Klatt uses that opportunity to emphasize the importance of playing the game the right way. He said he expects his players to show respect to coaches, players and officials, while controlling what they can control.
“I tell the guys this all the time,” Klatt said. “There’s a number of things I could go into to constitute the wrong way and the right way, but I expect them to play the right way.”
Most importantly, Klatt hopes his players will give everything they can give — knowing they made the right decisions and treated everyone with respect.
At the end of the day, Klatt hopes they realize what’s most important.
“If they give everything they have every single day, whether it’s a practice or a game, they can look at themselves in the mirror at night when they brush their teeth, and they can say, ‘you know what, I respected everybody, everybody’s dignity, I gave everything I had, and today, this is how good I was,’” Klatt said. “If they can just take each day and give it every thing they have, they’re going to get to wherever they want to do in life, with anything, and not necessarily with (only) hockey. With any other career, it’s the same thing.”