Chris Hajt, a former player, assistant coach, and assistant general manager of the Guelph Storm, writes in Calder Cup Championship to an already success-driven career, with only the promise of more to come.
Steph Coratti, GuelphStorm.com
It’s easy to get accustomed with winning.
Yet, only a select few know what it takes to win.
Those few can be envied through sparkling resumes of impressive records and a selection of championships, all highlighted by individual honours scattered along the line.
Chris Hajt is one of those very few.
A two-time Guelph Storm Most Valuable Player and Top Defenceman, a World Junior silver medalist with the United States, an Ontario Hockey League Champion with appearances in two Memorial Cup tournaments as a player, only to later add another OHL Championship and visit to the Memorial Cup as an assistant general manager, and, additionally, a championship with Italy’s Balzano HC to close out his ten year professional playing career on top.
That’s quite a list, and the 36-year-old Hajt is nowhere near finished.
On June 13, the American Hockey League’s Manchester Monarchs were crowned Calder Cup Champions for the first time in franchise history, defeating the Utica Comets by a score of 2-1 to clinch the series 4-1.
Behind the bench, Hajt – who was presented with the opportunity to return to the bench as an assistant coach with the Monarchs in July 2014 – was celebrating his second championship in two years, following up the OHL title earned with the Storm the season prior as an assistant general manager.
“Each of them are a little bit different,” the former Storm captain said of the varying earned championships. “As an assistant GM, and this year as an assistant coach, you are so proud of the players and what they’ve done all year, and how they’ve handled adversity and pulled together. You’re just proud.”
Reflecting back to 1998, Hajt’s fourth and final season on the blueline for the Storm and second wearing the ‘C’, the feeling remained the biggest difference in comparing the success experienced on the ice, behind the bench, and in management.
“It was just so exhilarating to win,” Hajt explained of Guelph’s 1998 OHL Championship. “That one was all about being so close the years before, it was for guys like Andrew Long, Jason Jackman – all those guys. It was a really special feeling in being able to win it for everyone who didn’t have that chance in the previous years.”
Chris Hajt in his playing days with the Guelph Storm.
Though, there’s also something uniquely special about the Calder Cup victory for Hajt.
The former Storm assistant coach of five years, spanning from 2008 through to the 2012-13 season, was a back-to-back champion with the likes of Ryan Horvat, Justin Auger, and Nick Ebert – all players who donned crimson through Guelph’s ride in 2014.
“Having guys that you knew and obviously players that I’ve coached before, it was neat,” Hajt said of the former Storm players, adding it was a valuable element of comfort with the four entering a new stage together. “Being with Ryan Horvat for a five year period with the Storm, and no different with Justin [Auger] for four years or Nick [Ebert] for one year – it was just special.”
Noting the passion that is more than evident within the coach for his players, the feeling of pride quickly returned.
“You feel so proud of them as people on and off the ice. Watching them being able to achieve something like that, and then understanding that they’re champions,” Hajt continued on the former Storm players. “You know they’re winners for a reason.”
Justin Auger, Nick Ebert, Chris Hajt, and Ryan Horvat all celebrating their second championship in two years as the AHL's Calder Cup winners with the Manchester Monarchs.
Evidently the former Storm defenceman hasn’t changed much since his OHL playing days spanning from 1994 through to 1998, totaling 222 games played with 92 points (22 goals, 70 assists), still holding the ability to recognize everybody else as winners before himself.
That, for Hajt, is translated into the drivable love held for coaching.
“I love being able to teach, to share with players both on and off the ice,” the former 1996 second round draft selection of the Edmonton Oilers explained. “You just feel so good about showing a player how to get better next game – I’m fortunate to have that opportunity again and be back behind the bench.”
Being presented with that opportunity again, however, didn’t make leaving Guelph easy.
“It was very difficult,” Hajt said of the initial move. “Guelph is a really special place, and it’ll always be a special place to my family and myself.”
The transition to Manchester, though, held a familiar setting for Hajt, a setting experienced through years of coming so close prior to the 1998 Championship with the Storm – the Monarchs had unfinished business.
In 2013-14, the Monarchs concluded the regular season first overall in the Eastern Conference, only to exit in a disappointing first round defeat to the Norfolk Admirals.
With 477 total regular season games played in the AHL with the Hamilton Bulldogs, Portland Pirates, and the Lowell Lock Monsters through eight seasons, totaling for 91 points (20 goals, 71 assists), Hajt knew the discussion and the belief that had to be there.
Chris Hajt as an assistant coach with the Monarchs.
“We talked about it right from the start – we wanted to be playing in June,” Hajt said of when he believed the Monarchs could really do something special. “Players want those high expectations, they want to be challenged to achieve goals, and our players just relished it. They took it, ran with it, and we all did it together.”
After earning the regular season title with a 50-17-6-3 record for 109 points, the Monarchs pushed through right to their first Calder Cup Final birth in franchise history, only to earn the hardware five games later, all an accomplishment Hajt attests to character.
“There wasn’t a bad guy in that room,” he said of the one thing that separates this from the rest. “They cared so much about each other, you want your team to be a family and they were. You can never underestimate character, and we had a tonne of it.”
Spoken like a true winner.
Now, just days after reaching the top once again in his career, the question of what’s next hangs around.
“To repeat,” Hajt said with a laugh.
“It’s how it goes, you want it again.”
Spoken like a true champion.