Tony Curtale breaks all-time US junior hockey win record
When Tony Curtale was named the first head coach of the Texas Tornado in 1999, he had just a few years of head coaching experience at the junior level. Now, 12 years later, he has made junior hockey history.
Curtale came into the 2011-2012 NAHL season with 521 total regular-season wins between the Springfield Jr. Blues and Tornado. With a 4-0 win over New Mexico Firday night, Curtale won his ninth game of the season and broke the record held by Mike Hastings for most wins in United States Junior Hockey history.
Curtale began his junior hockey career in 1979 with the Brantford Alexanders of the Ontario Hockey Association. That 1979-1980 team featured 10 future NHLers, including Mark Hunter, Dave Hannan, Mike Bullard, and Curtale himself.
The Calgary Flames drafted Curtale with the 31st overall pick of the 1980 NHL Entry Draft, and was the first American drafted. Later that season, he appeared in two games for the Flames.
“It’s every kid’s dream to get drafted and play in the NHL,” Curtale said. “I got to play in the Montreal Forum that year. Those are things you just don’t ever forget.”
Curtale played two more seasons with the Alexanders, before going on to play professionally in both the Central Hockey League and the now-defunct International Hockey League. In 322 minor league games, Curtale had 30 goals and 145 assists, good for 175 points.
“When I got drafted, I thought I’d be playing in the NHL for a long time,” Curtale said. “It didn’t turn out that way, but I think it made me a better coach. I wasn’t around superstars, so I saw the game being taught more and it made me think more critically about the game.”
Before coming to the Tornado, Curtale was the head coach and General Manager of both the NAHL’s Springfield Jr. Blues and the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL. But before the start of the 1999-2000 season, an NAHL expansion team came calling.
“Our old owner, Quentin Bourjeaurd, called me while I was working with Erie in the OHL,” Curtale said. “He called me a couple times because he wanted me to be the one to start up a franchise. I turned him down, initially, because I’d never been down south.”
But Bourjeaurd’s persistence paid off.
“He flew me down here, and I thought, ‘Sure, I’ll do it for a year or two and then move on.’ But the next thing I knew, I fell in love with Texas and my family fell in love with Texas and I decided it would be the right thing to stay.
In 1999-2000 Curtale was honored as NAHL Executive of the Year and in 2003-2004 as the NAHL Coach of the Year. In his time with Texas, the team has won three national championships, four NAHL championships, and seven division championships. In each of his first seven seasons with Texas, Curtale guided the Tornado to seven straight 40+ win seasons, including an expansion team-record 42 wins in 1999-2000 and an NAHL-record 48 wins in 2003. The Tornado also won three straight NAHL national championships from 2004-2006 with Curtale at the helm.
“He was the best coach I’ve played for at any level,” said Denny Reagan, a member of the Tornado from 2002-2004. “He gets the most out of his players and practices are unbelievably organized. Every practice was a strict routine every week and we knew what to expect.”
Reagan scored his first junior hockey goal against the Tornado when he was 16, but always remembered that game for another reason.
“I saw his demeanor on the bench. He was very intimidating, and he struck me as someone I wanted to play for,” Reagan said. “I was playing with Des Moines [in the USHL] in 2002 and was just getting over a shoulder injury. There wasn’t a spot for me on their roster, so when my coach in Des Moines asked me where I wanted to go, I instantly thought of Tony and the Tornado.”
He’s had a lasting impact on his players and is an institution in Dallas-area youth and junior hockey. In the midst of a hockey career which has taken him all throughout North America, Tony Curtale has his name atop the United States junior hockey record books.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to make a living coaching the sport I love,” Curtale said. “And more importantly, fortunate enough to meet and work with a lot of great people along the way.”