Greg Krahn fell in love with hockey the first time he got on skates as a two-year-old growing up in Greenfield, Wisconsin. He played a number of sports, including baseball, football, soccer, and track, but hockey enabled him to play in college, at the Milwaukee School of Engineering, where he was an all-conference selection as a true freshman.
But his passion for coaching exceeds what happens on the ice.
"I think the most important part is trying to teach the kids that, first and foremost, their grades are the priority," Krahn says. "Schoolwork is a major priority, and you need to take care of the classroom before athletics. And then we also have a volunteer aspect, like taking meals for first responders, to teach the kids the need to support your community."
In speaking to his players, Krahn's emphasis seems to stick. They highlighted how much fun they have being on his team, how he pushes them, how he's a positive influence and how he's like a "second dad."
"Thank you for always being there for me, not just hockey-wise, and just being a role model for me," Trey Schumacher told TMJ4 News.
In January, Krahn was preparing to get on a coaching meeting with the Milwaukee Jr. Admirals via Zoom. But he was quickly confused by many unfamiliar faces.
"I was trying to figure out who they were," Krahn recalls.
One of them was Mandy Marquardt, an 18-time U.S. National Champion as a track cyclist who is vying for a spot on the 2022 Tokyo Olympic team. Marquardt informed Krahn that, among thousands of entrants, he was the 2020 Champion Coach Award winner presented by TrueSport and Sports Engine.
"I was shocked," Krahn says. "Someone told me last fall I had been nominated, but I said, 'Yeah, whatever,' thinking it was a long shot and forgot about it."
But Krahn doesn't coach for the awards. He works in constructing, building roads, and his schedule gives him flexibility to coach hockey during the mostly winter months. He makes the sacrifices to coach because of the relationships with athletes and parents.
"The kids go through all different experiences, being in such a small market for hockey," he says. "We don't have numbers, so when our kids do well, it's a lot of hard work and rewarding to watch them."
Once again, though, this isn't just about hockey for Krahn. He started coaching Schumacher when he was 10 years old, and the young athlete was subjected to racist comments from competitors on the ice.
"At 10, do they really know what some of that means?" Krahn says. "But it happened a couple of times a year."
So Krahn would calmly try to speak to the athletes who were involved and coaches and directors. One director in North Dakota implemented a rule that any athlete who utters a racist term would be suspended for multiple events.
"I mean, it's baby steps," Krahn says, "but hopefully when my kids have kids, they're not dealing with these types of issues."
I hope my players understand that throughout their playing experience they can come to the coach at anytime on or off the field. I want all my players to know that I have their backs and will continue to support them throughout life beyond their playing years
Krahn is thankful for many positive coaches who helped influence him. But he also reflects on what he didn't like from one coach who favored certain players and wasn't such a positive person.
"I don't ever want to do that to my kids," Krahn says.
He finds joy in the frequent practices, the opportunities to succeed and fail.
"We're trying to give them a good experience," he says. "These kids are going to be friends for life. That's how hockey works."