Greg Trebil was the head coach at Holy Angels from 1997-2012. Photo: Tim Kolehmainen
This article originally appeared in the March 2, 2016 edition of Let's Play Hockey. It is being republished with some minor adjustments.
Former Academy of Holy Angels head coach Greg Trebil guided his team to five state tournaments while earning championships in 2002 and 2005. He is the man stated by his players to have built the Bloomington Jefferson dynasty from the youth level that helped capture three straight state titles in high school from 1992-94. His Holy Angels teams were among some of the finest that have played in the new millennium.
Trebil suffered from Alzheimer's Disease and he passed away recently. When this story was originally published, the revered coach's condition was such that he could not discuss hockey, yet the many that loved him and played for him are told his story.
Trebil graduated from Bloomington Kennedy High School and went on to attend Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn. He would settle in Bloomington with his wife, Nancy. His oldest son, Greg Jr., began playing youth hockey in the Bloomington Jefferson program and Trebil began coaching him around the Squirt age in the late 1970s. Although the senior Trebil did not play much hockey, his passion for the game and coaching was ignited in those early days. It yielded a skilled, focused and passionate coach who has left a lasting imprint, not only on high school and youth hockey in Minnesota.
Trebil spent all of his youth coaching time in the Jefferson program and was dedicated to improving players by promoting an unselfish team game that focused on fundamentals from skating to passing. His teams had an unmistakable quality of playing the game fast and thinking the game even faster, and were easy to spot for their polished play around the rinks. For a group of Jefferson kids and later for scores of Academy of Holy Angels players, his ability to deliver on those core components benefited them as players and in their lives beyond hockey to this day.
Trebil was a coach in the inaugural year of the Jefferson in-house Mite program. He worked with Bob Lundeen and the two became close friends, with Trebil ultimately taking the coaching reins and Lundeen handling the management duties for the teams from Squirts to Bantams.
The foundation was being built for a special group of players in the Jefferson program, and the players that played for him came to the simple truth about Trebil as a coach. He had a demeanor and way about him that commanded respect even without saying a word. His presence on and off the ice was big to his hockey family, yet he is not a self promoting man. Lundeen’s son, Cort, was a key component on those teams and was a benefactor of the environment created by his father and Trebil.
“Greg Trebil was a teacher,” Cort Lundeen said. “We worked on skills and skating, passing, puck handling. We were taught to be unselfish hockey players and we believed in the team concept. That is what I see a lack of in today’s hockey, it’s all about individual skills.
“We were running an overload power play in Squirt A’s. Nobody ran a power play at that age and we knew how to do it.”
Through Trebil’s focus on skills and his patience in allowing the players to stick with the plan, they were able to execute it at a very young age.
“He was ahead of his time in teaching systems,” Lundeen said. “Every one of us was smarter than most other kids we played against. He developed hockey sense where I don’t think other kids from other schools did. He read books, went to conferences, and he never played hockey. It consumed his life and he put us kids before anything.”
Trebil’s three sons, Greg, Dan and Ryan, were all benefactors of their father and his coaching acumen. Dan said that his father lived and breathed coaching, and watched a lot of film while reading books and studying drills. It was a focused desire for Trebil to be the best he could be and he forever was gaining knowledge. That information he gathered was passed on to his players with a focus on the basics.
“As a coach, he was very focused on bringing everything down to the basics,” Dan Trebil said. “He was very focused on creating unselfish players. Those things made things come together for players. If you’ve got basic tools and you are thinking about the other players on your team, I think that naturally makes you better.”
“Quite honestly, I was scared of him,” former Jaguar and University of Minnesota star Mike Crowley said of his coach. “The kids certainly were, but the parents were as well back in the day – until later in life. He’s a great guy.”
Crowley, who went on to a stunning high school and college career, was a two-time Hobey Baker award finalist at the University of Minnesota, and played for the Anaheim Ducks in the NHL.
“The part of the mystique about him that made him such a great coach was the respect wasn’t just from the kids, the parents were scared of him – not in a bad way,” Crowley said. “If you were late for practice, you had to skate as a team and as a 10-year-old, you are late because of your parents.”
“He never yelled,” Cory Peterson said. “If he gave you a look, you knew you either made a mistake or he would come down and whisper in your ear what you do wrong.”
For players that had him in high school, such as Jack Hillen at Holy Angels, much the same was recalled on his past coach: “I was a little eighth or ninth grader. I can remember doing his summer camp and I was pretty intimidated. He didn’t say a whole lot, but I do remember he came up to me and said, ‘You are going to be a great player,’ and that’s all he really said to me. It meant the world to me and it just gave me a lot of confidence. I think he did that with a lot of players. He didn’t say a lot, but when he did, you listened. I think that is one of his best attributes.”
Hillen went on to star at Colorado College and played eight seasons in the NHL.
Jimmy Kilpatrick played for Trebil from 2001-03 and was a member of the state championship team in 2002.
“He was almost intimidating," Kilpatrick said. "But it was more on the respect side of it in how he talked to you. It was more humble and he was never a yelling coach. He had that aura about him running a successful program and I respected him more than anything.”
Kilpatrick was like a number of other players that attended AHA who came from small towns and may have been their team’s best player. Like Hillen, he went on to play for Colorado College and played the majority of his professional career in the ECHL.
“You just respected him right away,” Kilpatrick said. “That was the unique thing at that stage, to have so many upper echelon guys from the smaller programs. You had so many guys that played so many minutes a night and then there was only so much time on the power play unit, so to get 20 guys like that to come together as one, that’s impressive to me.”
Team first = hockey IQ
Trebil empowered his players to be confident and play the game with an open mind and as a team. Key to his success over the years had a lot to do with how he instilled confidence in individuals and as a team.
“In general, anytime a player has confidence and they believe in themselves, they are going to a better player, they are going to be a great player,” Hillen said. “I struggled at the beginning of college and I forgot that I was a great player and finally got some of that confidence back. I never struggled with that when I was in high school. I was pretty confident in my ability and that is a credit to Greg and Guy Olson and the whole coaching staff there who made players feel good about themselves just by letting them be creative on the ice.”
Lundeen looked back on it and noted his team was always prepared. Because Trebil had the players focus on team and passing drills, players were able to create and get to open space, therefore increasing their rink awareness.
“The preparation even back then was above and beyond what people were doing,” Lundeen said. “I am not saying scouting other teams. He was worried about us and were we prepared. We played Jefferson hockey and we shared the puck, there was no individualism. It wasn’t allowed and you wouldn’t get taken on the next team if you were a selfish player.”
The sum of the team fueled the individual success. As the team improved and maintained an unselfish approach, the individuals began to get better.
“The things we did in practice were all about moving the puck and it wasn’t about individuals having success,” Crowley said. “That was instilled in all of us. Everyone pushed each other but wanted to be a good teammate and help the team win, and we had individual success to some degree due to that mentality.”
Trebil’s players said that his way in teaching the team game increased hockey IQ. It’s something the former players said is missing in today’s game. The team-to-coach and player-to-coach relationship was built on trust through respect. They may have sought Trebil’s respect, but they were well-aware that he approved of their game as a team because they delivered it everywhere he coached.
“You wanted to be good because you wanted to be,” Peterson said. “Not because you were are scared or anything like that, it was you wanted it. It comes back to respect, and he commanded it.”
“No one appreciated how good of a coach he was until you were done,” Hillen said. “We had so much talent on that team and he got everyone to play together as a team. If you watch high school hockey today, the talented players try to do it all themselves and stickhandle through everybody. There is no hockey sense in today’s game, and I feel like he created that hockey sense in our game. We didn’t even know he was doing it just by allowing us to play and to play as a team. We had the most skill, but we also passed the puck better than any team and our skating was better. That is a credit to him and we worked on those things everyday in practice. If we didn’t pass or play as a team, he wouldn’t have it any other way. If we were selfish, we just wouldn’t play.”
Consistency, communication, competitive
According to Hillen, Trebil never over-coached. He stayed true to his concepts and kept the game simple while giving creative freedom to his players. As a sum of the whole, those things were better than other teams because they worked hard on the skills of skating, passing and most importantly, thinking. Along with that came the intangibles of keeping egos in check, not only on the ice, but in the stands.
“I never knew this when I was playing, but my dad told me that Greg would take one phone call per year from parents,” Hillen said. “If your kid was in trouble or whatever, you could always call, but when it comes to playing time, there was one phone call and that was all you got. That nipped a lot of things in the bud. We had a lot of talent on that team and our JV team had a lot of players that would have played varsity in a lot of other programs. He managed that the best he could. He did what he thought was right and he stuck by it. “
Lundeen added, “Parents didn’t get involved. For some reason, our parent group believed in Greg and let him do it.”
Peterson took it further and said, “Parents could relax and drop their kids off at the rink and go have fun. They had that trust where who is going to mess with Greg Trebil?”
Much of Trebil’s success came from a straightforward and consistent method.
“First and foremost, he laid out his expectations up-front very well,” Dan Trebil said. “He was pretty candid and pretty up-front with how he intended to operate the team, and when you lay the ground rules, it’s tough for anyone to criticize it.”
Trebil’s Squirt to Bantam teams maybe lost 10 games in a six-year period, including a stunning 53-1 season that saw his team lose 2-1 in the Bantam National Championship to St. Clair Shores (Mich.).
“Us kids bawled our heads off (after that loss) and he handled it better than any coach,” Lundeen said. “He said he was proud of us. We had a heck of a year and it may never happen again.”
Hillen added that Trebil’s conviction to his style yielded incredible results among scores of players. “He believed in what he was doing and his method worked. He had a lot of self confidence and he didn’t need approval from outside sources. He was winning and it worked out. He has had a lot of kids move on to the next level and the proof is in the pudding. Who can argue with that?”
Although Trebil was not a teacher in the classroom, he was a teacher on the rink and in life. For many of his players, they knew and felt how much he cared about them. Many stated that they were so happy that he took pride in their successes whether they were on the ice or off the ice. As a coach, Trebil promoted his players and not himself.
“As a coach, he was somebody who was more proud of what his players accomplished later on than he was about anything else,” Dan Trebil said. “He would take his kids at Holy Angels out east and set up games against Shattuck. While he was doing that, he was finding out ways to get them in front of scouts and make sure they knew about the kids. When I think about someone I want to coach my kid, those are the things I would want. That is a big role, to be a proponent for the kid.”
For Trebil, being proud of his players was like being proud of his own as a father. He was not boastful and he took personal ownership in their development as players and people. Those are all his kids and still are.
Crowley noted that both he and Dan were members of the Ducks and it meant a lot to him that Greg was able to see them at times and begin to take pride in their efforts. It was unspoken, but it was felt.
“He had a huge impact in my hockey career and life,” Crowley. “I think he took a lot of pride in guys that played. He would never say it out loud, but I think he took some pride in guys, not only in hockey, but in life that did well and were married and had families and became good people in the real world. When you have a job, you have to be accountable and work hard and be a good teammate. Those are things I learned from him.”
Players learned that hockey is a hard-working sport and that putting in the work will translate to being productive professionals, no matter what they chose to do. Trebil prepared them for their next steps in life and never lost touch with the fact that the wins may have been a byproduct of the process, but the end result was produced by the success, not of one but all.
“Work ethic and discipline,” Lundeen said. “I think that in hockey the discipline that we received can be translated on him being hard on guys, but this was about doing your job. It prepared every one of us for our post-hockey careers. Every one of us is successful and we are in all different walks of life. We owe that to our influences around us, and he was our greatest influence because we were with him so much.
Trebil’s legacy is realized in the players he coached from the youngest of ages through high school. Many players are have coached at the high school level, including Joe Pankratz (Prior Lake), Cory Peterson (Hopkins), Jack Hillen (Holy Angels), Jon De St. Hubert (coached with Trebil at AHA), Billy Hengen (AHA), and of course scores of players such as Lundeen and Crowley at the youth level. Peterson said it isn’t by accident and that players want to give back if you “have that coach.”
It is no coincidence that the coaches mirror their former leader in a multitude of ways. For Peterson, it is the quiet and commanding respect.
“Believe it or not, I like the quiet part,” Peterson said. “If I am quiet, normally the kids know I am mad, but also by the looks I give. They have to be able to read you. You shouldn’t have to say a lot of stuff, especially during a game, but a look here, a look there, a tap on the back, a whisper here, a whisper there. That’s exactly what I took. It’s not about calling kids out.”
Others, such as Crowley, long to have the chance to bounce ideas off Trebil.
“I would love to ask Greg what would he do here in this area or how would he teach this,” Crowley said. “I am learning, and coaching is different than playing. You have got to teach these kids, and he obviously knew how to do it.”
For the Trebil boys, having extra time to spend with their dad in the car rides and at the rink furthered their bond with with him and represent childhood memories they will always look back on fondly.
“It was awesome in that I got to spend a ton of time with my dad,” Dan said. “I didn’t have him every year as he coached some of those guys every year. So I kind of got him every other year as a second-year player in Squirts, PeeWees and Bantams. It was great when I think back and obviously some of those memories are the best of my childhood. Driving to the games with him and the other guys on the team. It was very cool and very fortunate to spend as much time with him as I did.”
All of Trebil’s teams and parents were a family. Dan Trebil said it didn’t matter if it was Bloomington Jefferson youth hockey or the Academy of Holy Angels, his father took an immense amount of pride in his hockey family.
“Family is how he felt over there (at Holy Angels). He took a lot of pride in the school and everything he did, if it was on the ice or not.”
Kilpatrick summed it up best when saying what others may have not understood or known about Trebil but made him the great coach.
“I think he truly cared more than anything about his players and the team. He was so quiet, didn’t promote and was more behind the scenes, but he would have done anything for his 25 or 40 guys on the Holy Angels hockey team or the Bloomington hockey teams that he had his hands on.”
For the Trebil family, Greg was not only a husband and father, but a person who lived his life and coached in a dignified and classy way. While we were not able to hear from him directly, this reporter’s experience covering his teams dictates that Greg most likely would have deferred as to not self promote. In Greg’s life, that is not a problem as he has hundreds, if not thousands of kids and now adults that were impacted in ways he could never imagine. For that, we applaud and celebrate a coaching icon in Minnesota youth and high school hockey. For the entire Academy of Holy Angels family, our prayers go to an incredible man and coach, and his loving family.