Dave Hakstol was born and raised just outside the small town of Warburg, Alberta.

Population: 766.

Stoplights: 0.

His mother, Theresa, worked as a school teacher. His late father, Ed, worked on the family farm and in the oil fields to help support the farm.

For Dave, there was plenty of work to be done. On the farm, he was responsible for branding and feeding cattle, shoveling grain, running machinery, bailing hay, seeding and driving the tractor. When he did get free time, he was busy with other activities like playing the accordion, playing baseball with friends or skating on his father's small rink at the farm.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live
Newsletter signup for email alerts

With such a busy schedule, it wasn't an issue that the family TV only had three stations or that they'd sometimes have to climb onto the roof to fix the antenna if a strong Alberta wind howled.

Really, there was only one weekly show that was appointment viewing at the Hakstol household: Hockey Night in Canada, 5 p.m. every Saturday.

Ed's loyalties did not belong to the nearby new franchise, the Edmonton Oilers. They belonged to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

This year's pandemic-altered Stanley Cup Playoffs are about to begin this weekend in two hub cities -- Toronto for the Eastern Conference and Edmonton for the Western Conference. The Stanley Cup Final will be played in Edmonton.

That means it will present an opportunity like none other for Hakstol, a first-year assistant with the Maple Leafs.

He will have a chance to win a Stanley Cup for his father's favorite team in the shadow of his hometown.

Hakstol's Maple Leafs open the playoffs at 7 p.m. Sunday against the Columbus Blue Jackets in a best-of-five series. The Leafs are not considered one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup. Out of the 24 teams still playing, Toronto has the 10th-best odds, according to Bovada.

But with a roster littered with star players like Auston Mattews, John Tavares and Mitch Marner, and the ability to play the entire Eastern Conference playoffs at home, it's not out of the question.

An assistant under head coach Sheldon Keefe, Hakstol will not be at the forefront of this series or the playoffs. The Maple Leafs do not permit their assistant coaches to do interviews and prefer they stay in the background.

But Keefe, who took over for a fired Mike Babcock in November, told the Herald on New Year's Eve that he's been impressed with Hakstol.

"He's been excellent," Keefe said. "His demeanor is consistent every day in terms of not getting too emotional. His experience speaks to that -- the fact that he's been a head coach in the league as well. He's done a good job in getting our penalty kill prepared every day and working with our defense, so our entire staff has done a great job and certainly Dave's experience as a head coach has been invaluable to me."

The Maple Leafs haven't played the Blue Jackets since October. Toronto won the first meeting 4-1 on Oct. 4. The Blue Jackets won 4-3 in overtime on Oct. 21.

"I think the talent level of the group has never been a question," Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas said. "It's been the maturing and mindset of the group that we have to take some strides in. And so far, through Phase 2 and Phase 3 (of the return to hockey), I've certainly been very happy with what I've seen just in terms of using these last four-plus months to really work on those things as a group. A lot of that has been player driven.

"I don't know how that plays out in the short term, because this is such a strange and unique set of circumstances that none of us really know how it's going to play out once we get into the series against Columbus on Sunday. But in the long run in where we want to go as a franchise, I'm optimistic that it's going to help us now, but I'm even more optimistic about what it does in the long run for us and where we need to go as a program."

Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets

Game 1: 7 p.m. Sunday (NHL Network).

Game 2: 3 p.m. Tuesday (NBC Sports).

Game 3: Aug. 6, TBD.

Game 4: Aug. 7, TBD (if necessary).

Game 5: Aug. 9, TBD (if necessary).