Playoff hockey. It’s the most fun time of the year.
The playoffs represent the pinnacle of the season. It’s a time for players to demonstrate the skills they’ve honed for months.
Players trained in a supportive environment should be able to make a seamless transition to the playoffs, since they’ve already been competing in every situation – power play, penalty kill, etc. – without fear of failure.
Rhode Island-native John Hynes, in his fourth season as head coach of the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, has a simple message for playoff-bound coaches: stick to the game plan and trust your process. Don’t shorten the bench.
The 2011 AHL Coach of the Year and former National Team Development Program coach recently sat down with USA Hockey to talk about playoff preparation for coaches and believing in the team’s foundation.
Here’s what the Boston University alumnus had to say:
USA Hockey: You’ve coached in many big games. What’s your approach when it comes to the playoffs?
John Hynes: When you get to the playoffs, or later in the season, you’re really at a stage in the year where all of your foundations and your buildings blocks are in place. Your individual development and player development over the course of the season is all built to be at its best in the playoffs. When you get to this stage of the season, it’s about having belief and trust in the process you’ve gone through up to this point.
USA Hockey: So you’ve already done the prep work. You’ve already set the foundation. Now it’s just time to go out there and have some fun?
John Hynes: Correct. At this stage, it’s knowing what your role is. It’s knowing what your identity is. It’s knowing what your mindset is. It’s believing and trusting in that, and then going out and playing as best as you can.
USA Hockey: Do you think coaches, parents and players are tempted by “going for the win” too much? Is it easy to get too caught up in the moment or in the emotions?
John Hynes: At times you do. When you get into playoff situations and championship games, the natural instinct is to go to the end result and to want to win more than wanting to go through the process. Believe in your process. The more pressure, and the bigger the game, the more you want to rely on your foundation and structure. You play your best when you’re focused on playing and focused on the process, but to do that you have to believe in the preparation you’ve had through the year. You want to be able to go play with a clear mind.
USA Hockey: Especially at the youth levels, how disheartening can it be for a kid to see a regular shift all season and then ride the bench during the playoffs?
John Hynes: It’s particularly difficult at the younger ages. It’s always difficult when players are in a more developmental situation, when part of the process is learning and playing through those situations and going through the full season. When your role gets limited and you don’t have a lot of chances to play later in the season, it’s disappointing. It’s not like the professional level, where guys are earning a living.
USA Hockey: You want the kids to come back next year. Shortening the bench can’t be a good retention strategy.
John Hynes: Absolutely it’s not. The biggest part of youth sports is developing and fueling the passion for the game. Those are the situations (shortening the bench) where players could get turned off. Ultimately, for the growth of the game, it’s not a good thing.
USA Hockey: What about you, personally? Playoffs can raise the stress level. What do you do to stay loose, stay calm and ensure you continue doing your job?
John Hynes: It really comes down to preparation. It’s the most fun time of the year. It’s the time of the year that’s the most rewarding. You go through all of your training camps. You go through all of your trials and tribulations. There’s something on the line. It’s really just trusting in that preparation. When you’re prepared for a difficult game, you’re more relaxed going into it because you’re prepared for it. You can go play and enjoy the competition. It’s more just making sure that we’re prepared for each situation. Then we want to go out there and compete and enjoy the process of competing.