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Three Coaching Keys with John Hynes

By Jessi Pierce, 02/16/24, 2:15PM MST


John Hynes had two sets of role models in his life growing up. Certainly, there were his parents, but the people who left an equally impressionable factor in his life were his hockey coaches.

“Other than my parents, I would say my hockey coaches have had some of the biggest impact on my life,” said Hynes, head coach of the Minnesota Wild. “Particularly when I got to high school, my head coach Mike Gaffney, I just had a tremendous amount of respect for him. A real strong role model.”

Hynes’ playing career was cut short due to an injury his senior year at Boston University (where he was a three-year letterman and 1995 NCAA national champion). He studied as a graduate assistant under U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer Jack Parker.

From there it was on to assistant roles at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell (2000-02) and the University of Wisconsin (2002-03) before becoming a U.S. National Team Development Program head coach in Michigan from 2003-09 where he posted an overall record of 216–113–19–9. He helped Team USA capture gold (2006), silver (2004) and bronze (2008) at the IIHF Under-18 Men's World Championships. Hynes was also an assistant with the U.S. National Junior Team that won gold at the 2004 IIHF  World Junior Championship.

After success at the NTDP, Hynes moved up to the American Hockey League with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, first as an assistant and eventually as head coach where the Penguins qualified for the playoffs in all five seasons under Hynes including two conference final appearances.

It was in 2015 when Hynes got his first shot in the NHL as head coach of the New Jersey Devils.    

Nearly three decades of coaching and no matter the chaos and uncertainty that comes with it, what keeps Hynes coming back?

“Just being able to find that role with a team and really try to bring the best out of these young men.”

It's Just Hockey

Hynes might coaching at the game’s highest level, but he still stresses the importance of remembering that there’s more to playing hockey than what’s on the ice.

“Understand it as a profession, but how much the stuff away from the game — players’ wives, what happens when guys are contract years, what happens when a guy gets traded — they’re big life changing things for them. I think you got to recognize those things.”

At the youth level, that means taking into consideration tests, schoolwork, family life and all the outside things that come with being a kid.

“I think it’s really trying to be well-rounded and those things I think are critical for a leader and a coach.”

Communication Is Key

Hynes values communication at every level in every aspect, sometimes stressing that importance even more than the simple semantics of the game.

“You have to be good in your Xs and Os,” said Hynes. “You have to be a good teacher, you have to be able to speak in front of a room and all of that, but the other part is just realizing how much time as a leader you need to give to be present, to be seen, to be around and to be able to communicate with guys.

“If you can’t convey your message, if you can’t get the guys to understand you, and you to understand the guys, then there’s really no point.”

Don’t Forget the Fun

Even when the season isn’t going exactly as expected, or unforeseen hurdles are in the way, never lose sight that the game of hockey is supposed to be fun. It’s not just a priority, it’s the No. 1 priority for every season at every level.

“I think at any level hockey needs to be fun,” Hynes stressed. “Hockey is the game that you love. Sure, winning is fun and it makes it easier to have fun at the rink, but you have to make sure you’re having fun with it. The fun allows you to be loose, and have a mentality about the game that makes it more coachable.

“Especially with the grind of a season, certainly at the professional level but also even as kids, if you’re not making every moment at the rink fun, eventually you’re not going to want to be there. Then you start feeling the pressure, and your mindset and focus changes.

“Fun should always be a priority – the only priority for youth hockey.” 

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