Devils coach John Hynes reflects on the 2016 IIHF World Championship with Team USA. (Photo: Getty Images)
John Hynes knows a thing or two about international tournaments. As the head coach of the U.S. National Team Development program for six years, he coached in enough of them to know what to expect as the head coach of Team USA at the 2016 IIHF World Championship in Russia this week and that's exactly why USA Hockey selected him.
"He's a coach that we are very familiar with who has experience with tournaments like this and with coaching young players and we thought all of that would be valuable for our team," said Jim Johannson, assistant executive director of hockey operations at USA Hockey and the general manager of Team USA.
Hynes has been behind the bench of the U-18 world championship three times and twice at the world junior championship (once as an assistant) and has earned two gold medals, a silver and a bronze, but this was his first time behind the bench at the men's level.
"I've had the opportunity to coach a lot of international tournaments, but this one is a bit different at the men's level," said the first year NHL coach. "It's similar to the NHL in terms of the maturity level of the players and their hockey IQ, not only of our team, but of all the teams here. It's been exciting because when you work with highly talented players, it challenges you as a coach to be able to bring them together as a group."
Throughout the three-week event, Hynes relied heavily on his previous experiences to help him navigate this new challenge.
"It's been eight or nine years since I've been to Europe or with USA Hockey and I found myself with a lot of deja vu moments remembering what it was like, but the experience definitely helps, even just knowing how things go behind the scenes in these tournaments and then, of course, knowing how to come together as a team as the tournament goes on to put yourself in a position to succeed," he explained.
David Warsofsky, who played for Hynes at the NTDP, in Wilkes-Barre and then with the Devils after he was acquired on waivers in February, understands better than anyone how Hynes operates and the way he approaches every game and was excited for the opportunity to play for him again at this tournament.
"He's really intense. He expects a lot out of his players and he demands a lot, but he's very fair. He knows what each guy can do and he expects each guy to perform to that level," Warsofsky said. "He's very straight forward. If you've done something wrong, he's going to let you know. You're not going to sit there wondering why you're not playing, which I think is good. You want to know why you're not getting your minutes and he's very straight forward like that. He's very detailed when it comes to the game. He gets up for every game and as a player you like to see that out of your coach."
As intense as he is as a coach, Hynes' biggest challenge with this team was to help them channel their own intensity into playing solid hockey while remaining disciplined and focused on the task at hand.
"They're extremely competitive. They're young. They're aggressive and I think they're very confident and as a coach it's trying to balance allowing them to be them, but also having it channeled in the right direction to be able to have strong performances in the games," he explained. "The big difference with this tournament is that you don't have a lot of practice time so communication had to be key. There's a lot of video and one-on-one meetings to be able to get your message across and make your team better."
Although this very young Team USA - the youngest in the tournament with an average age of 23 - ultimately lost in the bronze medal game to Russia, they exceeded the expectations of most and learned a lot along the way that they can take forward in their careers and to their respective NHL clubs, including Hynes.
"We have the opportunity to do this because we're not playing in the playoffs and I think it's an opportunity to grow as a coach and be in pressure situations and learn and get different ideas, so for me it's been everything I thought it would be and more," he said. "It's been a tremendous honor to come over here and represent my country."