Glen Hanlon doesn't like to sit around, but he wasn't going to jump at the first coaching job that came along either. Out of coaching since being dismissed as coach of the Capitals in late November, Hanlon was content scouting for Washington as he waited to see what opportunities came along.
Hanlon, 51, wasn't really interested in doing the minor-league circuit again, and he wasn't even sure if another NHL job would be acceptable if it brought too much upheaval to his family – wife Keri and 6-year-old son Jackson.
Europe, however, proved to be a completely different proposition. He became interested the minute he heard from Jokerit, soon after Doug Shedden left the Finnish club to take a coaching job in Switzerland.
"I thought Europe would be a real good option," Hanlon told NHL.com.
But he wasn't sure his family would agree. Hanlon was at a stage in life where their input was as important, if not more so, than his professional ambition.
"There was a discussion and a lot of it was family driven," Hanlon said. "We felt a 56-game season and busing to most road games was a good situation. At this stage, we want to be together as a family. So we were ready to give this a try."
Hanlon was intrigued by Europe because of his experiences with the Belarus national team, which he coached in the 2005 and 2006 World Championship, and his interest in some of the North American coaches that paved the way to Europe.
"I really enjoyed myself with Belarus and my little bit of international experience with Hockey Canada and I just felt like doing it," Hanlon said from Helsinki. "I've always admired the Tom Renneys and Andy Murrays that have gone to Europe and learned about a new kind of hockey and about the world."
Both Renney, with the New York Rangers, and Murray, with St. Louis, coach in the NHL today. Each cut their coaching teeth with Team Canada at the international level. Hanlon also mentioned Dave King and George Kingston, who have coached at the European club level, as inspirations for this latest chapter in his hockey life.
Some day, Hanlon would like to follow the footsteps of Renney and Murray to return to the NHL as a head coach, but for now he is filled with the excitement of a new challenge in the SM Liiga, one of the top professional leagues in Europe. Jokerit is one of the marquee names in Finnish hockey, so the pressure will be immense.
Yet Hanlon seems to have adjusted without a hitch. He has introduced a system of play that has some elements of traditional North American play, but also makes concessions to the European emphasis on puck possession, as well as the game dynamics brought about by playing on an ice surface much larger than the traditional North American rink.
"It's a hybrid style and I really like it," Hanlon said. "I have a great respect for the ice surface here."
And his players have a healthy respect for their new coach.
Canadian Joey Tenute is playing first-line center for Jokerit this season. He is familiar with Hanlon because both came of age in the Capitals’ system. Tenute spent two years with Hershey, the team's North American affiliate, and enjoyed a one-game call-up to the NHL. Hanlon coached the Capitals from 2003 until late 2007.
"Glen has brought a system in and he wants to play that system," Tenute told NHL.com. "I think it is a good mix of European and North American styles and we've been working really hard on it in practice. The team seems to like it and it has worked well so far in the exhibition season."
Mike Bishai is another Canadian on Jokerit. But unlike Tenute, Bishai has European experience, having played a season in Russia and a season in Finland, with Ilves, before recently joining Jokerit.
"I think he is a great coach," Bishai says. "He's clearly got the tools and the coaching ability to lead this team to a championship. It's pretty exciting."
Exciting is a common word in any discussion with Hanlon about his new position. He is excited to be in Finland, he is excited to start the regular season and he is excited to play host to the Pittsburgh Penguins, who arrive later this month for an exhibition game in Helsinki before starting the NHL regular season with a two-game set against Ottawa in the NHL Premiere 2008 series in Stockholm.
"I'll be excited to see NHL people," Hanlon said. "It'll be good to see people we have played or coached against in the NHL. It'll be a lot of fun to be able to play this game. I'm really looking forward to it."
Not quite as much as the Hanlon clan is looking forward to a year in Finland. Hanlon has signed a one-year contract, but he isn't ruling out staying longer. If first impressions are any indication, Hanlon may find a second home in Helsinki.
"I'm not putting a time frame on this and I'm not coaching in Finland because of any ill feelings over being let go," Hanlon said. "I loved being in the NHL and will probably be back there some day in some capacity. But, right now, my family is ecstatic after a month and a half of being here. It has worked out really great for all of us."