A lot of young adults aren’t sure what direction to go career-wise when they head off to college, but Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach John Hynes knew exactly what he wanted to do.
Inspired by his high school hockey coach, who also taught at the school, Hynes chose to follow a similar path and major in health and physical education at Boston University, saying “I was planning to get into teaching at some point when my hockey career ended.”
But after his experience playing at perennial powerhouse BU under legendary coach Jack Parker from 1994-97, Hynes decided although he still wanted to teach, he wanted to venture outside of the classroom and work with hockey players as his students.
“When I went to Boston University with coach Parker and some of the other relationships I created with some of the staff members there, I knew when I was done with playing that I definitely wanted to coach and I wanted to coach at a high level,” Hynes said.
And Hynes, now in his third season as a professional head coach, has gotten the best of both worlds in his career so far.
“Coaching is very similar (to teaching) in the fact that we have to have relationships with the players,” he said. “We have to really break down complex situations and compartmentalize them so they understand how everything works together in a real simple way.
“But (coaches are also similar) in a way that engages them where they’re intent at the meetings, that they enjoy coming to the rink every day and you kind of keep it to an environment where they’re excited. (Make sure) things change a little bit so their brains are on and things really kind of hit home.”
Hynes may be just 37 years old, but he’s already accumulated 16 years of experience as a coach in the junior, college, international and now American Hockey League (AHL) ranks. In his first year as a professional head coach, he was named the AHL’s most outstanding coach after leading WBS to one of the best regular-season records in league history.
His career began back in 1997 after a ruptured disc in his neck during his senior season forced him to hang up his skates.
“Coach Parker allowed me to be a graduate assistant coach the next year,” Hynes explained. “That start at BU was kind of how I got my start coaching and that really kind of set me up to be able to get opportunities to go to the U.S. national program and continue to go to different situations from there.”
Though Hynes moved on after that season, he’s grateful for the huge impact his time at BU had on him and still keeps in touch with his mentor Parker to this day.
“When you play for him, it’s a little bit different of a relationship,” Hynes said of Parker. “He’s a very commanding presence and he pushes you, but you realize after you graduate how much he cares about the players, (especially with) the things that he does for you afterwards. Usually I try to meet with him at one point in the summer. We go sailing and talk about hockey and talk about life.”
Hynes spent time as an assistant coach at University of Massachusetts-Lowell and the University of Wisconsin before accepting a head coaching position with the U.S. National Team Development Program (USNTDP) in Ann Arbor, Mich. – and that’s where he really cut his teeth because of the unique experiences he was afforded.
Although the USNTDP is part of the United States Hockey League (USHL), their schedule also includes games against top NCAA Division I and III college teams while participating in international tournaments throughout the year. Players that Hynes worked with included Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel, Jack Johnson and James van Riemsdyk.
“We traveled overseas, so we played against Finns, Russians, Czechs, Slovaks – you see different styles of hockey and how different teams practice and different philosophies,” Hynes said. “For coaching, it was a great learning experience. Not just to see North American hockey, but hockey around the world and get those experiences. It was (also) a great situation because there was two teams there, so you had multiple coaches that were in there. You had the ability to converse with different guys on a daily basis.
“That really was the place I grew the most as a coach. Not just because of the types of mentors I had there, but also the experiences of playing against colleges, playing juniors, playing international and then of course, always the opportunity you had to work with high-end, elite players that are always exciting and help you grow as a coach and push you as a coach.”
After seven years with the national program, Hynes decided it was time for a change. He considered returning to college hockey, but ultimately decided on professional hockey – the AHL in particular – to retain that teaching aspect of his job.
“For two years before I got the opportunity here, I really thought that the American Hockey League would be a good situation to be able to get in and coach because you’re developing, but there’s also still that competitive component to win,” Hynes said.
And in Wilkes-Barre, Hynes is constantly building on his reputation of being one of the most talented, passionate young coaches in all of professional hockey and continues to grow and develop his methods and philosophies.
“I think every year you coach, there’s more maturity in the way you deal with players and how you can see a team develop,” he said. “The past couple years it’s really the communication, the attitude and the environment you want to be able to create with the players. Having good relationships with players and having them want to come to the rink every day and enjoy what they’re doing. In pro hockey, that’s one of the things that’s really important because they’re men, they’re professionals, they want to be the best. But everybody needs some guidance and some structure. It’s really a blend of creating a great environment where guys are hungry to play, excited to play and love coming to the rink.”
Because that’s exactly how Hynes feels every day he goes to work.
“Dealing with the players every day and loving coming to the rink,” Hynes said of what he loves the most about his job. “We do this for a living. You’re coaching hockey, you’re interacting with young guys that want to learn, have great personalities and you’re coming to school every day teaching and you’re enjoying the process.”