When you truly love what you do, that spirit you bring to the office every day can be contagious.
Ty Hennes' office just so happens to be a hockey rink, and the shirt and tie usually lose out to a track suit, skates, gloves and stick.
"If you can be a part of the game of hockey and make a living with it at the same time, you are one of the luckiest people on earth," Hennes said.
Hockey is the lifeblood for Hennes, and his recent run in Pittsburgh as the Penguins' Skills and Development Coach is a culmination of a long and winding road that began about 1,400 miles away in the small town of Dickinson, North Dakota.
"My babysitter at the time had a son that was the captain of the high school team. So, I remember being very young and having seen him come home every day and bringing in his hockey equipment. He always allowed me to wipe off his skate blades. I remember thinking that from a young age like this was a pretty cool guy, pretty cool sport."
Those thoughts turned into a passion for Hennes, who moved to the town of Kent, Washington - just south of Seattle - at the age of eight. Hennes grew his game and eventually brought his talents cross-country to Deerfield Academy in Deerfield, Massachusetts, before competing in the United States Hockey League as a member of the Omaha Lancers. From there, Hockey Hall of Famer Jerry York brought Hennes back to Massachusetts to continue his career at the college level as a member of the Boston College Eagles.
"I had the opportunity to go play for Jerry York at Boston College, win a national championship, become a captain at BC." Hennes said. "Those are very pivotal years and instrumental years in your life and you do look for people to influence and guide you along the way. From day one, Coach York is very clear about what his two goals are: number one is to graduate his kids and number two is to win national championships."
The 41 year-old played four years for York's Eagles. However, despite hockey guiding him through the first half of his life, there was another goal Hennes had his sights set on accomplishing, and after signing with the Detroit Red Wings ahead of the 2004-05 lockout, the wheels were put in motion for Hennes to pursue that opportunity.
"I always knew I wanted to become a sports chiropractor. My uncle, who I looked up to tremendously, was a chiropractor, and I had applied to chiropractic school to become a doctor. I had been accepted also, after my senior year and I had a two-year window to defer or I would lose my seat."
Hennes hatched an interesting plan in his second year of professional hockey: he'd skate in the Central Hockey League as a player at night, while attending the Parker College of Chiropractic Medicine in Dallas, Texas.
"I would be taking a neuro exam in the morning," Hennes said. "Then I would just play games - I wouldn't practice with the teams. I would just show up and play in the afternoon or in the evening. It was always entertaining for my classmates; we'd be in gross anatomy lab with a cadaver at noon, and then they come to see me play in the evening."
Hennes earned his doctorate in 2011 and quickly flipped gears back into a hockey rink, joining USA Hockey from 2013-2015 as a regional manager with the Amateur Development Model, which eventually brought him to the brand-new UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in 2015. That quickly resulted in an opportunity with then-Wilkes Barre Scranton head coach Mike Sullivan.
"I would drive down to Wilkes Barre on Tuesdays to work with the pros, drive back Tuesday night, and then be back on the ice with youth hockey players the other six days of the week. From there, the opportunity started to work with some of our injured players during that first Stanley Cup year in 2016."
That opportunity was a beginning for Hennes with the Penguins - a group that's suffered major injuries over the last handful of seasons. But, each time a player begins their rehab assignment on the ice, it's Hennes who is there right alongside them.
"I think for a lot of organizations, it's more than the initial mindset is getting this player to return to play. Our staff's mindset at all three levels is we want our players to return to perform, not just get back into the lineup and fill a roster spot, or log minutes and fill minutes in that game. We want these minutes to be productive, we want them to be completely ready."
This season, Hennes is largely responsible for running the Taxi Squad and keeping the group ready at a moment's notice.
"I try to provide our taxi squad the exact same teaching principles that the game group would have that particular morning. If it's a game review, if the focus and concept that the team is being taught that morning is about it's neutral zone transition or breakouts or puck retrievals for a defenseman or offensive zone entries for a forward, we try to incorporate that into the taxi squad," Hennes said. "So, if it does get into a situation of plug and play, the players that we had on the taxi squad know exactly what to do."
Hennes is one of the unsung heroes on the Penguins coaching staff. His attitude remains steadfast - the game, the job and the experience mean the world to him.
"I truly love what I'm doing and, and working with players. I couldn't be luckier. Where it takes us, I'm not sure; hopefully a 2021 Stanley Cup would be would be great. That's always the ultimate goal. And, you know, the organization's constantly striving and pushing and it's great to be involved in an organization that puts the focus on winning. So, I'm very lucky."