The Predators figure to have at least a few representatives at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, and the first participant has already been named.
Nashville Head Coach John Hynes will serve as an assistant coach for Team USA at the Games - which are set to take place in Beijing, China, this coming February - and as one might imagine, doing so will be quite the honor.
"To have the opportunity to represent your country is always special, and it's truly the best-on-best tournament," Hynes said. "The Olympic Games, to be part of it as an athlete or coach or trainer in any way is a special opportunity. I'm just tremendously excited and grateful for the opportunity and really excited to work with the staff and the management, but also the opportunity to work with all the top players in the United States. They're not only excellent players, they're highly motivated people, and trying to compete for a gold medal at the highest level is invigorating."
The invitation marks the first time Hynes has been selected by USA Hockey to attend the Olympics, but it's not his first foray into international competition with his country.
A native of Rhode Island, Hynes spent nine seasons on the coaching staff of USA Hockey's National Team Development Program, serving as an assistant from 1998-2000 and 2001-02 and as head coach from 2003-09. While with the NTDP, Hynes claimed four Under-18 World Championship medals - two of them gold - and he also served as an assistant coach for the United States at the 2004 World Junior Championship, where the Americans won gold for the first time and earned their first medal in the event since 1997.
In February, Hynes will take his spot behind the bench alongside Penguins Head Coach - and Team USA Head Coach - Mike Sullivan, as well as with fellow assistants Todd Reirden of the Penguins, former Rangers Head Coach David Quinn and all-time winningest American goaltender Ryan Miller.
Those interactions with peers, Hynes says, are one of the most enjoyable parts of international competition. Not only are there opportunities to get to know others from around the NHL, but the chance to share ideas and observe how others operate benefits everyone involved.
"Any time you've had the opportunity to work in these events, you learn so much," Hynes said. "You give a lot and you try to do the best you can to help the team win and help the coaches, help the management, but you also learn so much. Whether it's from other coaching staffs, how they go about their business and do things, getting the opinions and insights of other general managers, and then, most importantly, the players, there's so much to gain.
"It's a great thing for the individuals that have the opportunities to be in these events, but I think it also is real benefit to our organization with the things that you can bring back, the knowledge you bring back, the experiences, getting to know other players, getting to know other general managers and coaches; it's a great learning experience with more tools in the bag, but I also think it's going to be a big benefit for our Nashville players and Nashville organization to have an experience like this."
Coaches are wired a certain way, and from the moment Hynes received word of the assignment, his mind immediately began to analyze a potential roster, what roles certain players might fill and how the United States might bring home their first medal at the Games since they earned silver in 2010.
The challenge to compete against the best in the world is immense, but that task also comes with a patriotic feeling that can only be realized when donning the red, white and blue.
"Everyone has a sense of pride, and to have the opportunity to represent USA Hockey, you're representing all the youth coaches and youth players and the people that spend so much time as volunteers at the grassroots levels," Hynes said. "You do feel a sense of pride, a sense of responsibility, a sense of togetherness that you want to be able to go and do the best job you can. You want to represent the country in a great way and work towards great results.
"You do have an abundant sense of humbleness and pride because the opportunity is unique. It's a long process to get to this level, but it's also an opportunity where you know you have your country behind you… You do feel like you have all the people that have helped you in the past, and we are representing not only just USA Hockey, but our country at the highest level of international competition. That's a huge sense of pride, and it's an honor."
Of course, Hynes will be focused on his NHL club in the near term, and the Preds are slated to begin Training Camp in just three weeks. That's when Hynes and his staff will begin work with a group that looks a bit different than it did last season, and Nashville's bench boss would love nothing more than to return from his Olympic journey to join a playoff push in Tennessee.
"I'm really excited to get back with our guys," Hynes said. "We had a tremendous second half of last year, and we feel like we have lots of really good things to be able to build off of from last year. Training camps can be really important to get off to a good start, really get to our identity and get to know some of the newer players better and where everybody fits, and that's exciting. It's been a good summer. We've been able to really look at our team, and obviously there's been some changes to our team, but I think coming back in, everyone's focused and excited to try to get off to a really good start in training camp."