Stars and Stripes
NTDP and Team USA Coach John Hynes Discusses Under-18 Team
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
As the new year approaches, college hockey fans can look forward to a slew of holiday tournaments across the country, from Denver, to Vermont, to Florida. However, for some American players, their tournament this winter involves them taking a holiday of their own — to the Czech Republic for the 2008 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships.
Featured on Team USA are Minnesota's Kyle Okposo, Ohio State's Joe Palmer, New Hampshire's James vanRiemsdyk, and Denver's hero of the week Rhett Rakshani, just to name a few.
The coach? A man who's fairly familiar with the college game himself — John Hynes, former Boston University star who, in front of his hometown crowd in Providence, R.I., won a national championship with the Terriers in 1995.
Since graduating from BU and completing a college career that included four consecutive Frozen Fours, Hynes has worked as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, as an assistant coach at UMass-Lowell, and as a coach within Team USA's National Team Development Program (NTDP), which was founded in 1996. As a coach for the NTDP, Hynes has coached 26 future NHL draft picks, and last year, he led Team USA to a bronze medal at the World Juniors in Sweden.
Now, he is also the head coach of the Under-18 team at the NTDP. The U.S. has won the gold medal at the IIHF World Under-18 Championship in 2002, 2005, and 2006.
Not a bad resume for a guy whose college coach, Jack Parker, is a legend himself. And for someone with such a strong background within college hockey, it's perhaps no surprise that Hynes' Under-18 team has a heavy college influence.
"I played at Boston University, so I know the BU staff very well," said Hynes, who noted that he speaks with many college coaches about his players regularly. "I worked for Mike Eaves of Wisconsin, and I worked for [Notre Dame head coach] Jeff Jackson when he was here in Ann Arbor. Tim Taylor is an assistant coach with us, and he was the long-time coach at Yale. So we have a really good college connection working, not just with myself but with our whole coaching staff."
In addition, former Merrimack goaltender Joe Exter — who, in 2003, memorably suffered a devastating in-game collision against BC that threatened his career and life, only to recover strongly — was named the NTDP's goaltending coach in August.
The Under-18 team that Hynes coaches does not play in a regular league. And as many college hockey fans know, they play many of their games against college teams, both in Division I and Division III. Other opponents include teams on the junior hockey circuit, allowing the young players on the team to consider future options as they are actively recruited by both junior hockey and college programs.
Said Hynes, "The junior route is one option for the players if they're not ready for college. They get a good taste of junior hockey if they choose to go that route. And I think the college route is excellent because they get to play all over the country — they get to see different buildings, different colleges, different atmospheres. I think it's a really nice experience for the players. It's good education for the guys as far as what's out there around the country and what the differences are league-to-league."
This year, the Under-18 squad has faced Maine, Minnesota, St. Cloud, and Colorado College, and their remaining schedule includes games at nearby Michigan (the NTDP is based in Ann Arbor), Ohio State, and Notre Dame. In the past month, the team has picked up victories at Yale and at Harvard.
"All of those places are first-class," said Hynes. "They have great fan bases, excellent hockey, and great facilities."
And the truth is, the Under-18 team plays so many college teams that, in some ways, they basically are one.
"The program is run basically like a college program, as far as the hockey end of things — the travel, the training, the games, and the requirements that the players have," said Hynes.
Still, as the team name would suggest, many of the players are even younger than many college freshmen are when they arrive on campus.
Continued Hynes, "For most of them, it's the first time they've ever been away from home. It's kind of like the college freshman homesickness, but we get it at junior or senior year of high school. So there's a lot of mentorship that goes into that."
Players on the team often live with host families and are used to being away from home. Such is the life of players aspiring to future greatness in the NHL. In fact, in the eight years NTDP players have been NHL draft eligible, a whopping 124 players have been chosen, including 25 in the first round.
And many of them chose the NCAA route first, including a couple of notable Hobey Baker Award winners: Jordon Leopold with Minnesota (2002) and Matt Carle with Denver (2006). Currently, the team scoring leaders include Patrick Gaul, who will lace up his skates as a freshman at Notre Dame next season, Vinny Saponari, who will play for Coach Parker at Boston University, and Danny Kristo, who has committed to North Dakota.
Clearly, the college connection runs deep, and each party appears motivated to put the other on its schedule.
"There's a lot of times that colleges will call us and try to schedule games because we can give them some quality play," said Hynes. "And a lot of times, if there's a gap in their schedule, they like to fill it by playing our team."
Now, as the World Juniors approach, current Under-18 team standout forward Jordan Schroeder — who will play his college hockey at Minnesota — has made the Team USA squad that includes 17 current Division I players, including four Gophers.
Without question, just as it is for the Under-18 squad, national honor is at the forefront for Hynes and Team USA.
"It's pretty special to play on or coach a national team because it's the only time when every person is really an American," said Hynes. "When you're playing college hockey or junior hockey or pro hockey, you're a team, but you're from all over the world.
"But when you're playing on a national team, there's a lot of pride."
Hynes and Team USA kick off their World Junior slate with a game against Kazakhstan on Dec. 26.