By @MichaelCaples –
With Greg Moore leaving for a head coaching job with the Chicago Steel, USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program had an assistant coach position to fill.
Turns out, in a roundabout way, that Dan Hinote had already been preparing for the role.
The former NHL forward was introduced as a new assistant coach for the NTDP during the opening ceremonies of the PowerHockey Cup, being held this week at Team USA’s home in Plymouth.
Hinote had been living in Novi working in the finance world, itching for a return to hockey. After mentioning his interest in the Plymouth-based program to a former teammate – NTDP and Michigan State alum John-Michael Liles – Hinote ended up working as a volunteer coach with the Under-17 Team last year. That turned out to be quite the job interview.
“I had been out of hockey for a while,” said Hinote, who had worked as an assistant coach with the Columbus Blue Jackets from 2010-14. “I asked him if he knew anybody in USA Hockey because he played here at the NTDP, and Wroblewski knew John from back in the day, so I said do you think I could go in and just help out? I called John and he said, ‘the more the merrier, come on out and skate with the team and be around the boys, you’ll be a volunteer.’
“I did that, I was taking time off my real job – unbeknownst to them – but it was great. I spent last year, every other Tuesday, skating with the boys and getting to know them and watch how hard they work and how much they enjoy the game. It’s fun to be around. Then Coach Moore got the opportunity in Chicago, and I got a call from Wrobo asking if I’d be interested in doing this full-time. I couldn’t ask for a better opportunity. Obviously, I’m a USA guy, growing up in a very patriotic family and all, but just knowing the kids, I’m very excited to see them on a day-to-day basis.”
Hinote is certainly a ‘USA guy’ – he was the first player to ever be drafted out of West Point. After 503 NHL games – the majority with the Colorado Avalanche – he spent four seasons coaching with the Blue Jackets before leaving the game for a few years. An Army teammate got him a job as a sales trader with Wedbush Securities; Hinote was trading equities and stocks for the bank while at the same time settling into Metro Detroit.
When asked about his impressions of the NTDP organization, he discussed how he missed hockey and the community within it.
“In the hockey world, this is what it feels like – it feels like a family. You walk into these offices, you know every single person, you know their families, you know their dogs. There was a 6-month-old Labrador running around in there yesterday. You get to know their kids. Coming from the financial world where I just was, it’s a little bit cut-throat and people don’t really care about their next-door neighbor, they just want to make money and do their business, and then you walk into a place like this and see how much they care about each other, how much they care about the kids, how much they care about the community, it’s just refreshing to be a part of that again.”
Hinote is also well-aware of how lucky he is to be working with this particular NTDP group. Last year’s Under-17 Team – which will now be the Under-18 Team in 2018-19 – played a substantial role in a historic campaign for Team USA, which saw them record their first USHL playoff game and series win in program history. That team features the likes of Jack Hughes, Cole Caufield, Alex Turcotte, Cam York, Spencer Knight, Michigan’s own Ryder Rolston and more.
“I’m spoiled, right? This is my first taste of it, and I walk into…that. Their skill level is just so far above anything I’ve ever seen. It was just, wow, this is where hockey is going. And they work hard. They’re good kids. That doesn’t usually all fall into place. It’s usually one of those things…but they have it all. They’re obviously very well coached and USA Hockey has done an unbelievable job bringing them up, but yeah, it’s a special group.”
He’s also thrilled with his new workplace of USA Hockey Arena.
“It’s fantastic. The locker rooms downstairs are just like the NHL, the weight room may even be nicer. I’m sure it’s nicer than what I was a part of. The offices are great. Everything is state-of-the-art. I don’t know if anyone would understand how big of an advantage these kids have because of these facilities and the people who watch over them. You have the two ice sheets, you have the coaching staff, you have the tutors, you have everything here to help you be a full adult. The facility is great, they’ve done a great job here. The city, the community, it’s all fantastic.”
He was only 32 years old when he started coaching with the Blue Jackets, which led what Hinote said was the most difficult part of the transition from player to coach – finding that line of separation with players he had played with or played against. He credits that experience, however, in preparing him for his role with today’s hockey player, as younger generations expect a different kind of relationship with their coaches than previous eras.
“At first, it was hard. Not hard in the sense that I couldn’t get over not playing, but hard in the sense that you have to separate yourself from the players. When I first started coaching in Columbus, the season prior I had played against these guys. Trying to tell Ethan Moreau and Chris Clark, guys who are my peers, some guys were guys I looked up to, saying, ‘hey you’ve got to stop at the blue line’ – who am I to tell them that? That’s how it feels, but that’s part of the gig. You got the gig for whatever reason, and they, as all hockey players, respect the guy holding the whistle. That part took some adjusting, but the guys were great. As long as you don’t overstep and all of a sudden you think you’re ‘that guy’ because you have a whistle, they listen to you. To me, that was the hard part, separating myself from player to coach.
“Yet, to me, I think in today’s sporting world, you have to blur that line a little bit, because these players need to believe you care about them, versus the old days where it was just, ‘do what I tell you’ and you went to the wall because they told you. Now, they need to know you care. That’s the way you have to coach nowadays, so I think I came in at the perfect time.”