NEWARK, NJ – Behind every NHL coach, there is an AHL coach.
And for New Jersey Devils head coach John Hynes, that counterpart is Mark Dennehy – head coach of the Binghamton Devils.
Dennehy is about to enter his second season with Binghamton, although he has only been with the organization for 11 months. The 51-year-old coach was hired on August 1, 2018, missing out on last years Development Camp. This year, Dennehy is at the helm, helping implement the New Jersey Devil way to the team’s prospects.
“As a coach your main job is to set a standard and part me of getting this job was understanding what a great job Hynsey has done of importing a culture here,” Dennehy said exclusively to NewJerseyDevils.com. “There is a culture here that exists and so I’ve got the blueprint, now it’s just a matter of really trying to get it established in Binghamton. My job is ‘here is this culture’ and ‘these are the expectations, this is the standard in New Jersey’ so we’re going to bring that.
In his first season with the AHL Devils, Dennehy was presented with a unique challenge. The accumulation of injuries at the NHL level meant that Dennehy and his coaching staff which include assistant coaches Sergei Brylin and Ryan Parent, were tasked with having to deal with an ever-changing roster with all the call-ups to the NHL level.
Dennehy had to take pause. He was new to the AHL game.
“The running joke was when we got to December and I’m talking to the staff and the guys that have been a part of this organization, I’m like ‘Is this normal?’ and they’re like ‘Oh yeah, this is normal,'” Dennehy said.
“Then we got to January and I’m like ‘alright, is this normal?’ and they say ‘Yeah, pretty normal.’ But then we get to February and they’re like ‘yeah, this isn’t normal anymore!’ This is an outlier, between injuries, trade deadline, and trades.”
There was, however, a silver lining. On multiple occasions, it was Dennehy who got to deliver the news to several of his players that their dream of being called up to the NHL was about to happen. His first such moment came with a player he knew well. Forward Brett Seney was called up and Dennehy, who has known Seney since he was a kid and coached him at the collegiate level at Merrimack got to be the one to tell him. Just recalling that moment made Dennehy emotional.
“I think the first player I told professionally that was going to the NHL [for the first time] was Brett Seney and that was really cool for me,” he said. “I get emotional just thinking about it, because I’ve known him since he was a kid and this was his dream. I got to tell a lot of guys last year that they were going to the NHL and that’s a great part of my job.”
Several of the players Dennehy sent off to the NHL level found success in their roles while called upon in New Jersey, Seney joined Joey Anderson, Nate Bastian and Mackenzie Blackwood among those to make an impression, which is all part of the cohesion between Dennehy’s staff and John Hynes’ staff. It’s part of what he enjoys so much in his role as a coach.
“For me coaching is about teaching,” he said. “It’s about helping a young person achieve their dreams. It’s about the competition which is what we all crave, but also, it’s teamwork. Not just helping a person achieve their dreams, but helping a young person, other people like John Hynes, Sergei [Brylin], the development coaches, all with one focus.”
Ask any player with the Binghamton Devils and even those who are meeting Dennehy for the first time at this year’s development camp and you’ll learn quickly that players have a fondness for him, often calling him tough but fair. He runs intense practices, expects a lot from his players and while not everything can always go right, Dennehy has a strong understanding of his impact on young careers.
“You have to sometimes put yourself back in their situation and remember some of these kids, this is the first time they’ve been away from home, we’ve got a number of players who, and I have such respect for these guys, they come in and English is their second language. They come in and don’t have a huge foundation, so kids are going to make mistakes so it’s about learning from them. That’s where the ‘fair’ part comes in. But at the end of the day you have to hold them accountable. To get [to the NHL] they need to understand what the standard is, what the culture is for them to have success.”
And so far, in just 11 months with the Devils organization, Dennehy has proven he made for the process. Whether it be telling a player they’re called to the NHL or helping a player through the disappointment of being sent back down, Dennehy feels he’s right where he belongs.
“I just like going to work every day,” he said. “For me it’s about who I’m working with. I love being a coach, I’ve really enjoyed working with New Jersey. Ray has done an unbelievable job and the family feel. I really like our staff whether it’s Ian, Sarge or Ryan. We have fun every day, and hopefully the players feel that on the ice.”