Flynn brings experience to Winterhawks
Four months ago, Danny Flynn was coaching the Saint John Sea Dogs to the Memorial Cup semifinals.
Now the veteran coach is in Portland helping the Winterhawks prepare for the 2017-18 season, which begins Saturday at Everett.
Flynn and Paul Gaustad have joined head coach/general manager/vice president Mike Johnston and associate coach Kyle Gustafson on the staff.
Previous assistant coaches under Johnston — including first-year Vancouver Canucks head coach Travis Green — have been young guys in the early phase of a coaching career. Flynn turned 60 on Sept. 5 and has been in a coaching or front office role with six teams that have played in the Memorial Cup.
"He can look at our program and make some suggestions. We're always looking to be better," Johnston says. "I want to be better as a coach. Kyle wants to be better. We want our program to be the best."
Flynn and Johnston, 60, are longtime friends. Both are from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, a town of about 70,000.
Despite last season's success — the Flynn-coached Sea Dogs finished with the best record in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and rolled through the playoffs with a 16-2 record to reach the Memorial Cup — Flynn says it was time for a change.
Of the opportunities in front of him, the chance to work with Johnston won out.
"As I looked at the options in front of me, this really intrigued me. It was a chance to come to an outstanding city and outstanding organization," Flynn says.
Oliver David, last season's Winterhawks assistant coach, accepted a head coaching job with Dubuque in the United States Hockey League. Johnston says he was patient about filling that spot once he found out Flynn might be interested.
"I said, 'Hey, come and try Portland for a year. Maybe we can keep you longer, but it will give you a good experience in the Western league. Now you've coached in all three (Canadian Hockey League) leagues, which is very unique,'" Johnston says of his pitch to Flynn. "I thought it was a good fit because I thought he could really help us look at every area and push it to another level."
Flynn echoes that sentiment.
"I'm at the point in my career where I wanted to go to a situation where it was a good team with a chance to win and a chance to work with good people that I could learn from," Flynn says, adding that he can learn a lot from working beside Johnston.
Flynn will focus on coaching forwards and on the penalty kill. Gustafson will continue to work with the defense and the team's power play.
Gaustad, the former Winterhawks captain who a year ago retired from the NHL, will work in a developmental role. His focus will include faceoffs and the penalty kill, two roles that helped keep him in the NHL for 11 seasons.
Gaustad recently became president of the Junior Winterhawks youth hockey organization and will be coaching one of its teams.
Flynn spent most of his career in the QMJHL and the Ontario Hockey League — with two one-season stints as an NHL assistant coach. In 1993, Flynn was an assistant coach for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds when they won the Memorial Cup in Seattle. He says he traveled through Portland once "a number years ago."
In 1987-88, Flynn was the first full-time assistant coach in the Ontario Hockey League.
"The style of play in junior hockey has really evolved. It's become much more of a speed and a skill game. The quality and the detail of coaching has evolved so much, and the social media and the technology side has really evolved," Flynn says. "But the things that won way back then and the things that win now in terms of good character players with hockey sense and heart, I don't think that'll ever change."
One ingredient Flynn can provide that is not in Johnston's nature is levity.
"Danny is a really good coach, and I think he'll be good for our players. He's got a good humorous side to him so he's kind of a balance (personality-wise)," Johnston says.