BUFFALO – Relaxed. Smiling. Upbeat. Ready to speak his mind. Passionate, as always, about the game.
Mark Dennehy has been all of those things this weekend at the Prospects Challenge.
To the first-year head coach of the Binghamton Devils of the AHL, this is the second-best time of the year in hockey, behind only the playoffs.
“Everyone is undefeated still. No one’s been a healthy scratch. Everybody’s happy. You can feel the buzz. It’s like spring training for the hockey guys,’’ he said on Sunday after running practice in preparation for Monday morning’s game between the Devils and Bruins prospects.
According to Dennehy, who coached Merrimack College for 13 seasons before being fired in March, there are more similarities than differences between coaching college kids and coaching pro prospects.
“You’re dealing with young men and their development, so it’s probably closer than it’s ever been. To be honest, I’m looking at some of the guys here and they look like freshmen.
“My job is to help develop these guys into the best players and people they can be, so that when they are ready to go up to the big club they are ready to help (Devils coach John Hynes) right off the bat. I guess the only difference is there’s a parent club, whereas in college you’ve got a lot of parent clubs. You might have draft picks from different teams and things along those lines,’’ he said.
“It’s hockey. When you’re on the ice, inside the glass, it’s all the same. As talented as they are – and this is probably the most talent I’ve coached at this age – they still make mistakes and the mistakes they make are very similar to the ones the college kids make.’’
One part of the college game that Dennehy isn’t upset about leaving behind is recruiting.
“Recruiting has gotten so crazy over the last 10 years. I coached for 24 years in college. The last 10 years have been insane. Everybody recognizes there’s a problem, but we haven’t been able to come up with a solution. I won’t miss the recruiting piece.
“And I liked recruiting, don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing better than meeting a kid and his family. I remember – and I wasn’t the main recruiter, Curtis Carr was – getting involved with Brett Seney for the first time and going up to Kingston (Ontario) and watching him and meeting his family.
“Those are all great things. It’s the rest of it. It’s recruitment of prepubescent people. It’s the overcommitments, the decommitments, the pushbacks. That part of it I don’t miss.’’
Seney, the top scorer at Merrimack for the last four season, is now playing for his college coach as he enters his rookie year as a pro. He has been one of the Devils more effective players through their first two games, though he did take two cross-checking penalties against the Penguins on Saturday.
“Senes is a feisty player. He fits in. Obviously I’m biased because I know him a little bit better than some of the guys, but it doesn’t surprise me. I went up last year, ironically, to Binghamton to watch him play and was there for his first goal,’’ Dennehy said.
“In terms of the penalties, hey, we had a saying that it’s always easier to let the air out of a tire than it is to pump it up. You don’t have to pump Brett up. You might have to let a little air out every once in a while.’’
Player development in a winning environment is what most AHL coaches aim for and Dennehy is no different.
“Part of development is winning, don’t get me wrong. But the onus is on developing these players, all of them. You want these guys to achieve their goals. And that’s my job. To help them be the best they can be. Again, that’s not much different from college,” he said.