Danny Flynn is no stranger to success. In fact, he’s found it everywhere he’s been. Whether it was winning two OHL titles and a Memorial Cup championship with Sault Ste. Marie in the 90’s, to winning three QMJHL titles between Moncton and Saint John, to coaching in the NHL with the New York Islanders and the Buffalo Sabres. But among Flynn’s fondest memories of his illustrious coaching career, is leading the 2003-04 StFX X-Men to their first and only national hockey title.
“I remember how excited the town was, and I remember how excited the school was”, says Flynn. “I remember how excited the players were, because some of them had been there for three or four years and had come so close.”
The path to StFX’s national title in ’04 didn’t come without it’s roadbumps. Leading up to that season, the X-Men had been to two national championship final games in three seasons, but had fallen short on both occasions to the UQTR Patriotes. However, third time proved to be the charm for the X-Men, who knocked off the UNB Varsity Reds in double overtime of the 2004 University Cup final in enemy territory at the Aitken University Centre in Fredericton, N.B.
It was Blake Robson who scored the infamous OT winner, moments after he sat misty eyed in the penalty box, believing he may have just cost his University a national title. But as luck would have it, Robson was sprung in on a 2-on-1 out of the box, and held on to snipe the winner, lifting the weight of the world off his shoulders.
That season, Flynn had a special group of players. Goaltender Mike Mole nearly had a perfect University Cup, and was awarded tournament MVP. A total of four NHL draft picks highlighted the roster, including Robson (Atlanta), Todd Norman (Vancouver), Mike Martone (Buffalo), and Wes Jarvis (New York Rangers). Future coach with the Kitchener Rangers and Hamilton Bulldogs, Troy Smith, anchored the blueline. But leading the way was 2004 second team All-Canadian, captain of StFX, and current head coach of the University of Ottawa men’s hockey program, Patrick Grandmaitre
“Patrick was high skill-level, high character, and high hockey-IQ. If everybody I coached was as easy to coach as Patrick, I might coach another 40 years”, says Flynn.
For as much respect and admiration Flynn has for his former star X-Men forward, it’s reflected right back. Grandmaitre remembers his time at StFX under Flynn fondly, and credits him as being the first true hockey innovator he played for.
“I had good coaches at the junior level, but it was the basic systems, whereas Danny was always thinking of some way to counter the other team or get out of a slump. He was always trying to create something”, says Grandmaitre.
Grandmaitre’s admiration of Flynn’s mind for the game is part of the reason the two still frequently contact each other. It’s especially important for Grandmaitre, who had the tall task last season of resurrecting the University of Ottawa men’s hockey program from scratch.
“[Flynn] is a guy I rely upon for information about players, about systems, about dealing with character. Pretty much everything that goes into coaching a university hockey team. He was so good at it, and he’s continued to be a good coach at other levels, so I’d be crazy not to tap into that knowledge”, says Grandmaitre.
For Flynn, he now has an opportunity to capture another national championship this year, albeit with a junior hockey team at the Memorial Cup. Despite every player having major junior experience that was on the 2003-04 X-Men roster, Flynn still finds some big differences in coaching StFX versus Saint John.
“In major junior, your number one priority is hockey and you support that with education. But [at StFX], the hockey and schoolwork were intertwined”, says Flynn. “It’s different because of the demands of school. We have 13 kids with Saint John in university, but it’s usually two courses versus five full courses at StFX, and sometimes even more as kids were trying to finish a four year degree in three years.”
Even when it comes to the formatted tournaments of the Memorial Cup and the University Cup, Flynn handles Saint John differently than he did StFX.
“The university championship is a much shorter schedule, a four day event, opposed to a 10 day event [at the Memorial Cup]. So it’s different here where you get the round robin and the playoffs, so the early games aren’t so much sudden death as they are in university.”
On Friday night at the WFCU Centre, Flynn’s Sea Dogs will take on the Erie Otters, whose bench boss Kris Knoblauch spent time in the CIS as a player with the Alberta Golden Bears. At the 2003 University Cup, StFX faced-off against Alberta with Flynn behind the X-Men bench and Knoblauch skating for the Golden Bears. The X-Men would go on to win the game 3-2, but Erie’s 12-5 defeat of the Sea Dogs during the Memorial Cup round robin stage levels their head-to-head record at 1-1.
It may not be the confines of the Aitken University Centre on a chilly March evening, but Flynn is ready for the spotlight with another maritime team just the same.