John Kennedy Jr will make the transition from the ice to the bench this Australian Ice Hockey League season as head coach of the Newcastle Rescue Northstars. Kennedy, a defenceman who wore #5 for the Northstars for six years, will take the helm of Newcastle's AIHL team in 2019, assisted by returning head associate coach Joe Theriault and associate coach Ray Sheffield.
"It's an amazing honour to have been considered for the role. To actually get it is incredible," Kennedy said.
"With an organisation like the Northstars, we're expected to win. We're expected to be one of the top four teams going into the finals each year. Our aim this year is getting back to that level of play that we know we're capable of, which we've already started working on.
"Not only am I here to coach but I'm here to grow and develop players and grow and develop talent. I think that's my strength as a coach. I have a deep hockey background. I plan to use my experience, use my resources and apply it to the team.
"I want to take our players to a new level, and I want to create a style of play that's more conducive to what the game is like today.
"It's not so much you’re one position and hold one role. It's five guys on the ice together being able to fill in each and every position and being able to work as a unit.
"That's the unique flavour that I can add to the team. Not only can I tell a player what they should be doing differently, but I can show them how to do it."
Kennedy, who was born in the United States, first joined the Northstars as an import in 2013. He is now an Australian citizen.
Aside from having played hockey for most of his life, Kennedy is a professional skill development coach specialising in power skating, shooting, puck skills and leadership. He offers his development services through the National Sport Academy (NSA) of which he is a director.
Northstars general manager Garry Doré said Kennedy's expertise in training and development made him a top choice when it came to selecting a new coach.
"John was approached during the offseason as we felt that with his expertise in training and development as well as his hockey skills as a player (he played NCAA college and pro level hockey) - he would be a great asset to the coaching staff," Doré said.
"Through the National Sports Academy, John has been developing ice hockey across Australia through camps focusing on high performance and development. His skill and performance knowledge is second to none.
"We're looking to bring a lot of direction to the team this season. I have no doubt that with John, and Joey and Ray beside him, we will achieve our goals for the season and will continue to be the most successful organisation in Australian ice hockey."
The Northstars introduced the associate coaching program to Newcastle in 2018. The concept was designed to encourage and develop coaching in Newcastle to assist with the development of the AIHL team and its success.
"Joey and Ray did a great job in leading the team last season," Doré said. "With John, Joey and Ray leading the team I'm quite confident we're going to be a force to be reckoned with this season."
Kennedy said he is now focusing on the "task at hand" and is enjoying working with Theriault and Sheffield in pre-season training.
"I've only worked with Joey really for a few weeks, but he's phenomenal to work with. He bleeds Northstars hockey," he said.
"Ray and his experience and his rapport with the boys is great, and he carries a lot of wisdom both on and off the ice."
The Northstars will open the 2019 AIHL season with a doubleheader against Sydney Bears and Melbourne Ice at Hunter Ice Skating Stadium on April 27 and April 28.