He was a goalie at the University of Michigan, helping the Wolverines to a pair of league titles and a third-place finish at the 1950 NCAA championship. MacInnes also played for farm teams of the Boston Bruins and the Detroit Red Wings before becoming director of the Ann Arbor Amateur Hockey League. He held that position until leaving to become head coach at Michigan Technological University.
MacInnes was the head coach of the Michigan Tech Huskies from the 1956-57 season through 1981-82. His teams won three NCAA championships and seven Western Collegiate Hockey Association titles during his 26 seasons as head coach. He was named NCAA Coach of the Year twice, after the 1969-70 and 1975-76 seasons. He was also named WCHA Coach of the Year 6 times, in 1960, 1962, 1966, 1971, 1976, and 1981.
His record as Michigan Tech's coach was 555-295-39.
- Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame (Charter member, March 11, 1972)
- Great Lakes Invitational Trophy named after MacInnes (December 12, 1982)
- Michigan Tech Sports Hall of Fame (Charter member, 1984)
- Won NHL's Lester Patrick Trophy (January 7, 1986)
- Michigan Tech's Student Ice Arena renamed the John J. MacInnes Student Ice Arena (August, 1991)
- Legend of College Hockey Award from Hobey Baker Committee (April 17, 1999)
- United States Hockey Hall of Fame (August 15, 2007)
- List of college men's ice hockey coaches with 300 career wins
- University of Michigan Athletic Hall of Honor
- The Legend of John MacInnes. Michigan Technological University (2007). Retrieved on 2007-08-15.
- U.S Hall of Fame to induct Vanbiesbrouck, Broten, Carpenter, MacInnes. ESPN (2007). Retrieved on 2007-08-15.