Dan Bylsma was in a restaurant at a hockey rink when Sidney Crosby scored the golden goal at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
His son’s game over, he settled in to watch the Canada-U.S. final.
“When the puck spun off the boards and Sidney broke from the (faceoff) dot to the net, I got up from my chair,” the Pittsburgh Penguins head coach recalled. “I had a pretty good notion that he was going to put that (puck) home for the win.”
“Mixed emotions, that’s for sure,” he added.
On Saturday, Bylsma was introduced as coach of the U.S. hockey team at the Sochi Olympics, giving him 220 days to scheme against his Penguins captain, not to mention Russian superstar Evgeni Malkin.
The participation of NHL players at the 2014 Winter Games has yet to be confirmed. But NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is slated to meet Monday with the NHL Players’ Association, International Olympic Committee and International Ice Hockey Federation to finalize a deal.
Other candidates for the Sochi Team USA coaching job were reportedly John Tortorella of the Vancouver Canucks and Peter Laviolette of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Ron Wilson coached the Americans in 2010 at Vancouver.
On Friday, USA Hockey named Nashville Predators president and GM David Poile as general manager of the American team. Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero will serve as associate general manager and Anaheim Ducks consultant Brian Burke will be director of player personnel.
Bylsma did not hide his lack of international coaching experience. When a reporter referred to him as not having “much experience coaching internationally,” Bylsma was quick to correct him.
“I don’t have any experience,” he said. “So very little’s wrong.”
But he said he has already started educating himself and plans to continue consulting others to gain more experience.
Bylsma will no doubt be surrounded by experienced assistant coaches and USA Hockey has already made some recommendations. “It’s a little bit in Dan’s court right now to filter through that and we’ll be back together in a few days to see where that takes us,” said Poile.
The 42-year-old Bylsma noted he was following in the footsteps of 17 U.S. Olympic head coaches.
“And what an honour and privilege that is. And a responsibility. I feel the legacy even that runs through Pittsburgh in [Badger] Bob Johnson in ‘76 and Herb Brooks in 1980,” he said.
Poile said the U.S. pool of talent may have caught people by surprise in 2010. But while that group will be even more talented in 2014, the Americans will have to face the challenge of playing on bigger ice in Russia.
“We’ve got to tune up our thinking a little bit and the type of players we’re going to choose,” he said.
And while veterans of the 2010 silver-medal squad will form the core of the Sochi roster, Poile said expect “some new and some different type of players on that team.”
The U.S. team plans an orientation camp for Aug. 25-29 in Washington, D.C.
“Hockey in our country has come to a point where winning gold medals is not a miracle, it’s an expectation,” said Ron DeGregorio, president of USA Hockey.
Bylsma also referenced the 1980 Miracle on Ice, when an unheralded U.S. team won Olympic gold in Lake Placid.
“I think I dreamt about winning an Olympic gold medal longer than I’ve dreamed about winning the Stanley Cup,” said Bylsma, who won the Cup in 2009 with Pittsburgh. “It dates back to that 1980 team.”
Asked about the film “Miracle,” which tells the story of that 1980 Olympic squad, Bylsma confessed he had watched part of it a few days ago with his son and his son’s cousin at the family cottage in Michigan. He knew he was going to be named coach, but had been sworn to secrecy at the time so only his wife knew in the family.
“The scene where Herb’s in the kitchen and he’s having kind of a conversation with his wife, I’m like ‘That’s me and that’s Mary Beth,“’ he said with a laugh. “I watched half of that movie, just really freshly knowing I was going to be head coach of the team, it was kind of a surreal little moment.”
Bylsma, winner of the 2011 Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s Most Outstanding Coach, as a career NHL coaching record of 201-93-25. As a forward, he played 429 career games from 1995 to 2004 with Los Angeles and Anaheim.
“A guy that any player would want to play for, any parent would want their kid playing for,” said Flyers right-winger Mike Knuble, who comes from the same area in Michigan and was a workout partner when Bylsma was a player.
“He’s an up-and-coming guy. He’s proven that he can win. He coaches in a high-profile city with high-profile players and has shown that he can handle them and handle some of the egos.
“When you get those teams together in the Olympics, there are a ton of them. You get 20 different egos going. Guys are used to being ’the man,’ so it’s how you’re going to handle that. And I seem to think that he has a good grasp on how to handle egos and keep everyone pulling in the same direction.”
Shero called Bylsma “a great leader of athletes and players.”
Bylsma said while he understands the responsibility of his Olympic role, he doesn’t see it as taking on the weight of a nation.
“I wouldn’t use the word weight but it does feel completely different,” he said.
USA Hockey has once again assembled an impressive braintrust for its national team, with an advisory committee featuring GMs Stan Bowman of Chicago, Paul Holmgren of Philadelphia, Dean Lombardi of Los Angeles, and Dale Tallon of Florida, as well as Pittsburgh scout Don Waddell, a former GM.
The group has more than 150 years of NHL GM experience and six Stanley Cups, according to USA Hockey.
With files from Canadian Press hockey reporter Stephen Whyno