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Bylsma excited for coming Classic

NHL.com

PITTSBURGH -- Penguins coach Dan Bylsma made the biggest news of Saturday morning, announcing that injured Pittsburgh center Jordan Staal will make his debut in that night's 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Heinz Field.

Staal, the team's checking center, has not played since Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals last spring. He needed off-season surgery to repair a lacerated tendon in his foot. Then, just before his return in early November, he suffered a broken hand. But, he has been deemed healthy by doctors and will make his season debut when the Pens host the Capitals at 8 p.m. (NBC, CBC) at Heinz Field.

Bylsma also talked a bit about his rather tame New Year's Eve, as well as his excitement at playing in the Winter Classic, which was pushed back to an evening start because of heavy rains in the area during Saturday afternoon.

Q.  Jordan Staal is going to play tonight.  Can you tell us what went into that decision and how you might you use him tonight?

COACH BYLSMA:
  The only thing that really -- and it was decided before this morning's skate, was taking draws but that was not going to make or break it.  He was going to play in tonight's game.
So the issue for Jordan is not so much - he's been healed, and every doctor will tell you he's ready to go and his hand is good to go.  So it’s just a confidence issue and getting back in the lineup his first time out there, and we're all going to see that tonight.

Q.  Do you have a sense of how important this is to Jordan, not necessarily to play in the Winter Classic, but after the setbacks, to be able to come out and get on with this?

COACH BYLSMA: I guess there's more drama to it because of the Winter Classic, but we approached the decision as if this was any other game.  If this was a game in Buffalo today, would he play?

And the answer to that is unequivocally yes.  And so that is why for sure he's playing this game.  But he's had a tough go of it.  And he's had some tough injuries and he's had to battle through that, more emotionally than physically.  It's been tough for him that way.

And he's going to feel probably not a percent confident about this game, but he's not going to feel - the first one has to come sometime.  And it just happens to be on the 1st on Heinz field.

Q.  Will you have him on the line with Gino for the game tonight?

COACH BYLSMA:
  He'll play on the line with Gino some parts of the game.  He won't play the normal number of minutes.  He was a 19-and-a-half-minute guy for us last year.  So there are circumstances or times when he might not be on that line, but yes, he will be.  On my lineup card, he's playing center with Gino on the wing.

Q.  Who comes out?

COACH BYLSMA:  That's going to be a game time decision.

Q.  Is there a point for Jordan that was his low point you saw him dealing, struggling with all this.  As a coach, what did you do to work him through it?

COACH BYLSMA:  Well, there was not just one disappointing time for him.  He's had a couple.
And given the injury and the situation, in a lot of the cases, it was best to let Jordan stay away from the rink in some of those times.

And I think from a staff and coach and his teammates, we've supported him at every turn and been there for him.  But some of the disappointments have been -- he's had his best solutions when he's had some time away.

He did go down and spend some time with his family, his brother, and mother and father at one of the points.
So the difficult part has been to see him get excited about playing and getting healthy and then have some setbacks.  But he's got a smile on his face right now.

Q.  How do you think your guys have handled this?  Are they keeping a pretty open mind about everything and waiting to see what happens or are they checking the weather forecast?

COACH BYLSMA:  You know, we're not checking the weather forecast, the coaches.  The players, maybe they are, or maybe they aren't and they're not talking about it.
We're getting ready to play an 8:00 o'clock game tonight.  In some aspects a later start lends to more normalcy.  The guys will be getting their normal meal at home and getting their rest and coming to the rink at their normal time, and we'll bust over to Heinz Field to get our gear out and play the game.
In some ways the 8:00 start is more normal to the players' normal routine at a home game.  We're getting ready to play at 8:00 and looking forward to it.

Q.  What was last night like for you?  Did you sort of think about this, what it would be like, more than you would the night before a normal game?

COACH BYLSMA:
  In terms of the Classic and just the experience?

Q.  Yeah, just the night before, what it was like.

COACH BYLSMA:  I would say yesterday was unique in a way I never experienced about a game coming up.  Last night you go home, it's not something that I was thinking a lot about at home last night.  But yesterday was - put aside Playoffs, put aside my first playing game, some of those firsts, this was a unique day unlike any other that was really enjoyable. Had a great day from watching the Alumni game to the experience in the field, the outdoors, to the practice, and really, really, like I say, a day I've never had before.

And put it away when we went home and looking forward to coming to that rink tonight and lights are going to be on and that atmosphere tonight at that rink.

Q.  A lot of your players said they didn't see midnight.  Is this holiday a little bit lost on you because of the game schedule?

COACH BYLSMA:  I don't think - well, maybe not for the players, but New Year's Eve is not a holiday that hockey players, that hockey coaches get to celebrate very often.
So I was sleeping at 11:15 and probably would have been if it was the 2nd.

Q.  How much of a distraction is this whole experience for the next game as well as the rest of the season?

COACH BYLSMA:  We have a break, for us a significant break before our next game.  So we'll have a day off.  And then get back to focusing on the rest of the season.  This is just about the halfway point for us.

And we would change modes a little bit anyways after the halfway point.  And before yesterday the few days before, but maybe a couple of weeks before, there's been - there have been distractions building up to the Winter Classic, and it has been something that is in the back of our minds.  But after the game's over, tonight, I think the guys will be ready to get on with the rest of the season and it won't be much of a distraction.