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For Bylsma, NHL coaching means very full days

by Dan Rosen
With his wife, Mary Beth, out with some girlfriends to see "Cats" one night last week, Dan Bylsma and his son, Bryan, got to have a boys' night.

The Pittsburgh Penguins' Stanley Cup-winning coach left his Mellon Arena office around 4:30 in the afternoon to get to his North Hills home. He waited for his 10-year-old son to finish his homework, and then the two left to go out to dinner and play some laser tag.

"We had a guys' night out on the town while mom enjoyed the show," Bylsma told "This is home now and we get to relax and I get to be a dad. I get to go to school and have a parent-teacher conference. I get to see his soccer and hockey games."

Life is again normal for Bylsma when just last spring it was so much different.

Bylsma arrived in Pittsburgh in the middle of February and was thrown into the storm left in the wake of Michel Therrien's firing. Mary Beth and Bryan remained in Wilkes-Barre, where Bylsma was coaching the Penguins' American Hockey League affiliate.

While dad took up residence at the Marriott across the street from Mellon Arena and took on the challenge of getting the most out of a very talented, but foundering, roster, mom and Bryan finished out the school year in Wilkes-Barre, which is about 250 miles away.

"In some aspects, life wouldn't have been all that normal had they been here with me last year," Bylsma admitted. "I was adjusting to being here midseason and the constraints on me were at a premium. We wouldn't have been spending much time together if they were here anyway, so why have them bouncing off the walls of a hotel room?"

This year, Bylsma's family life is back to normal.

"As normal a life with a coach that you can have," Bylsma said.

Normal means on non-game days Bylsma is out of the house by 6:45 in the morning so he can be in his office by 7. Once his work day begins, Bylsma finds there aren't enough hours to get everything done and still be a good dad and a good husband.

"It's a lot of time and a lot of effort and a lot of energy, and you don't always have a lot of time to do it," Bylsma said. "But I am passionate about helping players and having an atmosphere here to get better and learn and grow. There is an aspect of team, how we want to play, communication, that message and building that I love being a part of."

Since there usually is only one or two days between games due to the Olympics this season, Bylsma starts a normal practice day by working on the last game the Penguins played. He creates individual video clips and team clips and then meets with his coaching staff.

"We don't have a set time for all of that, but that could take anywhere from a half an hour to 40 minutes," Bylsma said. "The players start rolling in at 8:30 or 9 for an 11 o'clock practice. As a coach I like to not be locked in my office once the players get here."

Bylsma holds a team meeting about an hour before practice and the coaches try to hit the ice early because that's when some players like to work on individual skills.

Practice usually runs an hour and then Bylsma tends to his daily media obligations. He also meets with Penguins GM Ray Shero for five or 10 minutes to talk about the lineups and any injuries or call-ups that need to be made.

"By 1:30 or 2 the rink is quiet again and it's back to preparation for an upcoming game by doing video, depending on what our schedule is going forward," Bylsma said.

Bylsma encourages his staff to get out of the rink and be home in the afternoon to be with their families. So, he tries to do the same.

"A lot of time I won't get done with my work, but I may go home earlier at 3:30, or pick up my kid from school or have a hockey practice to go to," Bylsma said. "For me, once I put my son to bed I often go back to video."

Game days are different. Bylsma still arrives at the rink around 7 a.m., but he's out by 1 in the afternoon.

His regular game-day routine last season was going to a Qdoba restaurant down the street from Mellon Arena for an Ancho Chile BBQ Pork Burrito. He still does enjoy his burrito, but now he can go home, have lunch with Mary Beth, walk his dog and even take a nap.

"It's a 15-minute drive home max and it's a 15-minute drive back, so I can relax and get away for a little bit," said Bylsma, who is back at the rink by 3 p.m. on game days. "Sometimes you need some time to re-energize."

He did all his re-energizing alone last season. It was weird, but it obviously worked since the Penguins won the Stanley Cup.

With Mary Beth settled into the community, Bryan in school and Bylsma working on a multi-year contract, this coach and his family have discovered a sense of normalcy again.

It feels good. It feels right. It feels like home.

"When I was here last year there was only one part of my life," Bylsma said. "But, now we can be a family and have school and other parts of what we do with some time away from the game. This is our home."

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