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Bylsma: We're a Better Team Than Last Year

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins made several offseason moves that have strengthened the depth of the team at both forward and defense. Couple that with an extended period of injury recovery time for players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Dustin Jeffrey and Pittsburgh will be opening the 2011-12 season on solid footing.

And head coach Dan Bylsma took his optimism one step further.

“I think we’re a better team now than we were at the start of the last hockey season. That’s a pretty exciting thing to think about,” said the 2011 NHL Coach of the Year. “We have to get to work and that starts in September. There is still a little bit of a waiting game. I’m looking forward cranking it up and get ready for training camp and the rest of the season.”

Coach Bylsma at the 2011 NHL Winter Classic at Heinz Field (Getty Images)
The Penguins have added several players at forward and defense, like Steve Sullivan, Jason Williams, Alexandre Picard and Boris Valabik, to an already impressive depth pool within the organization.

“We’ve added a lot of depth to our team with defensemen and forwards that can have an impact on our team,” Bylsma said. “As last year was an indication, injuries always play a part, and we’re going to need these players to play a role on our team.

“We’ve done a significant amount, trying to get guys healthy and that’ll be a big part coming into training camp with our young guys returning. Hopefully, being in full shape to play.”

In the meantime, Bylsma has spent the past few weeks at his summer home in Michigan with his family. They’ve spent some time fishing on the lake and visiting other family members.

“It’s a time where I’m not called coach,” Bylsma joked. “It’s a lot different in that respect. It’s a good break to go back. It’s good to relax, put your feet up, fish a little, golf a little and get a little bit of a tan.”

But it isn’t all fun and relaxation for Bylsma this summer. Friday he left for Lake Placid, NY to take part in the 2011 U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp, which will determine the makeup of the US team at the World Junior Championships taking place this December-January in Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta.

“It’s a great opportunity for me to get involved in USA Hockey, which I haven’t had an opportunity to do in the past. I’m excited about that,” Bylsma said. “I have some goals when it comes to being involved in USA Hockey and this is a start for me. It’s a pretty significant thing with the U.S. Junior team. To be a part of that, for me, is pretty darn cool.”

Bylsma will be behind the bench as the U.S. squads, which feature Pittsburgh-native invitees J.T. Miller, Brandon Saad and Vince Trocheck, take on Finland and Sweden. And he’s just as excited to represent his country as he is to be coaching.

Coach Bylsma in Las Vegas after winning the Jack Adams Trophy for Coach of the Year. (Getty Images)
“I have not worn the Red, White and Blue in competition so I’m looking forward to doing that and being behind the bench with my team,” Bylsma said.

“I would have liked to do it as a player,” Bylsma added. “I didn’t get that opportunity, but there are only a couple coaches that get that opportunity. I’m getting this opportunity now. For me it’s a big deal. I consider this a big deal for me and my coaching career.”

Bylsma’s busy summer continues in mid-August when he joins coach Dave Tippett at the NHL’s research and development camp.

“I take it as an honor to be able to go and be one of the coaches at the research and development camp,” said Bylsma, who will also use the camp to try different coaching concepts of his own. “It’s a big thing for the NHL to try different rules and different things to see how the game could work and how they could change it. To be asked to do that is pretty neat.”

Though it is a busy summer for coach Bylsma, it sure beats doing nothing.

“Summer is not a great time for a coach. You don’t do anything,” he said. “I don’t really like that feeling.”

Luckily for Bylsma summer will be over in a month and it will be back to business for the coaching staff. Although Bylsma is going to end his summer with one last adventure. 

“Last fishing trip in the beginning of September when the salmon are running.”
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