NEW YORK CITY – It has been Dan Bylsma’s dream to represent USA Hockey ever since he watched the United States win gold in 1980’s “Miracle on Ice” as a 9-year-old boy growing up in western Michigan.
And while Bylsma was not able to wear his country’s red, white and blue as a player, he will get the opportunity now as a coach – on the biggest international stage.
Bylsma was officially named head coach of the 2014 U.S. Olympic Men's Ice Hockey Team that will participate in the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia on Saturday, realizing a goal and an aspiration he has had for many years – 34, to be exact.
“I can only come short on how it feels,” Bylsma told pittsburghpenguins.com. “Really excited about the opportunity. I think as each moment passes, I’m more and more honored about the opportunity to wear the red, white and blue and to be the head coach of this hockey team and going over to Russia to win a gold medal.
“I really think that the Olympic Games is such a special event for every athlete in every sport. So to be able to compete in the Olympics, to be able to go over and compete for a gold medal, has been a dream for a long time. And as I became a coach and had eyed the U.S. team and that opportunity as a head coach, to have that now, just really looking forward to the opportunity and the honor to be a part of Team USA.”
Bylsma has already achieved so much in his coaching career at just 42 years old, as he led the Penguins to the 2009 Stanley Cup in his first season behind the bench, captured the 2011 Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s “Most Outstanding Coach” and is overall one of the most successful coaches in Penguins’ history.
And Bylsma’s involvement with USA Hockey had grown considerably the last couple of years, as he grasped any opportunity to get involved with the team in any way he could – starting with being an assistant coach at the USA Hockey National Junior Development Camp two summers ago (which determined the makeup of the U.S. National Junior Team that competed at the 2012 World Junior Championship).
Bylsma also observed Team USA at the 2012 World Championship and helped other coaches with their development at USA Hockey’s National Hockey Coaches’ Symposium in Washington, D.C. last August.
But this marks a new challenge for Bylsma, as Sochi will be his first time representing USA Hockey in international competition. He plans to use his experience coaching superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin as part of his approach to handling an Olympic roster filled with the best American-born hockey players.
“Just thinking about it and some of the challenges of picking a team, getting such a short time with that team before you go and play such meaningful games right off the hop when you get to Russia, it’s going to be such a short time,” Bylsma said. “The challenges are going to be great. Not just for the travel getting over there, the time change, but really one or two practices going into that tournament. You think of some of those things.
“But the quality of the players and the number of players, I think just drawing upon the challenges of coaching some of the great players we’ve had in Pittsburgh is going to be a part of having such great players and a big roster going into the Olympic Games.”
Bylsma may have a few familiar faces on his roster going to Sochi, as defensemen Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin should be in the mix for consideration. And Bylsma will be working alongside a familiar face on the management staff, as Penguins general manager Ray Shero was named associate general manager for Team USA.
Shero spent eight years as assistant general manager with Nashville under Team USA general manager David Poile’s watch between 1998-2006 before taking over in Pittsburgh. The two of them have been members of the U.S. Men’s National Team Advisory Group – which selects players for all U. S. National Teams, including Olympic teams – since February 2007. Shero’s relationship with Poile and his relationship with Bylsma has already helped make the process run smoothly.
“It’s already been a big factor in such a short period of time since finding out about being the head coach, working with David Poile as the GM,” Bylsma said. “Ray has been a guy I’m very comfortable with and obviously his experience with David Poile, he’s been a big part of our conversations already in terms of going forward with the summer, the orientation camp and the picking of the team and the players heading over for the Olympic Games. So that familiarity and Ray’s experience with me and me with Ray, that’s going to be a big part of our team and the management staff. It’s already been a big part.”
It’s going to be quite a road to the Olympic Games, and Bylsma knows that. But he also knows he has to stay focused on the main goal, winning gold – and enjoying everything that happens on the journey.
“I think every day, some new realization about being in the Olympics, being on Team USA, competing for a gold medal, comes to mind,” Bylsma smiled. “I think the Olympic Village, the Olympic Games, competing on that grand stage is just every day, what an honor it is to be a part of it. It’s an honor to be the head coach and just really looking forward to that opportunity. Every day is dawning on me.”