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Right Man for the Job

by Caitlin Kasunich / Pittsburgh Penguins
The Takeaway:

> Reirden completed his first full season as head coach of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton
> Reirden's communication and teaching skills have helped him excell as a head coach
> Reirden has helped prepare his players for the next step into the NHL
> Reirden emphasizes player growth on and off the ice
> Reirden believes in the Penguins' system after helping craft the strategy with Dan Bylsma
> Reirden became head coach in WBS after Bylsma was promoted to Pittsburgh
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When the news came that former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach Dan Bylsma was being promoted to the head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins on Feb. 15, 2009, then-assistant-coach Todd Reirden was more than ready to take over as the team’s leader.
 
Under the guidance and trust of Bylsma, the Deerfield, Ill., native already had a lot of hands-on experience with presenting information to players through running practices, video sessions and pre-game meetings. In fact, by the time that Bylsma had left the American Hockey League (AHL), Reirden said that he had performed every aspect of coaching that the head coach had done on different days.  
 
“I think in that situation I was fortunate that I worked for a head coach like Dan Bylsma, because he delegates and gives the assistant coach responsibility,” he said. “I was part of what he felt was growth for me.”
 
While Reirden thought that his chance to become a head coach in the AHL was at least a year down the road, Bylsma’s helpful preparation paid off much sooner than he initially expected.
 
“I was fortunate that our team was doing so well down in Wilkes-Barre that Dan got the opportunity to come up here to Pittsburgh,” Reirden said. “For me, to get the opportunity in Wilkes-Barre was fortunate. I definitely couldn’t have done it if he hadn’t given me the responsibility that I had as an assistant coach, and I’m certainly going to do the same thing with my assistant coach now (John Hynes). That’s the only way that he’s really going to grow in terms of experiencing real-life situations and going through it. That’s what Dan provided me, and he gave me a great chance to have all of the head coaching experience without being the head coach. When I had the opportunity, the adjustment for me was easy.”
 
After spending the 2007-2008 season as an assistant coach for the Bowling Green State University’s Falcons men’s hockey team, Reirden joined the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in 2008-2009 and will begin his second full season as head coach in 2010-2011.
 
Last year, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton team won 41 of its 80 games during the regular season, amassing a total of 87 points in the process.
 
“I think that any time when an assistant coach goes on to be a head coach, it’s difficult,” winger Eric Tangradi said. “The role that an assistant coach takes with the players is a little different from that of the head coach. I think that right off the bat last year, he earned the respect from every single guy in the room. Attention was on him every time that he spoke. He is such a well-spoken guy and with his hockey background and the knowledge that he has for the game, it definitely made an instant impact on our team last year. I think that he still has a lot to give to the organization. The young prospects are looking forward to that, as well.”
 
With one full season as head coach under his belt, Reirden said that he has experienced two very different teams while making the transition in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
 
“I had a different team the first year that I took over in terms of an older, more veteran type of team that had been in Wilkes-Barre for a few years,” he said. “Then I transitioned into this year where it was a large number of new players who were coming into our organization that we had to teach and continue to mold into how we wanted our organization to play. I think, for me, the adjustment in doing that is not very difficult, because the blue print that we used for success is the Pittsburgh Penguins and their system and how they play. It’s something that I believe in, because I helped to develop it with Dan.    
 
“To me, it’s not like I’m trying to teach something that I don’t believe in. I think that this is the right way to play hockey. This is the way to win games. This is what gives our players the best chance to come up and fit in and not look out of place and take advantage of their opportunity that they have worked their whole life for.”
 
Dustin Jeffrey, center for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, also acknowledged Reirden’s immense progression as head coach over the past season-and-a-half.
 
“I think that Reirds has come a long way as a coach,” he said. “He was kind of thrown into the fire so-to-speak. … I think that the past year that we were in Wilkes-Barre, he really grasped the head coaching role. I think that he did a really good job. You saw the guys who came up here and the success that they had, and that’s a compliment to the way that he was coaching us down there.”
 
Jeffrey also attributed much of Reirden’s success to his warm and friendly personality.
 
“He is really good in front of people,” he said. “He is really good at communicating with the guys. He is a guy who is very approachable. For the young guys coming in, that makes it a lot easier when they know that the head coach is a guy who they can talk to at any point in time. I think that it just really eases guys’ nerves.”
 
As Reirden directs both newly drafted and second- and third-year participants throughout this week’s prospect camp, he said that he hopes to not only focus on how well players are completing their on-ice drills and off-ice testing, but also to emphasize the importance of a team’s growth as a family and unit.
 
“We want to put them into situations where they are basically forced to deal with every single player in this camp, and they go through team-building exercises,” he said. “That was the thing that I was excited about Tuesday. I saw that the group has already started to grow together and started to do things. The bus in the morning was real quiet, but by the time that they were coming home after we got down bowling yesterday, everybody felt more comfortable with each other.
 
“To me, that’s a huge part of the development this week. These are the future stars of the Pittsburgh Penguins. That gives us an opportunity to have those guys make a little connection with each other down the road. The more care, the more respect, the more that you really enjoy being around your teammates, then the harder that you will play for them.”
 
While helping players to bond is undoubtedly a fun part of his job, Reirden said that his favorite aspect about being the head coach in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is when he gets the opportunity to inform his star athletes that they have been asked to play a game in the National Hockey League.
 
“It certainly comes with my job description,” he said. “I love that part. That’s my favorite thing to do in coaching in the American Hockey League – moving guys on to what they’ve been working toward and sacrificing for to get this opportunity. I’m glad that I can play a role in helping them to accomplish their dreams and their goals. For me, it’s something that I really enjoy. It makes coaching in the American Hockey League challenging, because your lineup is constantly changing on a daily basis, and you’re not just losing your bottom-end guy.
 
“You’re losing your top player, which will always stay consistent with your top player in Wilkes-Barre. At the time when they need a call-up, he’s the guy who comes up. More often than not, I lose the best player. Sometimes it’s two hours before the game, and you have to re-structure things. But I think that it has really helped in my growth as a coach – to prepare me for the National Hockey League and get me ready for situations that are difficult like dealing through injuries and lineup adjustments. I think that, as a young coach, it’s something that I see as a challenge but also really embrace and enjoy.”
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