Dan in Real Life
Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma limits his stanley cup victory to a memory and looks to real challenges ahead for the new season.
"It was an absolute pleasure and a treat."
Dan Bylsma’s words were simple and sweet when asked to describe his big day this summer. No, this was not about beating the Red Wings in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. It was about playing golf – with Arnold Palmer. "Surprisingly, I wasn’t that nervous. I was focused, and wanted to play well."
A few weeks earlier, Bylsma probably told his Pittsburgh Penguins to have the same mindset as they took the ice at Joe Louis Arena. Sixty minutes later they were Stanley Cup Champions. Now comes the hard part: Repeating. "Well if I could win one cup in half a season, I should be able to win two in a full one," says Bylsma with a laugh. "Each year is different – there’s no question about that. There will be some eyes on us."
Bylsma came aboard Feb. 16 and was asked to get the struggling Penguins back on track. Even with talented players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and Marc-Andre Fleury, the Pens were just two games over .500 and were sitting in 10th place in the Eastern Conference with 25 games to play. "My goal as a coach is not about winning or losing. I think my goal is to create an environment that individuals want to work in and reach their potential," he says.
This native of Michigan was able to get the Penguins to reach their potential, and while the result was hockey’s ultimate prize, he must now find a way to get his team to do it again. "It’s not like we as a coaching staff have to try and duplicate what we did last year. To me it’s the process of starting over again and building that foundation," he emphasizes.
Now someone may say that Bylsma has the advantage of working with some of the greatest players in the world, which in turn makes his job easier. Well if that were true, then the Penguins would not have made a coaching change last season. So when he speaks, his players do more than listen. They believe.
"The motivating thing about coaching is there will never be one season that is like another," he says. "It’s always different. It’s imperative that you build a foundation of work ethic and habit for your team to learn how to win, and that’s different for each team that you coach. As the season goes on, the team starts to take control of the situation and the environment and the accountability themselves."
Coaches coach, and players play. Some believe there is a wall that divides the two, and maybe for some teams that is true. However, when both are on the same page, the results can be very positive. That was the case a season ago, but Bylsma is not resting on the thought that "if ain’t broke don’t fix it" for the Stanley Cup champs.
As he explains, "I think there is another aspect to what we can do on the ice to make us more unpredictable to the opponent that we were not able to do last year. I like to be predictable within our room…know what we have to do and how we are going to do it, but unpredictable to the teams we play against. I think we can do a better job as a coaching staff of adding that dimension to our game."
That dimension will come with a few new faces, most notably on defense. Gone are Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi – a defensive pairing that worked well for Bylsma on a nightly basis last season. Enter Jay McKee, a 31-year-old veteran who can still block shots with the best of them. Scuderi led the Penguins with 164 blocked shots last year, while McKee blocked 185 with St. Louis and played in 12 fewer games.
Another new face is really one the Penguins have seen before, only now they will see him every night. Alex Goligoski has given fans a glimpse of what he can do while playing for the Penguins and their top minor-league affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton over the last two years.
During the offseason the Pens inked him to a new three-year contract, and his presence will be felt immediately. "Goligoski is going to make our defense look a little bit different than it did last year, and that’s going to be a challenge for our team as they adapt to that," claims Bylsma. "It won’t be labeled better or worse. It’s going to be a different element, and our team will have to do things a little bit differently to have success."
That’s just one challenge Bylsma and the Penguins will face as they try to recapture the success they had from a season ago. There will be many more as the season goes on, and that’s what Bylsma looks forward to. Last year is now a picture on the wall, a moment in time that will never change. Just like that moment on the course with Arnold Palmer. "At the end of day, we took a picture of the foursome, and then Arnie said now let’s just get one of me and the coach," Bylsma recalls. "That was probably my highlight of the day."
Bylsma will be looking for another highlight this season, and he can hope, more pictures for his wall.
Dan Potash is FSN Pittsburgh’s "In Game" reporter for the Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins. He has performed those duties exclusively since 2005, but came to FSN in 2000 after spending three years in Charleston, S.C., where he worked as weekend sports anchor/reporter for WCIV-TV (ABC.) Before that, Potash served as weekend anchor/reporter and then sports director at WDTV (CBS) in Bridgeport, W. Va., from 1995 to 1997. Potash grew up in southern California and began his sportscasting career "behind the scenes" as an intern and later as a production assistant for Prime Sports.