Bylsma unique fit for US Olympic hockey team

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 16, 2014 at 3:31 pm •  Published: January 16, 2014
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PITTSBURGH (AP) — Like all the other hockey-playing kids in America 34 years ago, Dan Bylsma and his buddies had their own version of the "Miracle on Ice."

During those spirited reenactments of the U.S.'s upset over Russia at the 1980 Winter Olympics, Bylsma didn't play the role of hero Mike Eruzione or goaltender Jim Craig. Instead, he opted for high-flying winger Mark Johnson, who sealed the unlikeliest of gold medals with a late insurance goal against Finland in the final.

"I dreamed about winning gold like I dreamed about winning the Stanley Cup," Bylsma said.

He's halfway to achieving both, just not the way he imagined.

Nearly five years after etching his name on the Cup by leading the Pittsburgh Penguins to a title in 2009, Bylsma will coach Team USA at the Sochi Olympics, looking to provide the kind of golden moment that will inspire a country much in the way he was inspired on that cold Friday in February.

Though, if Bylsma is being honest here, he wasn't plastered to the television set as Al Michaels famously intoned "do you believe in miracles?" The game was broadcast on tape delay, and Bylsma was watching "Joker's Wild" when a ticker started running across the bottom of the screen to blare news of the improbable 4-3 victory by the Americans.

"I was like, 'Oh my god,'" Bylsma said.

It won't take a miracle this time for the U.S. to reach the top of the podium in Russia, just the ability for a group of 25 relative strangers to find a way to play as a team during the two-week test the Olympics provides.

Enter Bylsma, who knows something about having a team click at the most opportune time.

He was a 38-year-old rookie coach in February, 2009 when the Penguins picked him to replace Michel Therrien. Pittsburgh's star-laden roster that included Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin was languishing .

The easy going guy from Grand Haven, Mich., nicknamed "Disco Dan" provided one.

The Penguins finished the regular season 18-3-4 before edging the Detroit Red Wings in seven games to win the franchise's first Stanley Cup in 17 years. Press Bylsma on what stands out about that remarkable run and he mentions the initial meeting he had with the team after replacing Therrien.

"We had a 10 a.m. meeting and a 2 p.m. faceoff," Bylsma said.

The Penguins fell in a shootout but Bylsma's personable approach — in stark contrast to the typically stern Therrien — resonated in the dressing room.

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