Dan Bylsma’s introduction to USA Hockey pretty much coincided with every other player of his generation.
“Do you believe in miracles? Yes!”
“I was watching The Joker’s Wild at 7:30 at night when it came across the bottom of the screen that the U.S. had beaten Russia,” Bylsma, then nine, said of the semifinals at the 1980 Lake Placid Games. “It didn’t happen very often, but we got to stay home from church to watch the gold medal game (which the Americans won).
“My goal of winning the gold medal started before winning the Stanley Cup, and it started there with Lake Placid in 1980.”
Now, the Grand Haven native will try to help the Americans win their third gold medal in history, and first since the 1980 Games, during the Sochi Games.
The American open the tournament at 7:30 a.m. (EST) Thursday against Slovakia.
And for USA Hockey officials, Bylsma, 43, was the favorite to lead the charge on the bench.
After nine NHL seasons, Bylsma moved into the coaching ranks, and his first job was replacing Michel Therrien in Pittsburgh in February 2009. All Bylsma would do his first season was lead the Penguins — and all-everything stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin — to the Stanley Cup.
In his sixth season, Bylsma has led the Penguins to the playoffs five times and currently has the top record in the East.
Still, despite the impressive credentials, Bylsma lacks international coaching experience that could be a weakness heading into the Olympics.
“I don’t have any experience,” Bylsma corrected a reporter who asked about his very little international experience. “So ‘very little’ is wrong.”
That, however, didn’t deter USA Hockey officials.
“One of the very best coaches in the league,” said David Poile, general manager for Team USA.
The fact Bylsma relates well with players, coaches a Penguins team that consistently is among the highest-scoring in the NHL, and preaches a puck-possession game were qualities that appealed to officials.
“On Feb. 5 and 6, I’ll be coaching Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin,” Bylsma said. “Sometime around the 9th or 10th, I’ll be dropping the black and gold and putting my USA colors on, and trying to stop (Canada).”
The last two times the U.S. reached the gold medal game, in 2002 and 2010, it lost — to Canada, which was led by Crosby.
And entering this year’s tournament, Canada is again among the team considered to challenge for gold.
“I’m a little concerned (Crosby) knows me as a coach, my strengths and weaknesses and he’s going to bring that to the attention of the Canadian team,” Bylsma said.