By Ron Rop
Local Sports Journal
Dan Bylsma is looking forward to standing behind the bench again coaching his Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team.
With the NHL lockout expected to officially end as soon as the players ratify the new deal, the NHL’s players and coaches will be getting back to work.
“I haven’t coached a game or made game decisions or changed the lineup in nine months,” said Bylsma, from Grand Haven. “That’s something even our players are going to have to get used to when the games start.”
Bylsma has been busy during the lockout, but nothing compared to the hours he logs when his team is in the heat of the regular season.
He spent time in Wilkes-Barre, the Penguins’ American Hockey League affiliate. He was there during their training camp and again later during the season.
“And, I hadn’t seen a college game live in 22 years,” said Bylsma, who saw his alma mater, Bowling Green, along with Robert Morris, Penn State, Ohio State and Miami University.
“I went up to Erie to see some OHL (Ontario Hockey League) games where some of our draft picks are coming through with the Otters,” Bylsma said. “We’ve been down to Wheeling, which is 45 minutes down the road where we have some Pittsburgh property players playing with the Wheeling Nailers.”
Away from hockey, Bylsma, a graduate of Western Michigan Christian High School, had other opportunities he wasn’t afforded during a normal hockey season.
He saw some Pittsburgh Steeler games, Pitt Panthers college football games, He also saw the Detroit Tigers in the American League Championship Series and in the World Series.
And, he went on some dates with his wife, Mary Beth.
“We had one particular weekend where we went out for dinner two nights in a row,” Bylsma said. “We’d never been able to do that in 18 years of marriage and 20-plus years of knowing each other.”
There also was more time to spend with his son, Bryan, who is playing bantam hockey.
“I got to travel a few times and it’s the first time I’d been on a weekend away from Pittsburgh with my son’s team,” he said.
“I had opportunities to do more things that I normally would get to do,” Bylsma said.
But now it’s back to work and Bylsma and his coaching staff are trying to plan for a training camp that could last five, six or seven days.
“It’s not official, but we’ll most likely looking at Sunday for the startup of camp,” Bylsma said. “At this point in time, we’re still up in the air as to whether it will be a seven-day camp, a six-day camp or a five-day camp.”
In any case, it’s looking like the regular season will begin Jan. 19 and that means an abbreviated camp with no preseason games.
“I don’t think one of our main goals is to get them in shape,” Bylsma said. “We can’t do that in five or six days. We will be trying to get our pace, speed and execution in practice.”
That will mean more scrimmage situations and types of drills that work on the penalty kill and the power play. And, all of that will be done at a pace that won’t drain the players prior to the season starting.
“If you go hard for seven days, you’re going to be hurting on the eighth day,” Bylsma said. “That won’t work.”
Many of the Penguin players are in town, although Kris Latang and Evegni Malkin are on their way back from Russia, where they were playing during the lockout.
Along with a healthy Sidney Crosby, the Penguins are expecting to vie for a successful regular season and long Stanley Cup playoff run.
“We like our team, we think we have a good team,” Bylsma said. “We have good pieces. We think we have good goaltending, and good defense and good forwards so we expect to be a team that makes the playoffs.”
And then make a long run.
“We’re looking at making the playoffs and winning four gams and when we win four games, we will look at winning four more,” Bylsma said. “We haven’t done that in three years and that will be our focus, even in a shortened year.
“It’s win games and move on.”