Bylsma eager to test international waters

June, 29, 2013
6/29/13
6:10
PM ET

NEW YORK -- Dan Bylsma figures there have been a couple of times in his life that he would describe as surreal.

The moment he found out he would coach the U.S. hockey team at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, ranks as one of them.

“When I was first told, there was about a 15-minute period of a lot flashing before your eyes,” Bylsma told ESPN.com on Saturday after he and the rest of the U.S. management team were formally announced.

There were memories of other Olympics, the 1980 Miracle on Ice gold-medal team, his own hockey experiences growing up and a long-held desire to get this kind of opportunity.

“A lot of things that pass in front of you,” said the Pittsburgh Penguins coach.

But if there was one overriding impression upon learning he had the gig, it was that the road to the medal podium in Sochi begins now.

“Daily, the honor this represents gets bigger,” Bylsma said.

There were a number of qualities USA Hockey and the management committee, charged with creating a team that can build on 2010’s dramatic silver medal, were looking for in a head coach.

Ron Wilson was the man behind the bench in Vancouver, but he has not worked in the NHL since being fired by longtime friend and then-Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke in January 2012. The committee, under GM David Poile, was looking for an NHL coach who had won, who exuded passion for the game and who could handle star players.

The fact Bylsma had little in the way of international coaching experience wasn’t a deterrent for Poile and the committee members. Er, scratch that -- not little, none.

“I don’t have any experience, so ‘very little’s’ wrong,” Bylsma said with a smile.

He is the fastest coach to 200 wins in NHL history, has won a Stanley Cup and has handled some of the game’s biggest stars, including Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Bylsma recalled watching the gold-medal game between Canada and the United States in an arena after his son’s youth hockey game. As he saw Crosby gain possession of the puck deep in the U.S. zone in overtime, Bylsma got out of his seat.

“I had a pretty good idea he was going to put that home,” he said.

Bylsma will have some input into who rounds out the coaching staff, and although it’s possible that Tony Granato, one of his assistants in Pittsburgh, may find his way onto the staff, it’ll be hard to ignore new Vancouver Canucks coach John Tortorella, who was an assistant to Wilson in 2010, and Scott Gordon, an assistant in Toronto to Randy Carlyle who was also on Wilson’s Olympic staff and has significant international coaching experience.

Among the many hurdles to clear in forming a contender in a short period of time, Bylsma said, is the challenge of flying halfway across the world and playing meaningful tournament games in the space of two days. If there is a goal, he has said it will be in introducing an atmosphere to which the team can build on a day-to-day basis, reaching for its best when it matters most.

After all, he said, the team that’s the best at the end of the tournament is going to win.

“That’s a great challenge,” Bylsma said. “That will be part of our message and part of our approach.”

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