From the moment he was named as head coach of the United States’ men’s Olympic hockey team in late July to the day before the NHL formally pulled out of the 2022 Games on Tuesday, Mike Sullivan spoke with reverence of the opportunity afforded him.

Over the past five months, he leaned on one word repeatedly when discussing the position.

“It’s an unbelievable honor to represent your nation in the Olympics,” Sullivan said on Monday. “It’s the honor of a lifetime, quite honestly.”

One of Sullivan’s predecessors in Pittsburgh got to experience that honor.

“I’m a fan,” former Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said recently. “Both of the (United States Olympic) team and ‘Sully.’ He’s the guy I want coaching our team.”

Bylsma got to coach that team in 2014, the last year the NHL participated in the Olympics. The United States fell short of immense expectations, finishing fourth in the tournament. A few months later, the Penguins were eliminated in the postseason in the second round and Bylsma was fired.

In the seven-plus years since, he’s been on something of a nomadic journey having served as head coach of the Buffalo Sabres for two non-playoff seasons then as an assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings for three campaigns.

“It doesn’t feel like it’s been seven years since I left Pittsburgh,” Byslma said by phone. “I had other opportunities to coach in Buffalo and that flew by in a heartbeat. One I’m disappointed in that I didn’t do a better job in helping the Buffalo Sabres become where they want to go and where they should go.

“Then, I walked into a room in Detroit. In my youth, I dreamed about the Detroit Red Wings, watched the Detroit Red Wings. I didn’t have particularly fond feelings throughout the years of playing and coaching (against them). Obviously, had a great moment in (2009) in Detroit. So it was a little weird stepping into their organization and their dressing room. That was an interesting journey. We were a team trying to build up from the ground up.”

That never happened as the Red Wings largely struggled. As a result, Bylsma, a native Grand Haven, Mich., and the Red Wings parted ways this past May.

By August, Bylsma was hired by the expansion Seattle Kraken as an American Hockey League (AHL) assistant coach.

But with the Kraken’s AHL affiliate in Palm Springs, Calif. not yet playing, they entered into an agreement with the Florida Panthers to share the Charlotte Checkers as an affiliate for the 2020-21 season.

Charlotte Checkers

Charlotte Checkers assistant coach Dan Bylsma (left) and head coach Geordie Kinnear.


That has created an odd marriage of Bylsma, a Kraken employee, with Geordie Kinnear, a Panthers employee. Despite different backgrounds, they have a common pursuit.

“We’re not Florida and not Seattle,” Bylsma said. “We’re coming together as a coaching staff. Our job is to develop all the players. Not just Seattle or vice versa for Jordy (with Florida). I’m fortunate to be with every one of them, whether they’re Florida or Seattle players.”

Having been at the pinnacle of the NHL with the Penguins as a Stanley Cup champion in 2009 and winner of the Jack Adams Award as the league’s top coach in 2011, one might presume working a step down in the AHL and as an assistant coach might be a difficult adjustment.

Bylsma disputes that notion.

“No, it’s not,” Bylsma said. “I’m thankful for the opportunity to coach. It’s energizing and energetic to get your hands on it and coach and develop young players. In their case, their dream is to play in the National Hockey League level. My goal as a coach is I always want to develop a player to get to their best. It’s a great opportunity in the American Hockey League to do it.”

Bylsma’s opportunity comes as a member of a first-year expansion franchise. Kraken assistant general manager Jason Botterill, formerly a Penguins executive, brought Bylsma on board.

“Going to training camp with Kraken, it was very unique,” Bylsma said. “You get the sense on Day 1 that everything and everyone is new. You have a chance to build, literally, from the ground up. From the players walking into the building to coaches to the management, everybody is brand new. There’s no past experience. You have a chance to really build something significant from the ground up. That was evident right off the hop.

“… It’s really kind of a unique team. No player and no (one) knows how we play or systems. It’s completely new for everybody and everything. It’s something that doesn’t happen in pro sports (often). It’s a unique opportunity to build something from the ground up.”

Bylsma harbors hope of returning to the NHL in some point. But for now, his focus is on the Checkers.

“I just wanted an opportunity to coach and get with players and develop players and do the best I could,” Byslma said. “Whether that’s at the (AHL) level or the (ECHL) level or the NHL level, that’s what I want to do right now. I don’t want to do it forever. I just want to keep doing it this year and see where it goes.”

Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at srora[email protected] or via Twitter .

By admin