Team USA setup comforts Penguins coach Bylsma
NEW YORK — Ray Shero could be the Kevin Bacon of USA Hockey's Olympics hierarchy — he's only a few degrees removed from the group's top officials.
However, there actually is very little that separates Shero from Team USA coach Dan Bylsma and general manager David Poile.
“I just think there's comfort there,” Bylsma said Saturday after he officially was named to his dream job as bench boss for an American Olympics squad.
“Me knowing how Ray works, and Ray knowing how David works — there's already chemistry.”
Shero is Team USA's associate general manager. He was Poile's assistant general manager with the Nashville Predators before taking control of the Penguins in May 2006.
Bylsma has served Shero as the Penguins' coach since February 2009.
Recent history suggests comfort is helpful for Olympic success.
Team Canada benefited from a then-Detroit Red Wings connection — Steve Yzerman (executive director) and Mike Babcock (coach) — on its way to gold at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
Team USA finished second at the Vancouver Games. Its general manager, Brian Burke, and coach, Ron Wilson, were employed by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“When you work with somebody for years, you know how they operate … you break the ice very quickly,” said Don Waddell, general manager of Team USA for the 2006 Olympics. “There's no holding back. That makes it a lot easier to really communicate.”
Waddell, formerly the general manager with Atlanta and now a pro scout with the Penguins, is also a member of the advisory group for Team USA's upcoming Olympic efforts. He said the Penguins will benefit greatly from Shero and Bylsma going through this process of building an Olympic squad.
“It doesn't hurt the team you're with because there is way more value in getting honest feedback from other general managers,” Waddell said. “And there are players you wouldn't have a chance to evaluate as close as we all will in trying to get the right team for Sochi.”
From Poile to Waddell, all members of Team USA's management and coaching staffs are unpaid volunteers.
They seek to make a priceless kind of history, too.
Team USA has not claimed gold at the Olympics since the 1980 “Miracle on Ice.” That victory came in Lake Placid, N.Y. The other U.S. gold was won in 1960 in Squaw Valley, Calif.
The Americans have not medaled at an Olympics outside North America since 1972 — silver in Sapporo, Japan.
The Sochi Olympics will use an international surface — wider (by about 14 feet) and with more room (about 2 feet) behind the net.
Bylsma said a challenge is to adjust his system — a possession attack reliant on quick, precision passing starting with defensemen in their own zone — to compete with squads (such as Russia and Sweden) that excel on the international surface while also not sacrificing the physicality necessary to match up with rival Canada.
Of course, he must make those plans while also coaching a Penguins squad that again is favored to win the Stanley Cup.
Shero informed Bylsma that he was USA Hockey's chosen coach June 17. Bylsma shared the information with only his wife, Mary Beth.
He kissed the Cup in 2009. The symbolic bite of a gold medal would mean a lot — except that only Olympic athletes receive medals.
“It's interesting because I've wanted to win a gold medal longer than I've wanted to win the Stanley Cup,” Bylsma said.
“Representing your country at the Olympics is the ultimate in sports.”