Penguins' Bylsma gives Red Wings coach Babcock plenty of credit
Their association doesn't approach the pupil-mentor relationship shared by Bill Cowher and Marty Schottenheimer, but Mike Babcock isn't just another guy to Dan Bylsma, either.
Babcock is one of five guys Bylsma identifies as having had the most impact on a coaching career that has brought he and the Penguins to the Stanley Cup final.
The group includes Andy Murray (for whom Bylsma played in Los Angeles), Brad Shaw (Bylsma coached with and under Shaw with the New York Islanders), Todd Richards (the head coach at AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, when Bylsma was an assistant there), Larry Robinson (another of Bylsma's head coaches with the Kings) and Babcock, the coach of the reigning Stanley Cup champion Red Wings. The Cup rematch between the Pens and Wings starts at 8 p.m. Saturday in Detroit.
"When I started to say, 'Hey, I'm going to write some of this stuff down,' those are the people I probably wrote the most down about," Bylsma said.
Babcock's current team is the one that most closely resembles Bylsma's first at the NHL level.
The Penguins and Red Wings each love to get traffic in front of the net and shots on the net. Both are puck-possession teams that aspire to play at a fast tempo and in the other team's end. And both are comprised of world-class players who have bought into such seemingly mundane tasks as back-checking.
They'll be discernible by the color of their uniforms once the final commences at Joe Louis Arena, but not much else.
Even the postgame press conferences will sound similar.
"If (Babcock) came and watched what we did, he would see me taking stuff from him," Bylsma said. "He would also see me taking a lot from Andy Murray. He'd see stuff from Brad Shaw. Todd Richards is also a guy I've drawn upon.
"Some of the words I use, I learned from Mike Babcock as a player."
Some of those words resonated, in no small part, due to Bylsma and the Ducks reaching Game 7 of the 2003 final under Babcock.
"It wasn't on skill," Bylsma said. "It was how we played the game. When you see that, you realize, 'That's a good way to play the game.'
"That success, the way he coached, it's something I've definitely added to what I talk about and what I try to do."
Babcock recalls Bylsma as "an important part" of Anaheim's 2003 NHL runner-up.
"But the reason he's a good coach is because he's a good person," Babcock said. "He works hard and he's conscientious and he understands the game. That's why he's a good coach.
"It appears to me, by the way they're playing, that not only do they have a good way to play, but he's treating the people right. When you treat people with respect, you have a chance to get them to work hard and compete hard. It looks to me like he's got that going."
In addition to playing for Babcock at Anaheim, Bylsma served as an assistant coach of the Ducks' AHL affiliate in Cincinnati during the NHL's lockout season in 2004-05.
"We spent a lot of time (together) there," Bylsma said.
The Penguins' presence in this year's final opposite Babcock suggests it was time well spent. Babcock credits Bylsma for preparing himself to take full advantage of an opportunity that was created by circumstances and the dismissal of former coach Michel Therrien in February.
"Let's not get carried away," Babcock said. "Therrien's a heck of a coach. He got them to play really well. For whatever reason, that wasn't going (this season), and (Penguins general manager Ray Shero) made the decision and they brought in a quality coach in Dan. It's amazing how things work out.
"If Todd Richards hadn't gone to San Jose (to become an NHL assistant), it would've been him (replacing Therrien with the Penguins). You only get lucky in life because you work hard, you prepare hard and you earn your opportunities. He's done a good job."
Bylsma said he talks with Babcock "occasionally in the summertime and throughout the year," and that Babcock communicated via text-messaging after Bylsma was named the Penguins' interim head coach and had won a couple of games.
There will be no such exchanges this week. Nor is Bylsma anticipating a reunion in the immediate aftermath of their current confrontation.
Apparently, a competitive edge is another characteristic these men share.
"It'll probably take some time before that happens," Bylsma said. "I could probably easily say that about both of us."
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