"Mellon Arena Memories" is a feature will will appear on a daily basis in this forum until July 30, when the Penguins will officially leave the only facility they have known as their home arena since the franchise was formed in 1967. Today's subject is Dan Bylsma.
Dan Bylsma is currently the head coach of the Penguins. He has served in that position since replacing Michel Therrien on an interim basis Feb. 15, 2009. When Bylsma took over the team, it sat in 10th place in the Eastern Conference. He led the team to an 18-3-4 record down the stretch as it finished the regular season with the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
After beating the Flyers in six games in the first round of the postseason, Bylsma directed the Penguins past the Capitals in seven games after initially trailing the Eastern Conference semifinal series, 2-0. Following a sweep of the Hurricanes in the conference final, Bylsma and the Penguins advanced to the Stanley Cup final where they faced the Red Wings, the team which beat the Penguins in the previous final. After trailing this series, 2-0, the Penguins rallied to win four of the final five games including a dramatic Game 7 to claim the franchise's third Stanley Cup title. In the process, Bylsma became the 13th coach in NHL history to win the Stanley Cup his first year in the league.
Bylsma led the Penguins this past season to 47-28-7 record and another playoff run where they were eliminated by the Canadiens in the second round.
Before coming to the Penguins, Byslma spent nine years in the NHL as a player with the Kings and Mighty Ducks. In 429 games, he recorded 62 points. Following his retirement as a player in 2003-04, Bylsma became an assistant coach with the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks, Anaheim's AHL affiliate. In 2005-06, he served as an assistant coach with the Islanders. After one season on Long Island, Bylsma joined the Penguins organization as an assistant coach under Todd Richards in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. When Richards left to take an assistant job in San Jose, Bylsma was promoted to head coach of the AHL Penguins and when 35-16-1-2 before taking over for Therrien.
In parts of two seasons with the NHL Penguins, Bylsma has a record of 65-31-11.
First memory of Mellon/Civic Arena:
"I played here a couple of times. So my first memory, is of the visitors locker room. Not a great memory by the way. Having that been my first memory, I feel like that’s the part of Mellon I’m not going to miss."
Favorite memory of Mellon/Civic Arena:
"Coaching at Mellon, walking across the ice with the unique shape of the building with the fans, their proximity to the ice, I love that about Mellon. I love (when it’s) two and half minutes before a playoff game, the White Out, and the fans anticipating the players coming out on the ice. The first playoff game I coached against the Philadelphia Flyers had a little spark. Just the ‘kindness’ we show the Flyers and the playoffs and the towels is a memory I won’t forget."
Most unique memory of Mellon/Civic Arena:
"One I will never forget is upon arriving to coach here in Pittsburgh - there’s a picture in (equipment manager Dana Heinze’s) of (the equipment staff) on top of the Mellon Arena. I said to the training staff, ‘We have two years to win the (Stanley) Cup and get it on top of Mellon Arena for a picture.’ One of the first things that Dana said to me after we won the Cup was, ‘We’re going on top of Mellon Arena.’ So we got a picture now of us on top of Mellon Arena with the cup overlooking the city, overlooking the new building kind of rising in the backdrop."
On leaving Mellon/Civic Arena:
"The older arenas always have something special. Maple Leafs Gardens, Chicago Stadium, The Aud (Buffalo Memorial Auditorium) and that’s my piece of Mellon. It will go to the grave with me. We’ll get a great new place and a great new building to go into but there’s always some special memory because it’s a unique place with the fans being tied so closely to the players in a different sort of way than the newer kind of arenas."
On living in the Marriot City Center across the street from Mellon/Civic Arena when he first arrived in Pittsburgh:
"It was great at the time. I think if my family was with me, it wouldn’t have been that great. But I was here by myself so I came here at seven in the morning and left at 10:30 at night. I left for dinner and came back to watch hockey games and left. I spent a ton of time here. I liked being there. I liked looking out where the fans were gathering for home games and seeing the picture from my hotel room of the big screen (in front of Gate 3). I liked being in close proximity in that regard."
On playing in Mellon/Civic Arena:
"I remember practicing in this building. My first time in the building, I’m looking up and seeing Stanley Cup (banners), and Mario Lemieux’s name and (Jaromir) Jagr’s name."
On his first win as Penguins coach, a 5-4 defeat of the Canadiens, Feb. 19, 2009:"I remember a couple things. The biggest memory of that game was coming off the ice and hearing ‘Elvis has left the building.’ Pittsburgh is famous and ‘Langer’ (Mike Lange) is famous for those things and I think it’s part of Pittsburgh lore. My second biggest memory of that game was walking off the ice and a fan screaming down to me that I hadn’t done anything yet until I had beaten Philly. That kept everything in perspective for me. Being a Penguin is about beating the Flyers. Even after my first win and walking off and enjoying the moment, I was reminded what it’s about."
On the team's locker room and offices:
"I think one of the great things about being part of an organization that’s won previous Stanley Cups and has had great players is that you feel that. You feel that when you walk into the dressing room when you see Mario Lemieux’s name on the wall. You see when you see Jaromir Jagr and Ron Francis and Bob Johnson’s picture. You get a sense that you’re standing on previous tradition, you’re standing previous winning seasons, you’re standing on previous Stanley Cup (championships)."
(Photos: First, second, third, sixth and seventh-Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press; fourth-DanBylsma.com; Fifth-Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)