NEW YORK – Shortly before USA Hockey introduced Penguins coach Dan Bylsma as Team USA’s head coach for the Sochi Olympics, its president, Jim DeGregorio, perfectly framed the task at hand.
“Winning the gold medal is not a miracle,” DeGregorio said, referencing the 1980 Miracle on Ice at Lake Placid. “It is an expectation.”
An expectation that is going to weigh heavily upon Bylsma, who may have won a Stanley Cup and a Jack Adams Award, but has zero international experience.
“I don’t have any experience,” Bylsma said, laughing. “Knowing I was going to be the head coach, I started going down the road educating myself as much as possible, in terms of international hockey, competition, playing on a bigger ice surface.
“Talked to some players and coaches and continue to do that to gain as much experience on that situation on and off the ice. Getting as much experience as I can in the next several months and gaining some of that knowledge.”
Help is nearby. Penguins general manager Ray Shero will serve as Team USA GM David Poile’s associate.
The Winter Games in Socchi, Russia are 220 days away.
The Americans took the silver medal -- Canada grabbed gold -- at the Vancouver Games in 2010.
This U.S. team is expected to have two recent Conn Smythe winners on it: goalie Jonathan Quick and forward Patrick Kane, plus two emerging American players -- Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.
All of which bolsters hopes that Team USA will finally win the gold after two silvers in the previous two North American Games (Salt Lake and Vancouver).
“It’s possible based on we have so many good players,” Poile said during the news conference held at Marquis Marriott. “We have a pool to choose from in 2014 that is even bigger. This is a little different challenge for us.
“Our philosophy is going to be a little different because it’s in Europe. We have not had a lot of success in Europe, whether it be World Championships or Olympic Teams.”
The challenges of playing in Russia are very different. Though the NHL still has not formally said “yes” to Sochi, it’s going to happen soon.
“Obviously, our comfort level in Salt Lake City and Vancouver were reflected in the results,” Poile said. “The ice surface and how we chose our team. It’s different in Europe. Travel is different.
“We’re going to have to cope with lots of different situations, from sleep to the size of rinks, and it probably can’t be the same type of team [as Vancouver]. We haven’t had success over there and we have to change things around.”
Poile said Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren, who serves on the advisory board, and former Atlanta Thrashers GM Don Waddell, also on that board, are expected to give their input on obstacles faced while playing in Europe, since both were at the Torino Games in 2006. Former Olympians Bill Guerin and Doug Weight will also chime in.
Bylsma said the quick turnaround from the NHL schedule break to going to Russia and playing with little practice because of time constraints will be a significant factor.
“The wear and tear on players stepping into international competition, then coming back, there is an effect in planning and go in there,” he said. “Distance, travel, time zone change, planning … sleep, limited practice time.”
This will be Bylsma’s first chance behind the bench internationally, coaching against Penguin centers Sidney Crosby (Team Canada) and Evgeni Malkin (Russia).
“I’ve coached Sidney and Evgeni a long time now, four-plus years, so I am acutely aware of their strengths as players,” Bylsma said. “… having said that, I’m a little concerned [Crosby] knows me as a coach and knows my strengths and weaknesses and will bring that to the Canadian team.”
Poile said the roster will be heavily laced with players who can skate well because of the larger ice surface.
The timeline for picking the team is still in the discussion stages, although Team USA’s Orientation Camp will be held Aug. 25-29 at Ketter Ice Plex in Arlington, Va., where the Washington Capitals practice.
What are the odds Team USA wins the gold?
“We can’t bet in hockey,” Poile laughed. “Just being in hockey is a gamble itself.”
Team USA braintrust
The advisory board also includes other NHLers: Dale Tallon (Florida GM), Dean Lombardi (Los Angeles GM), Stan Bowman (Chicago GM), plus Holmgren and Brian Burke, who will serve as player personnel director. Both Holmgren and Burke were not present at today’s news conference because they were not yet in New York for Sunday’s NHL draft at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.