Dan Bylsma has had plenty of success in his career. He is a Stanley Cup winner, has won over 320 games in the NHL and was the recipient of the 2011 Jack Adams Award. Now as head coach of the Coachella Valley Thunderbirds, he has continued that pattern of winning, helping them reach the Calder Cup Final in the franchise’s inaugural season. Here is a look at five cool facts about his playing and coaching career.
Played in the International Hockey League
Before Bylsma made the NHL as a player, he played in a league called the International Hockey League (IHL). The IHL ran from 1945-2001 and had teams in places like Las Vegas, Orlando, San Francisco and even Muncie, Indiana. Over the history of the league, it also saw plenty of high-end talent, including Gordie Howe, Dominik Hasek, Marcel Dionne and Martin St. Louis.
Throughout his time in the IHL, Bylsma played 231 games split between the Phoenix Roadrunners and Long Beach Ice Dogs. He eclipsed the 100-point mark during his career, scoring 53 goals and finishing with 110 points. Overall, it was a good start to his career as he was able to learn the pro game prior to the start of his NHL career.
Was on the Same Team as Wayne Gretzky
In 1995, during the month of December, Bylsma was called up and had an opportunity to play in his first NHL game. Playing for the Los Angeles Kings, his first game came against the Ottawa Senators, where his teammate Wayne Gretzky put up two assists in a 6-2 win. While he didn’t record any points, playing with “The Great One” in his first NHL game must have been a special experience.
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Over the course of the 1995-96 season, Bylsma played in four games with the Kings. While he did not record any points, Gretzky made up the difference by recording at least a point in three of those four games. His time in the NHL with the greatest hockey player of all time may have been brief, but he can always discuss how he had the best seat in the house to watch No. 99 dominate the league.
Won Stanely Cup In First Season As Coach
The 2008-09 season was one to remember for Bylsma. Not only did he receive his first-ever head coaching job as he became the head coach of the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, but he finished the season as the bench boss for the eventual Stanley Cup champion. With the win, he became the 12th youngest head coach to win the Stanley Cup at 38 years old and the only head coach since 2000 to win a Stanley Cup before turning 40 years old.
Under Bylsma’s guidance, the Pittsburgh Penguins were virtually unstoppable. Led by Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, they compiled a record of 18-3-4 and finished the season with 99 points. After defeating the Carolina Hurricanes, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers, they were able to get revenge for the year prior by defeating the Detroit Red Wings, winning their third Stanley Cup in franchise history. It is safe to say that his first year as a pro head coach was a memorable one and something that may never be replicated again.
Coached A Former Teammate In The NHL
Not often does someone get the chance to coach a former teammate in the NHL, but that is exactly what happened with Bylsma and Chris Kunitz. During the 2003-04 season, both were members of the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks, who were the AHL affiliate of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. While both played for Anaheim during the season, they were not called up at the same time despite them playing a combined 32 games in the NHL that season.
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The two reunited in 2009 when Kunitz was traded to the Penguins. They spent the next five and a half seasons together before Bylsma was fired in the summer of 2014. Overall, the two had plenty of success together as they helped the Penguins become one of the league’s most dominant franchises during the early to mid-2010s.
Behind The Bench At The Olympics
Representing your country at the Olympics is a special moment, and one Bylsma had the chance to experience back in 2014 as head coach of the US Olympic Hockey Team. Overall, his team was pretty stacked and featured NHL stars, including Patrick Kane, Jonathan Quick and Joe Pavelski. While the US did not medal, they had an impressive tournament finishing fourth in Sochi.
Aside from the Olympics, Bylsma has had the opportunity to represent his county three times at the World Championship. He was an assistant during the 2015, 2018 and 2019 tournaments, walking away with two bronze medals. Overall, he has represented his country with pride and could be on their radar for future tournaments.
A Successful Career So Far
Bylsma has had an extremely successful career up until this point. As mentioned, he has won a Stanley Cup, has over 300 career wins and is now thriving at the AHL level. The 52-year-old still has plenty of time in his coaching career and, based on last season, could be getting another NHL opportunity sooner rather than later.