Dan Bylsma Has Been Here Before (Tuesday Slew)

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Old hat for the new coach.

Slip into Dan Bylsma's shoes for a moment.

You're the first-time coach in charge of a team which plays at the highest level of hockey. You've had no time to work with the players now under your charge -- you're practically playing games before you've held your first team practice. The club is talented beyond belief but still finds itself in a win-or-go-home position. They came up just short of the ultimate goal the last time out, and now you've been tasked with taking them back and keeping them out of the runner's up circle. Oh, and the pressure is immense, unlike anything you've run into before.

Sound like the Olympics? Sure. And a bit like 2009.

To be certain, sitting at the helm of the USA Men's Hockey team is a bit different than when Bylsma took over for Michel Therrien's languishing Penguins back in 2009, his first job as an NHL bench boss. But there is something familiar to this tournament for Bylsma and the Americans, isn't there?

Bylsma took over the Penguins in February 2009. The team sat in 10th place. They were 27-25-5 and sliding. With 25 games left, Bylsma took the team from tenth in the conference and outside the playoff bubble to a first-round home playoff seeding.

It was a quick turnaround.  Bylsma was coaching his first NHL game before he could hold his first team practice -- never mind a full training camp.

It took only a handful of games before Bylsma's Penguins were back on the winning track. They went 18-3-4 in his first 25 games behind the bench, jumping from 10th to 4th place in the East. They survived the top-seeded Capitals and league-juggernaut Red Wings en route to the Championship. One of hockey's youngest teams, led by its youngest head coach, bested the toughest tournament in sports.

That's an all-time kind of quick success. And while Team USA entered these games without the burden of overcoming a poor record, the potential for similarly big things out of this group is evident at this year's games.

Bylsma's club enters the elimination round with the second seed, trailing only Team Sweden (3-0-0-0) after winning all three of their preliminary round games for the second straight Olympics (2-0-1-0). Their second prelim match against the hosting Russians went down as an instant Olympic classic, requiring eight rounds of shootout play and heroics from St. Louis forward and fringe Olympian T.J. Oshie.

This team only had a handful of practices before playing their first game against Slovakia. Since then, they've outscored their opponents 14-4 and have had little in the way of roster shake-ups.

So far, so good. But there was no way for the coach to feel confident about this team the same way he would if he had more time to work with them before the Games.

"Now I look to [the Olympic Men's Tournament]," Bylsma told ESPN before the games began, "and I say, 'How can I, how can we do this? How can we build this team? How can we become a team?' And that's kind of how I look at the tournament.

"OK, I have three practices, then a game, then a practice, then a game, then a game, and then I've got to get ready. So that's our first week, or however many days that is."

Even with that compressed schedule, Team USA seemed to have little trouble forging its identity. More than any other group at these Games, the Americans look like a team.

It's not as though Team USA had any more time to practice together than other squads. They were simply built to succeed in as quickly a manner as possible.

The situation in Sochi is a bit different than Bylsma's mid-season promotion to the Penguins, of course. Bylsma was tabbed as Team USA coach some months ago, and has had the opportunity to build a staff of his own assistant coaches, working with executives he knows while selecting players that have been scouted for months.

Still, the turnaround from NHL to Olympics is lightning quick, and it takes more than talent to make an Olympic winner gel so quickly (just look at the low-scoring Canadians).

"I think you're trying to develop your team in a short period of time," Bylsma said Tuesday, ahead his team's first elimination game against the Czech Republic Wednesday evening. "I don't know if it's real possible to say you've got a final product or this is where you wanted to be at, but we have those assets on our team."

The entire American club was selected in just such a manner -- not to be a collection of gee-wow offensive talent, but to be the most thorough roster in the games, one with a clear identity. Oshie was one of the last players named to the team, and it was his shootout skills that earned him the nod over former Olympian Bobby Ryan.

Team USA brass were keenly aware of how important the shootout can be in Olympic play, and it was just one facet. Albeit highly skilled and very experienced, the Americans truly are a collection of role players.

Just look at Bylsma's assessment of his group so far.

"I think Ryan Callahan has been as hard to play against as any of our guys," Bylsma said. "David Backes is such a big guy down the middle and an abrasive guy. If you look back at the game against the Russians, look back at some of the replays, you see him going against some of their big players. That's when we're at our best.

"It's something we have to keep at and keep on, because that's when we're at our best with those guys being hard to play against."

Hard to play against. That's the identity the Americans have tried to carve out since the months prior to the games, and they have so far delivered on that goal.

Like so many of Bylsma's Pittsburgh squads, the essential trait of the team is not its skill, but its work ethic.

Entering the Quarterfinals Round, there is perhaps no team with as much confidence as the Americans. That confidence has to be attributed in part to Bylsma. Behind him, the Americans are on track to take on the Canadians and Russians en route to a possible gold medal.

Even with such a brutal road to gold, there's no reason to believe this squad should be counted as an underdog. Should they get past the Canadians in a likely Semifinals showdown, they'd be the favorites to win it all.

That may be the only uncharted territory left for Bylsma and his squad.

Tuesday Slew is some commentary jargon that runs Tuesdays at Pensburgh. Or other days. I'm on twitter.

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