Hockey Hall of Fame - Stanley Cup Journals: 2009, 16

Dan and his son Brian sharing a moment with the Cup while showing off a King Salmon they caught on Lake Michigan. (Phil Pritchard/HHOF)
How much of a difference can one person make? Rhetorical question, to be sure, but ponder these facts. With 25 games remaining in the 2008-09 season, the Pittsburgh Penguins were 5 points out of a playoff position.

On February 15, Michel Therrien was cut loose and a relative unknown named Dan Bylsma was inserted behind the bench. He had put tremendous work into his career, and while not a star, he made it to the NHL, and played 429 games, split between the L.A. Kings and Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. He retired from playing at the conclusion of the 2003-04 season, and joined the coaching ranks, first with Cincinnati of the AHL, with the New York Islanders in 2005-06 and then with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. But he only became the head coach there at the start of the 2008-09 season. Five months later, he's in the NHL trying to turn around the season of one of the most exciting teams in the National Hockey League. Down the stretch, the Pens reacted to Bylsma, winning 18, losing just 3 and tying 4, and added 40 points to the team's standing. They clung to their vision, and on June 12, 2009, Dan Bylsma was the envy of 29 other head coaches, when he and his team hoisted the Stanley Cup as the 2009 champions.

The Stanley Cup and Prince of Wales trophies look on as Dan and Brian answer questions from the media at the pier in Grand Haven. (Phil Pritchard/HHOF)
Dan took the Stanley Cup home to Grand Haven, Michigan on August 11 and 12. Grand Haven is just west of Grand Rapids, and located on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. On a clear day (and with optical assistance), Milwaukee is across the lake from the Bylsma home.

Dan is a guy who loves sporting pursuits tied to the wilderness, so asked for the Stanley Cup to arrive at oh-my-God o'clock so he could take Lord Stanley's historic mug salmon fishing (and no, it was not used as a convenient bait holder!).

Four private charters were waiting when the Stanley Cup and Prince of Wales Trophy arrived at 5:30AM, and along with about 20 friends and his 10-year-old son Brian, the Tiara II, Tammy Too, Thunderduck and Living a Dream pushed off from the dock in search of the tender pink salmon flesh that makes for such great eating. Just to be safe, life jackets were placed on both trophies.

Dan brought the Cup to Grand Haven Christian School where he was once a student.
(Phil Pritchard/HHOF)
Dan made a point of fishing off of each of the four boats. He would carefully step into a dingy following the charters, have the Stanley Cup lowered in with him, then go to the next boat until he had fished on all four.

The group was out on Lake Michigan when, at 11:00, Dan had arranged for a special helicopter fly-by for the occasion. Some 5-and-a-half or 6 hours after starting, and using sonar and special lures, the group had hauled up 600 pounds of salmon! Brian Bylsma was especially adept at catching fish, pulling them up from the depths of the lake right, left and centre.

The charter boats pulled up into the Grand Haven channel and docked by the pier at the Grand Haven Municipal Marina. There is a cleaning station and, like the Stanley Cup photos taken by teams on the ice, sprawled around the trophy, this picture was similar — all the boys and their catch sprawled on the dock for a 'team' photograph.


Dan Bylsma and the Stanley Cup hitching a ride to his cabin in northwestern Michigan with friend Ken Klee. (Phil Pritchard/HHOF)

There at the pier, local residents lined up to see Bylsma and the two iconic hockey trophies. Although the area is dyed-in-the-wool Red Wings territory, the 1,000 or more fans simply love hockey and appreciate the great accomplishment made by their local hero, and gladly waited in line, some for over two hours, to get a picture with the Stanley Cup and the Prince of Wales. Dan joked that the latter trophy had been on the water so long, it should be re-named the Prince of 'Whales' Trophy!

Dan then took the Stanley Cup for a tour of Grand Haven. He stopped at his old school, met up with the statistician from the minor hockey league there and insisted at stopping at three landmark restaurants. First stop was Dairy Treat for ice cream. They filled the Cup with the delicious treat and invited any kids who happened to be there at the time to enjoy an extra special treat. Then, it was over to Pronto Pup for a snack. Dan's son Brian loves the corn dogs so much, he gobbled down four! And the last stop on the culinary tour of Grand Haven was Butch's Beach Burritos. "These are all places I used to hang out at," laughed Dan. "I had to come back and pay them a visit with the Cup!" Brian tried to smile while he was digging into a burrito.

Dan and his son Brian showing off the Stanley Cup from their tree fort built last year in northwestern Michigan. (Phil Pritchard/HHOF)
A celebration with family and friends was next on the itinerary. Dan recalled that when he was playing minor hockey locally, he decided to go to Canada and play hockey so that he might advance his career. He moved to St. Mary's, Ontario, the home of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, and played Junior 'B' with the St. Mary's Lincolns. At the time, he was billeted with a family whose grandfather was Riley Hern, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1962 and was the goaltender with the Montreal Wanderers when they won the Stanley Cup in 1907.

Dan is not the first alumnus of the Lincolns to coach a Stanley Cup champion. Terry Crisp beat him to the punch, serving as coach of the Calgary Flames when they took it all in 1989.

After the party, Bylsma took the Stanley Cup and Prince of Wales to his cabin, which is about two hours north of Grand Haven. With him went his son and long-time friend Ken Klee, who was a teammate of Dan's back at Bowling Green. The trophies were placed prominently on the kitchen table when the boys went to bed.


Dan and his son Brian enjoying breakfast out of the bowl of the Stanley Cup.
(Walt Neubrand/HHOF)
Dan's cabin is on 40 acres of beautiful forest, and has a stream that runs through the property. Adventurers that they are, early the next morning, the guys jumped on an ATV with the Stanley Cup and drove to the stream for a little more fishing. This expedition was much more relaxed…and much less productive. They reeled in one trout through the entire morning, and placed it in the historic bowl of Lord Stanley's Cup.

On the way back to the cabin to fry up the trout, they realized they had forgotten something. Gas! The ATV chugged to a halt halfway back to the cabin. Dan, Brian and Ken looked at each other, shrugged and started to laugh. What else could they do? They carefully grabbed the Stanley Cup and walked back through the forest to the cabin.

"Dad! Dad!" shouted Dan's son, Brian. "I have to get a picture of the Stanley Cup in my treehouse." Brian scrambled up into his fortress and was handed the Stanley Cup for a picture.

Back at the cabin, Brian ate the trout while Dan rustled up a hearty breakfast of pancakes, sausage and bacon.

It was time for the Stanley Cup to move on to its next adventure, but Brian refused to let it go quite yet. "We can't send it to Hal Gill smelling like fish!" Dan laughed hard at that thought. "No, you're right. We can't do that!"

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On Tuesday, make sure you're back and strapped in for Billy Guerin's day with the Cup right here at the Stanley Cup Journal.

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Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and Online Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame. www.kevinsheahockey.com



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