PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins Wednesday introduced Mike Johnston as their new head coach. Johnston, 57, will succeed Dan Byslma, who was fired June 6.
Johnston, a former NHL assistant coach with the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings, spent the past six seasons as head coach and general manager of the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League, where he coached prized Penguins defenseman prospect Derrick Pouliot.
"To get to this level is something I've always aspired to do," Johnston said. "It's been my goal. It's been my dream. I'm really thrilled to be standing here today."
Fallout from the latest Penguins playoff ouster featured a top-down dismantling, with Bylsma and former General Manager Ray Shero sent packing. Bylsma's Penguins went 252-117-32 in his six years behind the bench but were just 4-5 in playoff series since raising the Stanley Cup in 2009, with each loss coming to a lower-seeded team.
General manager Jim Rutherford was hired June 6 and spent nearly three weeks conducting a "very thorough search" for coaching candidates. After a few reported swings and misses, Rutherford contacted Johnston late last week.
"I feel very strongly that we got the right coach," Rutherford said.
A native of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, near the hometown of Penguins center Sidney Crosby, Johnston never played beyond the college level. He describes himself as a "career coach," and he's learned from the best.
Johnston began his coaching career at Camrose Lutheran College in Alberta at 23 years old. The way he tells it, he made the 60-mile drive to Edmonton on his first day to pick up equipment from sporting goods store United Cycle. The salesman behind the desk? Ken Hitchcock, now the head coach of the St. Louis Blues.
"I've had some phenomenal mentors," Johnston said.
Rick Tocchet, 50, an 18-year NHL veteran who spent parts of three seasons with the Penguins, joins the staff as assistant coach. Tony Granato and Todd Reirden have not been retained. Jacques Martin will return in a yet-to-be-determined capacity. Goaltending coach Mike Bales and video coordinator Andy Saucier will both remain in their current roles.
"Eighty-five percent of teams kind of do the same thing. It's the 10 or 15 percent that will be the difference makers," Tocchet said. "I think that's what Mike Johnston will be for the Pittsburgh Penguins."
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