Pittsburgh Penguins Tap Mike Johnston as Head Coach

Pittsburgh Penguins Tap Mike Johnston as Head Coach

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The Pittsburgh Penguins hired former Portland Winterhawks (WHL) head coach Mike Johnston as their new bench boss on June 25, replacing Dan Bylsma.

The Pittsburgh Penguins hired Mike Johnston as their new head coach on June 25. 

The Penguins issued a press release on Johnston’s hire on their official website: 

“Mike Johnston, whose long coaching resume includes eight seasons as an assistant/associate coach in the National Hockey League, has been named head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, it was announced today by executive vice president and general manager Jim Rutherford.

“Johnston, 57, was assistant/associate coach of the Vancouver Canucks from 1999-2006 and associate coach of the Los Angeles Kings from 2006-08. For the past six seasons he has been head coach and general manager of the Portland Wintehawks of the Western Hockey League. 

“The native of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia also was an assistant coach for Canada at the Olympics (1998), at the World Championships (six times) and the World Junior Championships (twice).

“He worked full-time for Canada’s national team for five seasons from 1994-99, serving in varying roles as associate coach, head coach and general manager. He was head coach of Team Canada at the 1999 World Championships. 

“‘Mike comes to Pittsburgh with great experience at all levels of hockey,’ Rutherford said. ‘He has terrific knowledge of the game and proven leadership ability. His coaching style is going to be good for the players we have here with the Penguins — it’s an up-tempo style, but it begins from deep in the defensive zone. We’re very excited to have him.'”

According to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Stephen J. Nesbitt, former Detroit Red Wings and Team Canada head coach Mike Babcock endorsed Johnston’s candidacy, saying any team which gets him as head coach “is going to be very, very lucky”:

“Mr Johnston, 57, takes over a club with Mr. (Sidney) Crosby and fellow stars such as Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury and Kris Letang but also a team that has fallen short of lofty expectations in the playoffs the past five seasons since the Penguins won the 2009 Stanley Cup.

“Discontent grew to the point that general manager Ray Shero and coach Dan Bylsma were fired this spring after the Penguins blew a 3-1 series lead against the New York Rangers in the second round.

“Mr. Johnston has been an assistant and associate coach but never a head coach in the NHL. He spent the past five-plus seasons as coach and general manager of the Portland Winterhawks, a Western Hockey League junior club of teenage prospects.

“Perhaps that could put Mr. Johnston in a pressure cooker. Instead, he shares Mr. Babcock’s view.

“‘As a career coach, you aspire to get to these positions,’ said Mr. Johnston, who never played pro hockey.

“He oversaw a radical transformation with the Winterhawks, who had fallen on hard times on and off the ice. After he arrived in Portland early in the 2008-09 season, things changed not just for the better but for the tremendous.

“In his first full season with the Winterhawks, they improved by a whopping 48 points and made the playoffs for the first time in four years. 

“His record with Portland was 231-114-10-10, and the Winterhawks reached the WHL final each of the past four seasons. Under Mr. Johnston, Portland was 14-4 in playoff series, and 20 of his players have been selected in the NHL draft, with another four projected to be drafted this weekend.” 

Johnnston’s first hockey coaching job was at Camrose College in Alberta, Canada. After his fourth year, he sent letters to several NHL general managers, expressing his interest in coaching in the pros. It took a while, but Johnston couldn’t be happier in landing his dream job, per Michelle Crechiolo of the Penguins’ official website: 

“As a career coach, you aspire to get to these positions. Certainly, I’ve been in the National Hockey League before as an assistant and associate coach, but to get to this level is something I’ve always aspired to do. It’s been my goal, it’s been my dream and I’m really thrilled to be standing here today. 



“It’s been a long time since I wrote that note to those general managers. And I certainly have enjoyed the process of going through as a career coach and developing along the way. I think in whatever positions we have we’re all continuing to develop and trying to get better, and that’s been my goal all along.” 

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