When new Sabres Head Coach Dan Bylsma takes over behind the bench in Buffalo, he'll have a built-in fan in the Bills football brain trust.
Bills GM Doug Whaley, a native of Pittsburgh, knows all about Bylsma. Whaley was a Penguins season ticket holder while he worked with his hometown Steelers as their Pro Scouting Coordinator.
"Being a Pens season ticket holder since 2001, I'm very excited to welcome Dan Bylsma to the Pegula family," Whaley said when the Sabres made the announcement about their new Head Coach.
"He is actually one of the people who is part of one of the best experiences in my life," Whaley remembers. "It was 2009--game seven in Detroit. A friend of mine called and said let's take a jet to the game and then be back in Pittsburgh to celebrate the Stanley Cup."
That's what Whaley did. He saw Bylsma's Penguins team hang on for a 2-1 win over the Wings in Detroit and win the Stanley Cup. Bylsma took over the Pens four months earlier and led them to a strong stretch run and the Cup. At the time, he was the youngest head coach in the NHL.
Whaley says he closely watched Bylsma's success in his five year run as Penguins Head Coach. "I have a lot of respect for what he has done on and off the ice," he says. "He's a family man. He was great in the community when he was in Pittsburgh. I think the Sabres fans and the Pegula family are getting an excellent coach and an even better person."
The Bills GM has worked with the Pegulas since last October when they took over the football team. And Whaley says he's already learned a lot about the new ownership and their focus on winning in professional sports.
"It's undeniable. It's just a commitment," Whaley says. "I hate to use this saying because it comes from the Oakland Raiders, but they truly have a commitment to excellence."
Whaley says Bylsma will soon learn that the Pegulas are willing partners in the pursuit of excellence. He's experienced it already with the Bills, and he's eager to share that experience with Bylsma.
"If you want it and you have a case for something to make the Sabres a better team, a team that can consistently compete for championships, don't ever hesitate to ask them," he said he would tell the new Sabres coach. "They will give you anything and everything you need to get the job done."
And Whaley shares some advice about dealing with Buffalo sports fans.
"They're extremely loyal, extremely excited and extremely proud to be Buffalonians, and Sabres and Bills fans. They take it to heart. I've had nothing but great experiences interacting with the fans and so will he."
As far as living in Buffalo, Whaley has some advice for Bylsma on that also. "The one piece of advice I would give him is to get on a workout regime, because the food here blows Pittsburgh away."