Pittsburgh, PA, United States (4E Sports) – After almost three weeks of searching, the Pittsburgh Penguins have named former Portland Winterhawks coach Mike Johnston as their new mentor.
Johnston had been coach and general manager of the Western Hockey League’s Winterhawks for the past six seasons. Johnston replaces Dan Bylsma, who was fired June 6.
Johnston was a former assistant/associate coach of the Vancouver Canucks from 1999-2006 and associate coach of the Los Angeles Kings from 2006-08.
“As a career coach, you aspire to get to these positions,” Johnston said. “And certainly I’ve been in the National Hockey League before as an associate coach, but to coach at this level is something I’ve aspired to do. It’s been my goal, it’s been my dream and I’m really thrilled to be standing here today.
“When I first started coaching, I coached in a small college in Alberta and four years into my job, I sent a letter to several NHL general managers and I said, ‘I’ve been coaching for four years now … and I’m ready to coach in the NHL.’ Just keep it in mind.”
He was an assistant coach for Canada at the 1998 Winter Olympics, at the IIHF World Championship on six occasions and the World Junior Championship twice.
He said his experience with Canada and as an assistant in the NHL will allow him to communicate with key players, such as Penguins forwards Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
“The ’98 Olympics, for the first time we had NHL players,” Johnston said. “So we were building for the ’98 Olympics with the national team and we were given the NHL players.”
Johnston said his primary goal is to put the Penguins in a position to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
During his time establishing that template with the Winterhawks, Johnston led Portland to its largest turnaround in team history when it improved by 48 points in his first full season in 2009-10. Portland reached the WHL final in each of the past four years and lost to Halifax in the 2013 Memorial Cup Final.
Portland’s 2013-14 roster included 10 players drafted by NHL teams, including Penguins 2012 first-round pick Derrick Pouliot. Johnston was suspended for the remainder of the 2012-13 season on Nov. 28, 2012, due to a player benefits violation committed by the Winterhawks.