(Gene J. Puskar/AP)
It didn’t take long for Mike Sullivan to impress Matt Murray.
A few minutes, tops.
“As soon as I met him, I thought, ‘This guy was born to be a hockey coach,’ “ Murray said of Sullivan, whom he met at the Penguins development camp last July. Sullivan was hired one month earlier to coach Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to oversee the organization’s top prospects, a group that at the time included Murray. “It showed with how he communicates, how he thinks the game and how he’s literally always trying to find ways to give us an advantage.”
One year ago Monday, Mike Johnston was fired, and Sullivan replaced him as head coach of the Penguins. Their Stanley Cup-winning journey was nothing short of magical, reconnecting a city with its hockey team. For Murray, it became an affirmation of what he thought all along.
If the past year has proven anything, it’s that Michael Barry Sullivan, a 48-year-old Boston boy with a thick accent, a thicker belief system and sense of duty, is doing exactly what he’s supposed to be doing in life.
“What I like about coaching is that it’s not unlike being a schoolteacher,” Sullivan said during an interview in his office at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex last week. “It’s a teaching profession. It’s managing people. It’s trying to break the game down in a way that individuals and the group can comprehend.”
It’s a challenge Sullivan has mastered, all while relying on a direct style that has endeared him to his players. Play a bad game? Sullivan will tell you. Play a good one? He’ll tell you that, too. Spend even a smidgen of time around the team, and you start to pick up the fact that what “Sully” says goes.