CHICAGO | The long grind of an NHL season means Valparaiso resident Todd Reirden has to attend to the fine details of the Pittsburgh Penguins as trusted assistant to head coach Dan Byslma, a close friend since their college hockey days two decades ago at Bowling Green.
The former NHL defenseman is in his first season as an NHL assistant, yet his ambition is a head coach's job, whether it's sooner or later. And Byslma wouldn't have a top aide viewing his profession any other way.
"My timetable has certainly gone a lot quicker than I ever anticipated," the 39-year-old Reirden said of being promoted to the Penguins' coaching staff after a season-plus as head coach of Pittsburgh's American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
"When I took this job as the assistant (coaching the Penguins' defensemen), my mind already was on how I could become head coach in this league. ... That's my ultimate goal. And when that opportunity comes, I'm confident I'll be ready for it."
Reirden's fortunes seem intertwined with Byslma's. After years on the Bowling Green hockey staff, Reirden reunited with Byslma for the 2008-09 season, hiring on as an assistant coach at Wilkes-Barre under head man Byslma. When Byslma was promoted to head coach at midseason, Reirden took his place. And when Byslma needed to fill an assistant's vacancy last summer he brought his old comrade to Pittsburgh.
Byslma is not the least bit worried about Reirden's desire for upward mobility.
"I don't think I'd want it the other way around, where the assistant coach didn't want to aspire to be the head coach," Byslma said. "I think it's an admirable trait. It's one I look for. ...
"I want to know what Todd Reirden the head coach would do in this situation, in this point of time, with this team ... who's in and out of the lineup. That helps him grow into what it's going to be like when he gets a head-coaching opportunity."
Reirden figures an assistant's position on the Penguins is a perfect apprenticeship.
"This particular situation was unique because you're dealing with the Sid Crosbys, you're dealing with some of the best players in the world," he said.
"I've already been in the NHL as a player and felt comfortable with my ability to communicate with these guys. But the one thing I didn't have on my resume was dealing with high-end players like that, and motivating them, and teaching them."
A 183-game NHL veteran with four different teams, Reirden, a native of north-suburban Deerfield, settled in Valparaiso after marrying Shelby Anderson, a Valparaiso High School graduate.
The couple can get away from hockey a bit more in the summer, but not from business. The Reirdens own Locks of Fun, a children's hair salon at 155 Lincolnway in Valparaiso.
"We've had that for six years," Reirden said. "My wife is with me in Pittsburgh during the season, so we have a manager run it."
Reirden makes sure he has some decompression time in the off-season.
"I've lived right on the lake since I was a player, and we're able to fish and go tubing and skiing with my 8-year-old (Travis). "I love Valparaiso. I love the people in that town."