Things have happened quickly for Mike Bales. And unexpectedly.
The Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup and Bales, the Pens’ goaltending coach, was on the ice in Nashville smiling and lifting the Cup — the Pens champions for the second straight year.
A few days later, the Pens had their victory parade through downtown Pittsburgh, basking in the cheers.
On Saturday, Bales was named the Carolina Hurricanes’ new goaltending coach and answering the question, why leave Pittsburgh?
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“It’s kind of a tough situation,” Bales said Saturday. “The day after the Cup parade I was called in the office and told they planned to move past me.”
Mike Buckley, the Pens’ goaltending development coach, was named goaltending coach. Bales, 45, was offered a developmental positiion with the team but didn’t take long to find a new job with a new team.
“News travels fast,” he said. “Carolina called me and said they were interested.”
Bales said after talking to Canes general manager Ron Francis, he was convinced it was the right place, adding, “I liked the organization and the direction they’re going. I really want to help them get to the next level.”
Bales served as the Pens’ goalie coach for the past four seasons, working the past two with goalies Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury. Before that, as the Pens’ goalie development coach, he was sent to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins during the 2012-13 Calder Cup playoffs.
One of the team’s “Black Aces,” the players called up from the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL for the AHL playoffs, was goalie Scott Darling.
“We spent some time together,” Bales said. “Good kid. Works hard. A battler.”
Two years later, Darling was helping his hometown team, the Chicago Blackhawks, win the 2015 Stanley Cup. Traded two months ago to the Canes, Darling has signed a four-year contract, wants to prove he can be a No. 1 goalie in the league.
Cam Ward could well be the second goalie when the offseason dust — that is, the NHL expansion draft and other moves Francis may make — settles. Ward won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the Stanley Cup playoffs in the Hurricanes’ 2006 Cup run and has been the franchise goalie.
“It’s hard to speak to the dynamics,” Bales said. “I’ve first got to work with the guys, get to know their personalities. A goaltending coach wears a lot of hats and deals with everything — the technical side, the mental side. I’ll work with each as individuals. I’m very flexible, available any time. It’s possible to make it work, make it successful.”
Murray was the Pens’ postseason star as a rookie in their run to the 2016 Cup. This season, Bales helped rejuvenate Fleury and his game, and Fleury was a Cup-saver in the playoffs when Murray was injured, giving the Pens rock-solid play in net as they topped the Washington Capitals in a brutally intense series.
When Fleury faltered against Ottawa, Murray was back and ready. The Pens then beat the Nashville Predators in six games in the Cup final.
“Each time you win the Cup it’s special and this year it may have been a little more for me because both goalies were so instrumental in us winning,” Bales said. ‘Without ‘Flower’ we don’t get past Washington. It was a very satisfying season.”
Another player instrumental in the Pens’ postseason success was defenseman Ron Hainsey, who was dealt to Pittsburgh by the Canes before the trade deadline. Hainsey’s first taste of the Stanley Cup playoffs — after playing more than 900 regular-season games — ended with the Cup over this head.
“We were depleted on the back end and getting (Hainsey) was a great acquisition,” Bales said. “He helped turn our P.K. (penalty kill) around and played a lot of five-on-five minutes. He stepped up.”
Ward and the Canes have been in the playoffs just once since 2006 — the Canes reaching the Eastern Conference finals in 2009, when they were beaten by the Pens. Ward and Eddie Lack both were inconsistent in net last season, factoring into the Canes again missing the playoffs and Francis’ decision to bring in Darling.
Bales said Ward could be a big help for Darling, saying, “He can help mentor Scott and help bring him along in his No. 1 role. My job will be to facilitate that.”