Tonight’s opening night game between the Detroit Red Wings and the Ottawa Senators was more than just a game between a Stanley Cup contender and a contender for the #1 overall pick in the 2012 Draft. For the men behind the bench, it was an opportunity for Paul MacLean to show what he could do in his first head coaching gig. Behind the Red Wings’ bench, it was a chance to see one of their own trying to make the most of the biggest break of his career.
The bad news is that MacLean had to face his former team in his first game as the Senators’ new head coach. After falling behind 5-0, the overmatched Sens managed to make the final score a much more respectable 5-3 final score. The good news is that MacLean and the rest of the boys in Ottawa won’t have to face Detroit again until next season.
For MacLean, the first game as head coach was the culmination of a long road in the coaching world. After a successful coaching with Mike Babcock in Detroit, he was only a matter of time before he got his opportunity. MacLean explains:
“It’s pretty satisfying to get the opportunity to be a head coach in the National Hockey League. A lot of it has to do with being on a successful team and knowing what it takes to be successful in this League. Todd has done a great job in San Jose getting his team further and making it better and that’s the challenge for me — to do that here in Ottawa, as well.”
When listing people to thank, Babcock should be at the top of the pile. Not only had Babcock given him jobs in both Anaheim and Detroit, but he’s groomed the new Sens bench boss to be a head coach himself one day. There’s a key advantage when a head coach prepares his assistants to move onto better things one day. Just ask Todd McLellan for the Sharks.
Red Wings’ coach Mike Babcock holds no ill-will for MacLean moving onto Ottawa. In fact, quite the opposite. Babcock explains that when assistant coaches get promotions around the league, it’s a source of pride for himself and the organization:
“I’m a big believer that the best CEOs in the country… their people move on and do things. Some people stifle people and don’t let them grow and there’s no succession plan. I don’t believe in that. I believe that not just for players, but for coaches, it speaks highly of your organization if people are growing and developing and moving on. I’m proud of it. I’ve got lots of guys who I’ve coached with who are coaches now. I’m proud of that fact. To me, that’s what it’s all about.”
MacLean is certainly walking into a difficult situation this season. The Sens are trying to mix in prospects with potential, strong AHL players, and aging NHL stars. Last season they were one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference and most people have them picked to finish at the bottom of the Northeast Division this season. MacLean will have his work cut out for him if he wants to follow in Mike Babcock and Todd McLellan’s successful footsteps.
For now, he’s just excited for his opportunity. So is his former boss.