You can never count out Paul MacLean | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in CanadaYou can never count out Paul MacLean

Posted: Thursday, May 23, 2013 | 12:26 PM

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Ottawa Senators head coach Paul MacLean, right, is once again a finalist for the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year. (Jana Chytilova/Getty Images) Ottawa Senators head coach Paul MacLean, right, is once again a finalist for the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year. (Jana Chytilova/Getty Images)

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The Ottawa Senators look like their down and almost out in their second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. But if you know the story of their coach, Paul MacLean, never count him out.

Maybe this time the talent on the other team is just too much, too deep. The Pittsburgh Penguins, up 3 games to 1 in their Eastern Conference semifinal against the Ottawa Senators, were supposed to win anyway.

But if you know the story of Senators head coach Paul MacLean, you know never to count him out. Just go back to his junior days, when he played across the Ottawa River for the Hull Olympiques (now the Gatineau Olympiques). He always found a way to stick.

He was a long shot to crack the Olympiques roster when he showed up as 19 year old in 1977. He was the last player taken in the QMJHL draft.

As training camp wound down, he got wind that management was about to cut him and send him back home to Antigonish, N.S. Then he scored a hat trick in the final scrimmage to earn a spot on the team.

Later that season, the Olympiques made a trade during a game that would have sent MacLean to the Quebec Remparts. He scored five times for Hull in that game. The trade was called off.

The underdog MacLean went on to enjoy a solid career. He won a conference championship with Dalhousie University in 1978-79. He played for Canada in the 1980 Olympics. He played 10 seasons in the NHL and checked in with 324 goals and 673 points in 719 career games with the St. Louis Blues, Winnipeg Jets and Detroit Red Wings.

For a couple of seasons, he played on a line with Dale Hawerchuk in Winnipeg and enjoyed 40- and 41-goal seasons. MacLean scored 30 or more goals in a year eight times.

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He has been even a better coach. MacLean has been to the final as an assistant coach three times and won a Stanley Cup with Detroit in 2007-08. In two years since he succeeded Cory Clouston in Ottawa, MacLean has earned successive nominations for the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year.

"He's been able to get everybody to contribute," Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson said. "That's a big thing.

"We play a style in which we initiate things. We no longer wait for things to happen. It's a lot of skating. But once you see that it works, you start to play with more confidence.

"It's rewarding, too, because you're not just waiting for mistakes and turnovers. It feels like you're engaged in games. It's a fun way to play."

MacLean makes it fun. He has a wonderful sense of humour. He doesn't try to be funny. He just doesn't take himself too seriously. When the time is right, he keeps his players loose with a joke. When it's time to be serious, he has instills the proper amount of intensity.

"That's his personality," Alfredsson said. "He's not trying to be funny or nice just to look good.

"That's the way he is. He knows when it's time to get ready for a game and when the mood should be light and it's fun to come to the rink."

MacLean feels at home in Ottawa. It's near where he played junior. His brother Jerome and sister Karen just happen to live in the nation's capital, too.

'Spoke really well of him'

MacLean isn't the only reason why the unheralded Senators have made the playoffs in back-to-back years and upset the Montreal Canadiens in the first round this spring. Craig Anderson, Robin Lehner and, before he was traded, Ben Bishop, have provided first-rate goaltending. There also has been the emergence of young players like Norris Trophy-winning defenceman Erik Karlsson.

But MacLean has played a big part in the swift turnaround after Ottawa finished 26th overall in 2010-11.

When Alfredsson heard the Senators had hired MacLean two summers ago, he contacted a few of his fellow Swedes on the Red Wings to find out what MacLean was like. He received rave reviews.

"They felt he learned a lot under [Mike] Babcock," Alfredsson said. "He'd been there a long time.

"But they also weren't sure what he'd be like as a head coach because he'd been in another role in Detroit than he is now He was a guy who was hard on the young players, trying to push them and make them better. They spoke really well of him."

Alfredsson immediately liked MacLean after their first get-together.

"Anytime you get a new head coach, you don't know what to expect," he said. "We had a first meeting and he'd ask me, 'Can you still skate because we're going to be a skating team?'

"I was coming off of back surgery. So I told him, 'I'll make sure I'm ready.'"

'The Griz Look'

The 55-year-old MacLean was born Grostenquin, France, where his Dad was serving in Canadian Armed Forces. The family, however, moved back to Canada when MacLean was two. He was raised in Antigonish.

When asked about his coaching influences the other day, MacLean listed the following: his Dad; his late minor-hockey coach, Irving McGibbon, who played one game for the Canadiens in 1942-43; Canadian national team coach Tom Watt; his first pro coach with the Salt Lake City Golden Eagles, Jack Evans; his owner with the United Hockey League's Quad City Mallards, Howard Cornfield; and Babcock.

He won the UHL championship in his first of two seasons in Quad City 12 years ago.

"I had already gone through my search process for a coach and I was ready to hire someone else," Cornfield once told the Ottawa Sun. He remains a close friend of MacLean today.

"He has a look to him and he looks you in the eye," Cornfield added. "It's hard to explain, but we came to call it 'The Grizz Look' as in grizzly bear.  

"He looked you in the eye and you knew he was being very honest. He was speaking from the heart. He had incredible intensity and you walked away saying, 'This guy is serious.'

"When he came in and told me, 'I'm going to win you a championship,' you walked away knowing that this guy was going to do it."

That's why, even though the Senators look down and out, you should not count them out. Especially after 7-3 loss in Game 4, when he held up the game sheet and said the score tells the story and then said: "See you in Pittsburgh. We're going to Pittsburgh and we're coming to play."

Follow Tim Wharnsby on Twitter @WharnsbyCBC

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