Friday, May 10, 2013

Senators' MacLean Channels The Great One in Round 1

Time for another TVOS "Thought of the Day"...

Senators' MacLean Channels The Great One in Round 1

In 2002, at the Salt Lake Olympics, an emotional Wayne Gretzky addressed the media about his underperforming squad. A non-call on a Roman Hamrlik crosscheck to Theo Fleury had the Great One saying there would be a price to pay when the NHL season resumed...

“Everybody loves to see us lose,” Gretzky said, which immediately deflected the media attention away from his team and directed the focus to himself.“If a Canadian player had done that, he’d have been suspended. If a Canadian or American player had done that, we’d be called hooligans. But, if a Czech player does it, it's not a big deal.”
The hockey world was very surprised by it all. Can you believe Gretzky was so animated? One of the game’s true ambassadors and gentlemen talking about payback? The media talked about the Team Canada GM and not about Team Canada - it was one of Gretzky’s greatest plays!

Which brings us to Ottawa Senators head coach Paul MacLean.

Let’s start here - if you live in Ottawa and have heard MacLean’s post game press conferences, you will know that he is always candid and honest in his assessment of his team. At times though, he is foggy on the details. When asked about a certain play or a certain penalty, he doesn’t always remember the exact details of the play. So, from my vantage point, when he referred to Raphael Diaz as “player 61” it was not an intentional slight on Diaz or a calculated move to disrespect his opponents.

What came afterwards though was a classic Gretzky-like move.

His Ottawa team had been badly outplayed in Game 1 and if not for goaltender Craig Anderson, Montreal would have won the game by a large margin. When he saw the reaction to his comments, he went with it. By continuing his “player 61” type comments, the media turned their focus to the coaches - what would MacLean say next? How would Therrien and the Habs react?

When Montreal forward Brandon Prust called MacLean a “bug-eyed, fat walrus” to which MacLean replied he was not fat, he was “husky”, the media ran with the stories and the Ottawa fans loved it! Already a fan-favourite in Ottawa, he instantly reached iconic status in the nation’s capital. Let’s win it for the husky walrus fans exclaimed!

Although this series was MacLean’s first win as a head coach, make no mistake, this is a man that has paid his dues in hockey and seen it all before. In eight of his NHL seasons as a player, he scored 30 or more goals. As a member of the Winnipeg Jets in the 1980’s, he battled through one of the toughest divisions in hockey - the Smythe Division. As an assistant coach in Detroit, he helped bring the Red Wings to a Stanley Cup victory. Before coaching in the NHL with Anaheim, Detroit and now Ottawa, he coached in the IHL and UHL. He is a hockey-lifer and as I said, he has seen it all before...

By the time the Montreal Canadiens attempted to teach the Senators some respect with their fists in Game 3, unsuccessfully I might add, MacLean’s work was done. His young team had found their legs and the NHL’s 27th ranked offence began to find the net on a regular basis. Heading into game 2, 3 and 4, no one was talking about what the Senators needed to do to win, they were talking about what the Canadiens were going to do...

Sure, there was far more to this series than MacLean’s war of words with the Canadiens. Injuries and inconsistent goaltending did more damage to Montreal’s chances than MacLean’s verbal jousts with Therrien, but by channelling his inner-Gretzky, he bought his players some time to find their game and helped propel his team to the Round 2 of the NHL Playoffs.