As a player, Cail MacLean made Hershey Bears’ history by scoring the first goal ever at Giant Center, and if one judges by the Washington Capitals’ organization’s recent history of hiring coaches from within, the rookie head coach of the South Carolina Stingrays could stand next in line to make history behind the bench in Chocolatetown.
Going undrafted, despite a 34-goal total in his final year of junior hockey, MacLean’s ties to the Capitals organization started immediately in rookie season of 1997-98, where he skated for former Washington head coach, Bruce “Butch” Cassidy, with the Jacksonville Lizard Kings of the East Coast Hockey League.
In addition to his stay in Jacksonville that season, MacLean also had brief auditions with the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks of the American Hockey League and Cleveland Lumberjacks of the International Hockey League, setting an early tone for what became a trend throughout his playing days.
“I like to think that I understand a lot of different situations because I had been in so many different ones over the course of my playing career,” said MacLean, who skated for 15 different teams over the course of 11 seasons in the pro ranks. “I know what these guys are trying to do and the pressure that they put on themselves.”
After the conclusion of the 2004-05 season, which he split between the Bears and Reading Royals of the ECHL while on a Hershey contract, MacLean realized that he had been bitten by the coaching bug for the first time.
“I had played most of the previous year in Reading, being under contract with Hershey and Reading. I had always had a prominent leadership role in my playing career, from junior on,” said MacLean, who captained three different ECHL clubs.
“I thought that I was getting older and my sights were no longer set on the NHL, and I really appreciated the leadership aspect. So, I went down there and tried to take note on the coaching aspect and see if I could convert my love of leadership to coaching.”
While beginning a head-coaching career in South Carolina on the heels of the perennial ECHL powerhouse’s third Kelly Cup title might seem like a tall challenge, one shouldn’t shortchange MacLean’s chances of overcoming obstacles, like he did so many times in his days of donning a hockey sweater.
“My job is to win hockey games, but I think it is equally important to develop good young hockey players and good young people. I want to come in and do the best job I can in South Carolina. I was fortunate to work under Jared Bednar last year (as an assistant coach); he was an exceptional coach at our level. I’m looking forward to carrying on that winning tradition.”
MacLean, quiet, yet insightful, often used the term “tradition” during our conversation, but I got the feeling that he has a deeper sense of the true meaning of that term than the average player. So, it’s not surprising that his “heightened sense of history” factored heavily into the Middleton, Nova Scotia native triggering the red light on his historic goal.
“To score the first goal in the history of that building was a real honor,” said MacLean who scored an AHL high 16 goals that season with the Bears. “It’s one of those moments that I knew that being in Giant Center that night, I understood how much tradition had come before us and we were about to embark on another era of that.”
Tags: American Hockey League, Bruce Cassidy, Cail MacLean, Cincinnati Mighty Ducks, Cleveland Lumberjacks, East Coast Hockey League, ECHL, Giant Center, Hershey Bears, Jacksonville Lizard Kings, Jared Bednar, Kelly Cup, Reading Royals, Washington Capitals