At the tail end of his career, he played in five games with Utah in 2001-02, and, as he recalls, they came in just seven days.
"I was exhausted. We played in Utah. We ended up in Wilkes-Barre, somehow," MacLean recalled. "For an NHL guy to go to the minors, it was an eye-opening experience. Everybody (the younger players) loves to play. Everybody has the same aspirations."
MacLean's had long before come true, to the tune of 1,194 NHL games, mostly with New Jersey. Now, he has the chance to spend a lot more time on the road in the AHL helping to steer prospects in a similar direction.
The Devils named MacLean head coach of their Lowell affiliate on Monday. He has spent the past six years as a Devils assistant, but has never held a head-coaching job.
Apart from those five games in Utah and 32 with Manitoba (IHL) in 2000-01, he has never set foot in the minors.
"If you are in this profession, the aspiration is to be a head coach in the NHL. This (job) is another opportunity to gain some experience," said MacLean, 44. "I'm not naïve enough to go in there and know I'm going to know everything. But (mistakes) won't be from lack of experience and hard work. I think I'll adapt pretty quickly to figuring out the game."
The Lowell puzzle is a tough one to piece together. The franchise is three years old and is still looking for its first playoff berth. Now, the challenge falls into the lap of one of the quintessential Devils.
MacLean, the No. 6 pick by New Jersey in 1983, is fourth on New Jersey's all-time games played list with 934, trailing only Ken Daneyko, Martin Brodeur and Scott Stevens. He is the franchise's all-time leader with 347 goals, second with 701 points, and third with 354 assists. He was a member of the Devils' 1995 Stanley Cup championship team as a player and the 2003 title squad as an assistant coach.
"We strive to win," MacLean said. "I understand the organization. It's a successful organization. I get to be in the position (of) changing the lines, practicing, dealing with the business of whatever comes up. The situation seems good right now."
Bears' winning philosophy -- The Hershey Bears' strategy to keep winning Calder Cups is simple -- have people around who've won them there before.
The team's two moves in the past several days reflect that philosophy.
Earlier this week, Washington tabbed Mark French as new Hershey head coach. French was an assistant under Bob Woods when the Bears claimed the crown in 2008-09.
"You gain a certain experience when you win," French said. "You understand how deep you have to go as a group. There will be obviously subtle changes. But if our core values can be the same, I think we'll be in for a good season."
The signing of free-agent forward Boyd Kane will go a long way toward ensuring that.
Kane was captain of the Phantoms squad that won the Calder Cup in 2004-05, then wore the "C" for the Bears team that took the title in 2005-06. Kane spent the past three seasons in Philadelphia.
"It's a lot easier going back somewhere where you know the people, you know what's going on," said Kane, who scored 17 goals with Philadephia last season. "Just the comfort level there makes it easier to lead."
The keep-it-in-the family theme extends to French's choice of Troy Mann as his new assistant. Mann, 39, comes to Hershey after serving as associate head coach of the Charlotte Checkers (ECHL) in 2008-09.
Mann's 11-year professional playing career included a stint with the Mississippi SeaWolves in the ECHL, where he was the first player to sign with the franchise in 1996, and he won the Kelly Cup while playing for Washington coach Bruce Boudreau in 1999.
Woods was also a member of the 1999 SeaWolves, serving as both a player and an assistant coach.
"If you are in this profession, the aspiration is to be a head coach in the NHL. This (job) is another opportunity to gain some experience."
-- John MacLean
And that only made his encore season all the more difficult.
Now New York is giving him the fresh start he didn't expect, but most certainly needs.
The Rangers inked Boyle to a two-year deal last week, one that has a two-way component in the first year and then goes one-way in the second. New York picked up Boyle, 24, on June 27 in exchange for a third-round pick in 2010.
That's potentially a good markdown acquisition for New York. Boyle was a first-round pick by Los Angeles in 2003 and produced 31 goals and 31 assists as a rookie for Manchester in 2007-08. But in 2008-09 he followed that up with 10-11 in 42 games with the Monarchs, although he also got 28 games with the Kings.
"Last year I was disappointed in myself, how I played. I let certain things get to me that shouldn't have," he said. "It's a maturity thing. I knew I wasn't quite where I wanted to be playing-wise. Maybe it was just more pressure involved. You want to stay up with the big club."
Boyle expected that development to continue with the Kings, but New York swooped in instead. If he applies the lessons learned last year, Boyle could be putting on an NHL show in front of a family that includes 12 brothers and sisters. The family is from the Boston area, and the swing to the Big Apple is a lot easier than the one to Los Angeles.
"I'm happy to be coming back to the East Coast. It's an opportunity to make a good first impression," he said. "I want to take what I learned last year to get better. That's the biggest thing I learned this year, not to worry about anything, just to focus on my game. When my number comes up, I have to go out and do it."
Rule changes, awards -- The AHL's Board of Governors concluded its summer meeting last week by tinkering slightly with a couple of rules.
One-minute minor penalties during overtime, instituted at the request of NHL general managers in 2008-09, have been eliminated. Penalties in overtime will be served in full.
Shootouts that extend to extra rounds could be a lot more interesting, perhaps requiring the use of players who never get a whiff of a breakaway in regular game action. The league altered shootout procedures so that no player can shoot twice until all eligible players have gone once. Previously, only five shooters per team were selected to participate in the entire shootout.
The AHL also handed out some hardware, including:
- Craig Heisinger, senior vice president of True North Sports & Entertainment and general manager of the Manitoba Moose, was named the winner of the James C. Hendy Memorial Award as the outstanding executive in the AHL for 2008-09.
- Former AHL Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations Jim Mill was given the Thomas Ebright Award in recognition of career contributions to the AHL.
- Al Stensland was named the recipient of the Michael Condon Memorial Award for outstanding contributions by an on-ice official.
- The Manitoba Moose were named the 2008-09 winner of the President's Award, given to an AHL organization for excellence in all areas off the ice.