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Five Questions: MacLean recalls rise through ranks

Wednesday, 11.28.2012 / 9:00 AM / Five Questions With…

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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Five Questions: MacLean recalls rise through ranks
Paul MacLean's rise through the coaching ranks helped him learn from some of the best en route to his own post as bench boss of the Ottawa Senators.

NHL.com will periodically be doing a series called "Five Questions With …," a Q&A with some of the key movers and shakers in the game today aimed to gain some insight into their lives and careers.

This edition features Ottawa Senators coach Paul MacLean:

Hockey fans everywhere know the mustache -- but do they know the man behind it?

Ottawa coach Paul MacLean introduced his mustache to the NHL in 1981, when he became a full-time player with the Winnipeg Jets. For 10 seasons, the first seven spent in Winnipeg, MacLean was a consistent 30-goal scorer who put up 40 or more three times.

MacLean retired from playing at 32 and quickly became a scout for the St. Louis Blues at the request of general manager Ron Caron. He soon got into coaching and made stops at various minor-league cities with one season with the Phoenix Coyotes mixed in before he got to the NHL and found a way to stay.

He hitched on with Mike Babcock with the Anaheim Ducks, rode with the championship coach to the Detroit Red Wings, won a Stanley Cup, and last year finally got his chance to be a coach in the NHL -- 18 years after he got into the business full time.

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MacLean's Senators overachieved last season by every measure, making the playoffs as the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference after many pundits picked them to be among the worst teams in the League. This is the same Senators team that finished 13th in the East in 2010-11 and added several rookies from the American Hockey League to the roster when MacLean arrived.

MacLean discussed his career path, some of his coaching philosophy and, yes, his mustache with NHL.com this week.

Here are Five Questions With … Paul MacLean:

Looking back on the several seasons you spent working on the Detroit Red Wings staff with Mike Babcock, Todd McLellan, Brad McCrimmon and Jim Bedard, can you describe how that experience helped you when you were able to take that next step to become a head coach?

"I think it's the experience of winning and the tremendous success that the Detroit Red Wings had. Being in second place or not winning is not acceptable in the Detroit Red Wings organization. That pride of winning and that pride of doing things right is the biggest thing anybody can take away from being a Red Wing.

"I guess it is a pressure, but it's an everyday thing that you're there to do things right to find a way to win a game. It's all about winning and that's the biggest thing I take away from there.

"Mike, Todd and Brad were great to work with. You gain great experience working with those guys. Jim Bedard on the goalie side, you gain great experience on how to talk to a goaltender from him. The whole thing from Mr. Ilitch all the way down is a great experience and what it gives me is confidence, the confidence that I know how to win."

You took a circuitous route to being a coach in the NHL, holding jobs in the International Hockey League and the United Hockey League while also being a scout for a brief time -- all after finishing a successful playing career in the NHL. What type of perspective did you gain in those stops in Peoria, Kansas City and Quad City as you tried to get back to the NHL?

"I didn't start off being a coach. I started off being a scout after I was done playing and I fell into the coaching helping Bob Plager in Peoria in 1991. I scouted for a year-and-a-half after that experience and finally talked Ron Caron into letting me have the Peoria job. At that point I knew I wanted to coach, and I was probably better behind the bench than as a scout.

"We had some success, some good players in St. Louis at the time, and that gave me the bug to do it more. Also, to be honest with you, I needed a job too. I played through the '80s and '90s -- it's not playing through 2011, with the amount of money players make. I had three kids starting high school and going into university.

"I started to get a handle for it and all the stops I made along the way have been great experiences for me and made me realize for the most part how hard the job of coaching is and how hard you have to work at it. At the same time it's a very humbling occupation. You can be really good one year and no good the next year and a lot of it isn't always about you -- it's about circumstances getting in the way.

"For me now getting to be a head coach at the NHL level, I realize that I have to work harder to stay here. Just getting here isn't enough. The work you have to put in to stay here and to be successful is phenomenal. That's what I learned through the various stops. Sometimes you think it's real hard to get here when in reality it's harder to stay."

You put up 673 points in 719 career games as a forward for Winnipeg, Detroit and St. Louis, yet you retired after 10 seasons at the age of 32. Why retire then? Why not keep going?

"Twenty-one teams in the League and there's people coming from behind and pushing. You may lose a half a step and all of a sudden they want a young guy in the lineup. You're 32 and you can't play anymore. That's as simple as it was. In 1990 I scored 34 goals for the Blues and the next year I was done in February. That had to do with the 21 teams in the League more than anything else. It was harder to hang on. It was the evolution of the game.

"For me now getting to be a head coach at the NHL level, I realize that I have to work harder to stay here. Just getting here isn't enough. The work you have to put in to stay here and to be successful is phenomenal. That's what I learned through the various stops. Sometimes you think it's real hard to get here when in reality it's harder to stay."
-- Ottawa Senators coach Paul MacLean

"The big thing for me with Ron Caron and the Blues is they thought enough of me to offer me a job outside of hockey. That was an eye-opener for me. I came home and had three kids in grade school and it was like, 'What are we going to do now?' You have this infallibility about yourself as an athlete, but this gave us an opportunity to stay in the game and see if maybe we can establish some kind of career outside of playing."

Coaching question: If you have your ideal roster, one that allows you to coach exactly how you would like, what type of style do you prefer?

"We go fast and we play 200 feet and we try to fill the net. I think one thing I learned is you have to coach what you have, but if I have the perfect roster that I want, we're going fast, going 200 feet and we're trying to score. I think we made some real good inroads to doing that last year. A big part of our success was when we skated. We finished fourth in the League in goals for. We could score more. I thought we made some real good strides, though."

Personal question: The mustache, when was it born and tell us the history of it?

"I always say 1958 is the answer, but I think that's a little too early. It's something that started with some buddies in high school saying can you or can't you, and since then it's just been there. I believe it started on a hot streak where things were going good and you don't change anything and the mustache gets out of control. It goes from there. I've never thought of shaving it off. I love my wife too much to do that."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl

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