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McCarthy settling in as a new Blue Jackets assistant

Coach's philosophy is about putting players in the best spots to succeed

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

It's not like it was a total shock to the system for Steve McCarthy when he became a Blue Jackets assistant coach on Sept. 13. 

The timing was a bit weird, with Columbus parting ways with Sylvain Lefebvre over his vaccination status just days before training camp. But when McCarthy was bumped up from coaching the defensemen in Cleveland to overseeing the blue line in Columbus, it's not like he was stepping into a bizarro world.

Having been in the organization, he's been around the coaches and players he'd now be working with on a regular basis. Heck, talk about a comfort level -- not only did McCarthy play in the NHL with head coach Brad Larsen, in his last season with the Monsters in 2015-16, he actually was teammates with two of the guys he'll now be coaching in Zach Werenski and Dean Kukan. 

Which is why it might not be a huge surprise that in McCarthy's words, the transition thus far has been a pretty easy one. 

"It's been great," McCarthy said Friday. "It's overall been a fantastic experience. Obviously I'm getting to know the guys a lot better, becoming familiar with the staff, but it's just all positives. I'm excited about the opportunity, and it's just hockey. It's a great group of players, a young group, and obviously a great staff. I feel super comfortable, and it's been a great week so far." 

That comfort and familiarity is what the Blue Jackets had in mind when McCarthy, a former NHL defenseman who also played his fair share of AHL contests and also up in Russia, Finland and Switzerland, was promoted. 

His track record of work in Cleveland has been impressive so far since he took over the blue line with the Monsters in 2016-17, and Larsen certainly didn't need to look twice when the decision to promote McCarthy was made. 

"Steve is sharp," Larsen said. "The thing about Steve is he brings so much experience. He was a first-round pick, and his career kind of maybe didn't pan out like they thought it would, so he had to scratch and claw for a career in the NHL, bumped around a bit, had to change himself as a player, was up and down.  

"And from everything that I know about him -- my interactions with him and talking to (Cleveland coach Mike Eaves) and those guys - he communicates extremely well with those young D. We have a young group back there, and he knows a lot of that group, so there's so many things that just made sense when that one situation didn't work out. I'm excited for him." 

Having been just about everywhere in the hockey world as a player -- and having those ups and downs, from being captain of Canada's World Juniors team and a first-round pick to having to battle for everything he got in his NHL career -- McCarthy seems to have learned a lot over the years. And as a leader, his philosophy is to coach players to rely on their strengths and not to worry when they make a mistake. 

"I have a tremendous amount of respect for Mac as a coach and as a person," said CBJ defenseman Andrew Peeke, who has spent time with Cleveland the past two seasons. "When I've been in Cleveland, I've worked really closely with him, and we have a really good relationship. There's a comfort level, and he knows when I play my best hockey, what that takes, and how he needs to coach me. He's just awesome." 

Added Gavin Bayreuther, who split last year with Columbus and Cleveland: "He's let me play and made me a lot better. I don't know how many years away from the game he is, but he's not far off, and he just gets it. He understands you're not going to have a perfect game. He sees the plays that you're trying ot make, and he lets you go out there and play. I think that gets people to another level." 

For McCarthy, that's the style of coaching he's searching for. 

"It's easy to point out some their weaknesses or something they're not strong at," he said. "I look at, what type of player are you, what are your strengths and how can we use that piece of the equation and put them in situations to have success? Obviously, we work on the other stuff they would like to get better at, but I just feel that's the best way for a player to improve and be comfortable, just allowing the player to play. 

"Once it comes to game time, allow them to make plays. They are going to make mistakes. That's one thing, when you make a mistake, I think you have to allow them to work through it. It's a game of mistakes. I'm big on that and allowing them (to play) and instilling a confidence in them. That's a huge thing." 

McCarthy played 302 games over eight NHL seasons, including stops in Chicago, Atlanta and Vancouver. His first game behind the CBJ bench Oct. 14 will be his return to the highest level, an opportunity the native of British Columbia is looking forward to.  

"You certainly don't want to take it for granted," he said. "It was a little bit of a different way to get here for sure, but it's an opportunity and you want to do well. But after the first few days, it's hockey. Obviously, it's the highest level, but you want to enjoy it. I'm just really excited to work with the group that we have, so I'm really looking forward to it." 

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