“He has a level of dedication that is pretty amazing,” says former Caps defenseman Bryan Muir, a teammate of MacLean’s in Hershey. “It was nice to see him [get called up to the AHL]. At every level if a guy plays in the AHL and gets called up to the NHL you’re happy for him. He was in a situation where he was playing in the [ECHL] and he got called up to Hershey and they gave him a real good chance there and he did well. He prospered under that situation, when you give a guy a chance like that. He’s eerily similar to myself, just maybe different leagues. We’ve both been around and I can appreciate where he’s been and what he’s done. We hit it off when he first got there and we talked. He’s a hard-working guy. He just puts his nose to the grindstone and gets it done.”
During his time in Hershey (MacLean played 109 regular season and 11 playoff games in a Bears uniform), he gained a distinction that will last forever. MacLean scored the first-ever goal at the brand new Giant Center on Oct. 19, 2002, beating Rochester Americans netminder Tom Askey on a Hershey power play.
“That is something that I am proud of for sure,” he says, smiling at the memory. “It was just a fun moment. You always want to make a good impression, and there is so much history in the old Hershey barn. It’s neat to be part of the new one, just to carry on some tradition.”
Including playoffs, MacLean has played in more than 750 games as a pro in the ECHL, AHL and the old IHL. He has played in many cities and many rinks, but a few stand out.
“I really liked playing at the old Hershey Arena,” says MacLean. “There was just something about it. It was an amazing place. Another place that I went in but never got to play was the old Boston Garden. My father took me there when I was young and that was something special for sure. And then I really like the Sovereign Bank Arena in Trenton. There were a lot of good memories for me there, but I really liked the atmosphere of it and the good solid fan base of people who really appreciated hockey. It was a fun place.”
Another of MacLean’s many great memories in the game came during his days with Trenton. Seven years ago, he and the Titans clashed with South Carolina for the ECHL’s Kelly Cup championship.
“We had a good run in 2000 when I was playing against these guys,” he remembers. “I was with the Trenton Titans and we lost the Kelly Cup in here in Game 5. That whole playoff run was just something memorable and I was glad to be a part of it. Unfortunately, it’s a bad memory. But life is made up of good and bad memories and that’s one of them, being out there [on the ice] when that buzzer sounded. It was a crushing defeat, but it was such a real moment, it was such an intense moment. I was in my disappointment, and then you look down on the ice and see some of these guys who are still here having the time of their lives. I think playoffs in general are just what it’s all about, just the competition of it.”
As with any hockey player, parents play a big role. Usually a coach or two and others along a player’s journey have an impact upon his career, and MacLean is no exception.
“The one coach that helped me the most is Troy Ward,” avers MacLean. “He used to coach under [Kevin] Constantine in Pittsburgh and then he came and coached us in Trenton for one year and it was the year that we lost in the finals to South Carolina. He always said that his goal was not only to make us better hockey players but also to make us better human beings, and he really lived by that. Not only did I learn a ton about how to play the game properly, but I also learned a ton about respect and just being a good person throughout that year.
“Troy is a good example. [And also] Brian McKenna, who was in Trenton with me, is now the commissioner of the league. He is someone who was very good to me and someone who is always there when you need him. I see him once in a while during the year and he is a great person.
“Someone who I just sort of passed by who I thought was an interesting character is Brian Noonan, who played years ago in New York. He was in Indianapolis when I was in my second year. He was sort of on his way down, and he was a guy who had it all. He played in the NHL for years. I’ll never forget him because he treated me like I had been his teammate in the NHL for years. He never looked down at anyone, even though everyone looked up to him. He always treated everyone with the utmost respect and always had a smile on his face. He was someone that brushed by that when I see his name, it always brings back good memories for sure.”
Ten years from now, it’s safe to say that some of MacLean’s current teammates will be speaking of him with the same regard with which he refers to Noonan.
“He’s our Reg Dunlop,” says Fitzsimmons, invoking the famous Slapshot character. “Guys bug him. ‘Hey Cail, weren’t you drafted by the California Golden Seals? Weren’t you the captain of the Hartford Whalers?’ Just ongoing jokes like that all the time, nonstop. He just takes it all in.
“He’s extremely bright, smart. We’re on the bus for 10 hours and he’s bringing out his homework. He’s taking classes right now; he realizes the big picture, that hockey isn’t always going to be there. Even though I think he wants to get into coaching and he will be a brilliant coach.”
Cail MacLean is not getting rich in the game of hockey. His already slim chances of reaching the NHL grow dimmer with each passing day. He’s a smart guy who could probably make a decent living for himself and his family outside the game. So what keeps him going? What motivates him to go to the rink each morning, to drag his body onto the bus before each long road trip?
Pages 1 2 3 4