“I think it’s just the love of the game,” says Bradley. “I’m pretty sure even if I wasn’t in the NHL I’d still be playing. It’s tough to give up what you’ve done your whole life and what you love to do. He’s had a good career. He’s been up in the [AHL] for a while. The A is no easy league to play in; very few people even make it that far. He’s a smart guy and I’m sure he’s been smart with his money so if he can still do it and he still has a place to play, it’s pretty tough to say, ‘I’m done.’”
“What keeps him going?” says Fitzsimmons. “A couple things. Just the love of the game, for one. And why not? He’s only 31 years old or whatever; he can play another 10 years if he wants. You’re playing a sport and getting paid, and he’s one of our highest paid guys, obviously. You’re getting paid to play a sport that you absolutely love, so why go into the real world? Until there comes a day when you’re not having fun anymore, then maybe you hang them up. And he’s effective. He’s leading our team in all these categories. So in my mind, keep on trucking.”
As MacLean himself says, it’s probably the best job he’s ever going to have. And his body will probably let him keep it for a while longer.
“My body feels pretty good,” he says. “Overall I have been really fortunate with injuries. I’m 30 now and I have been playing 10 years pro. I have had one really long-term injury, which was an operation I had to get on my leg. I can feel it a bit in my knees, and I know that playing three games and three nights and traveling in between those games and everything, it does wear you down to the point where the 10 years on my body might add up a little differently to someone’s body in the NHL where you don’t play the three in three and you fly a bit more often and have less time on the bus.”
So the body is willing, and the mind is able. Then there are the fringe benefits, the sort that are lacking in the more common workplace environment.
“I think it’s just the fact that you can come in and collect at the beginning of the year in October and you’ve got 20 close friends,” says MacLean, when asked to recount the things he’ll remember most when he’s retired. “You come to the rink every day and you laugh and have fun. Sure we go through our slumps and our winning streaks and everything, but it is the camaraderie of it all. The leaving on the bus trips and laughing your way over to Columbia or going down to Pensacola in the middle of the night and giggling because you know you are not going to get any sleep and you’ve got to play tomorrow. It’s just the fact that everybody on the team is so tight. It’s something I think you would be hard-pressed to find in an office setting.”
Cail MacLean has a big league heart and a big league attitude. And he is rubbing off in all the right ways on plenty of young and impressionable kids who hope to get to the NHL themselves one day. Years after many of his junior teammates have left pro hockey in the rear view mirror, MacLean keeps moving forward with both hands on the wheel and some tread on his tires.
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