For the 48-year-old goalie-turned-broadcaster, trips back to Long Island also remind him of his early days in the NHL. McLennan played for six NHL teams during his 18-year pro career, and it all started with being drafted by the Islanders 48th overall in 1991. He played 56 games for the team as a netminder over three seasons, but spent five total years in the organization between the NHL and the minors.
"You always remember your first of anything," McLennan said. "To me, I have nothing but amazing memories of the Island and the organization and the way it was shaped."
McLennan grew up in Edmonton, AB, during the Islanders' dynasty and saw first-hand the Isles at the peak of their powers as they swept the Oilers in the 1983 Stanley Cup Final. When he came of draft age, McLennan said he felt "privileged" to be a part of the same organization that rattled off four straight Cup wins.
"The legacy that surrounded it with Mr. Torrey and Al Arbour and former players around, Bobby Nystrom and Clark Gillies, you showed up and there was just this aura around them," McLennan said. "Even when I was drafted by them, you felt so privileged because everything that came with it, you were expected to hold that high standard. I couldn't have been more excited."
McLennan had another tie to the dynasty Islanders, as Butch Goring was his junior coach in Spokane of the Western Hockey League. He was reunited with his junior coach when the two linked up at the Capital District Islanders, the Isles' AHL affiliate from 1990-93. In Capital District, his goalie coach was none other than Isles legend Billy Smith.
"The memories of Billy and Butch, it shaped me on and off the ice," McLennan said. "To me, they had been there and done that, so you respected them so much. You were like a sponge and wanted to listen to what they had to say and they were going to show you the way."
As an aspiring goalie, McLennan knew all about legend of Smith and it was a thrill to be under the tutelage of the Hall of Fame goalie. Of course, being a student of Battlin' Billy meant adding some toughness to his game.
"I loved Billy because as much as he cared about you being in shape and stopping pucks, he said most of stopping pucks is between the ears," McLennan said. "So he said I'm going to build that up and you need to develop mental toughness to handle the rigors of the day to day."
McLennan remembered a two-game series in St. John's, Newfoundland, when the Islanders were taking on the St. John's Maple Leafs - Toronto's farm team at the time. McLennan said the team's mascot, Buddy the Puffin, was trying to put a hex on him throughout the game, even standing in his crease.
McLennan played a solid game, but Smith was sour when they reconvened in the locker room. The Islanders' legend was displeased that McLennan had let the mascot into his crease without consequence. McLennan said he didn't sleep that night he was so upset.
The teams played the second game the next night and McLennan figures he let up six or seven goals in the rematch. But he got a warm reception from Smith after the game. The difference?
"I ran the bird over," McLennan said.
McLennan spent the next three seasons splitting time between the Isles and their minor league affiliates in Salt Lake, Utah, Denver (all IHL teams) and Worcester (AHL). He appeared in 22 games with the Isles in 1993-94, 21 in 1994-95 and 13 games in 1995-96. His fondest memories are teammates like (fellow Vincent's enthusiast) Pierre Turgeon, Travis Green and Ray Ferraro - all of whom he still keeps in touch with - and playing with talents like Zigmund Palffy, who he said was "one of the best players who ever played the game."
Like the rest of the Islanders on the 95-96 team, McLennan was outfitted in the Fisherman jersey. The jersey may not have been popular at the time, but the goalie was quietly a fan of the look.
"I loved it. I'm one of the only ones," McLennan said. "I know the logo, people thought it looked like Stan Fischler and then Captain Highliner or the fish guy or whatever, but I liked the colors and thought it was unique. Looking back, people either loved it or hated it and there was no in between. I had a set of pads that matched it perfectly and I have a picture in my office of me with my pads and color coordinated and I kind of liked it."
It's still a hot topic among Islanders fans, but the throwback jersey has certainly been embraced by a younger generation, so your age may determine if McLennan's take has aged well. He understands why fans had an issue with it at the time.
"It hurt people's feelings," McLennan said. "If you think about it, you have a storied history and you're changing the logo… If were better maybe people would have fonder memories."
Aside from the fisherman jersey, the team's lack of success defined the 93-96 era. Outside of a playoff appearance in 1994, which resulted in a four-game sweep at the hands of the Rangers, that group didn't have much success on the ice and the band was broken up, as McLennan says.
After his time on Long Island, McLennan moved around the NHL. He played for St. Louis (1997-2000) - where he won the Bill Masterton Trophy in 1998 after overcoming a life-threatening bout of Meningitis - Minnesota (2000-01), Calgary (2002-04), the Rangers (2004), Florida (2006-07) finished his NHL career back with the Flames (2006-07) before playing a year in Asia.
When his playing career ended, McLennan was looking to stay in the game, initially joining the Flames' organization in scouting and player development. He served as an Assistant Coach for two years (2009-11), but when his contract wasn't picked up, TSN reached out to gauge his interest in broadcasting, asking if he'd want to try out being on their panel.
McLennan was interested. He'd kept in touch with Ferraro - who worked at TSN and is one of McLennan's broadcast mentors - and Glenn Healy who was at Hockey Night in Canada at the time. Healy had given him an extra nudge, reminding him that he needed to keep himself busy post-playing/coaching career.
"I flew out there that weekend and enjoyed it," McLennan said. "I always knew I could talk, I was a bit of a BSer my whole life."
Still, the first time in front of the camera is daunting for any former player, regardless of their capacity for conversation. He remembers it vividly, answering a question on a national broadcast and seeing a piece of spit fly out of his mouth.
"I was like 'Oh my god' watching in slow motion as this thing goes across the table," McLennan said. "I'm [thinking] this is just a disaster, I don't even know what I said. I was just clean enough that it was comprehensible."
"I was nervous, but it was a different type of nerves," McLennan said. "Playing a game, you can somewhat control what goes on and your talent and I grew up doing that. I didn't grow up talking into a microphone or having a director or producer talk to you. A lot of moving parts."
McLennan's been in broadcasting ever since, entering his ninth year at TSN. He's a versatile talent for the network, appearing on panels as an analyst, giving commentary between the benches for Ottawa Senators games and is currently a host on TSN's Overdrive radio show in Toronto. He's also been an analyst for NHL Network in the past as well.
He credits friends like Ferraro, former NHLers Mike Johnson and - fellow Isles goalie alum - Kelly Hrudey, as well as play-by-play voices like Gord Miller and Chris Cuthbert for showing him the ropes and helping him grow.
"I look back and I'm proud of where I've come, but long ways to go," McLennan said. "It's a process and to me I love calling games."
These days, it's the broadcasting that brings him back to Long Island. He enjoys the experiences of catching up with Butch, hearing the Coliseum get loud and - if time permits - picking up some sauce at Vincent's.