WINNIPEG, MB - Much has changed in Winnipeg since Paul MacLean last donned a Jets jersey.
When he returned last fall for the first time since his playing days (other than as an NHL coach), MacLean noted the Moray Bridge, IKEA and the surrounding shopping malls on Kenaston Boulevard, and, of course, downtown's Bell MTS Place as developments that have emerged since his time of playing hockey in Winnipeg.
"It was exciting to have the opportunity to come back and see the growth of the city, and how the city has changed, as well as how they've embraced the new Jets," MacLean said in a phone interview from his home in Nova Scotia.
The reason for his return to Winnipeg, Dale Hawerchuk's induction into the Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame, meant MacLean didn't just get to reconnect with the city. He also got to reconnect with former teammates.
"It feels like you're right back to your playing years, and there's a lot of laughs," said MacLean. "The stories seem to get stretched from year to year, but it's always fun to be around old teammates."
It was his friendships with teammates like Dale Hawerchuk, Randy Carlyle, Dave Ellett, Dave Babych, Ray Neufeld, and Tim Watters that were particularly special for him.
"A lot of the relationships that we built up through playing with one another and bringing families to do things together are great memories. Those are the things that make the Jets great."
MacLean sees lots of things that make the current Jets great too, both on and off the ice. He considers True North Sports + Entertainment's efforts to connect the old and new Jets as very valuable personally, and for the organization.
"Whether it's the WHA or NHL (version "1.0" or "2.0"), Winnipeg fans are Jets fans," said MacLean. "Having a tribute to all of the alumni is a very good thing for the franchise and fans because they love the Jets, and there's no distinction for them. To be asked to be a part of that and to be recognized in some small way was very comforting for me."
It's not just True North and the Jets that have treated him well. MacLean remembers how the people of Winnipeg treated him and his family when he played here and 30 years later, he still feels the warmth.
"Fans stop you on the street and tell you that they appreciate how you did things, or how you went about doing your job. No matter what age you are, that always gives you confidence as a person and as a player."
After leaving the Jets, MacLean played for both Detroit and St. Louis, and has coached in Detroit, Ottawa, and Anaheim. Not being formally involved in the NHL this year was a different experience, but hockey is still something he's very invested in. He regularly watches NHL games to keep up with the players and team strategies, all with the goal of getting back behind the bench.
"My plan would be to be back in the National Hockey League in some capacity. If not there, maybe the American League, or possibly even in Europe. Basically, wherever a head coaching position could take me."
Coaching job or no coaching job, MacLean can always expect to be welcomed by at least one NHL team. And no matter how much Winnipeg changes in the coming years, he can anticipate the warm-hearted reactions of the Jets faithful to remain the same as well.