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Stanley Cup Final

McPhee, MacLellan have Golden Knights, Capitals in Stanley Cup Final

General managers played junior, college hockey together, were co-workers in Washington

by Lisa Dillman @reallisa / NHL.com Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS -- No matter which way Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee turns, there are memories of his NHL past.

Now as the Golden Knights continue on this improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final, there is an obvious question.

How strange is it to be facing Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan in the Cup Final, someone he has known for more than 40 years, going back to their days as junior hockey players in Guelph, Ontario?

 

[RELATED: Complete Golden Knights vs. Capitals series coverage]

 

There are plenty of memories, going back to when McPhee and MacLellan looked like members of a boy band while playing for the Guelph Holody Platers, and later with Bowling Green University.

Tweet from @PlatersHockey: 40 years after winning the 1978 Centennial Cup together with the ������ Platers, #Guelph born @GMmcphee & @BrianMaclellan now face off for the #StanleyCup with @GoldenKnights & @Capitals respectively. @hockeynight @Sportsnet @RonMacLeanHTH pic.twitter.com/oX0EWtGTVo

Or their days together in the front office with the Capitals, featuring much younger versions of McPhee and MacLellan, united in their pursuit of NHL excellence.

McPhee was Capitals general manager for 17 years and had pulled his old friend and teammate away from a lucrative business career in Minnesota. They chased the Stanley Cup together in Washington until McPhee was fired on April 26, 2014. MacLellan was named as his replacement one month later.

"All of this, we end up playing Washington and then Mac and I," McPhee said of the storyline on Sunday. "It's just another chapter in this crazy book that is our season. We've texted a little bit and we talked [Saturday]. Last time I saw him before that was at the (GM) Meetings (in March).

"We had dinner. It's sort of gone this way and hard to believe. But we'll enjoy it. It beats some of the jobs we had when we were kids."

Two days ago, the normally unemotional MacLellan choked up at a press conference in Arlington, Virginia, when he was talking about their history and days at Bowling Green.

In some ways, the Stanley Cup Final, which begins with Game 1 at T-Mobile Arena on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS), is a little bit like a class reunion, only with the most prestigious trophy in hockey on the line.

The plot lines are numerous, deep and fascinating.

"It's funny how life goes," said McPhee, a finalist for NHL General Manager of the Year for his job building the expansion Golden Knights. "Two years ago, I was walking around Ann Arbor (Michigan) kicking stones and couldn't get a job."

The Capitals made the Stanley Cup Playoffs 10 times during McPhee's run in Washington, including the Stanley Cup Final in 1998 when they lost to the Detroit Red Wings in four games. He was fired after the Capitals missed the playoffs in 2014 but wasn't out of hockey long, hired as a special adviser to New York Islanders general manager Garth Snow in 2015.

For McPhee, the time away from the NHL -- which coincided with his son, Graham McPhee, being selected by the Edmonton Oilers in the fifth round (No. 149) of the 2016 NHL Draft -- was what their family needed when they moved to Ann Arbor while Graham was with USA Hockey's National Team Development Program.

McPhee is the second general manager in NHL history to face a former team of which he was GM in the Stanley Cup Final; the other was Tommy Gorman when the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Chicago Blackhawks in 1944.

McPhee's impression on the Capitals is a lasting one. Of the 25 players appearing for Washington in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, McPhee acquired 12 via the NHL Draft and another through free agency (forward Jay Beagle).

"When you're working with them, sometimes they're like own kids," McPhee said. "You're on call for them all the time. You're trying to help them. You try to steer them in the right direction.

"Then you get fired, and suddenly you're persona non grata because no one wants to be seen to be too close to you in the organization. You understand things change quickly. But that's the business. [I'm] certainly really happy for them and really proud of this team we have in Vegas."

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