In his first season as coach of the Ottawa Senators, Paul MacLean developed a reputation as a player's coach, someone who preferred positive reinforcement over constant criticism.
But through the first 10 days of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, MacLean was showing his stern, more serious side in dealing with the media. He kept his answers short and wasn't eager to divulge information on his players no matter the angle of the question.
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Following Ottawa's 1-0 win in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the New York Rangers that gave the Senators a 3-2 lead in the series, MacLean gave a brief glimpse into his lighter side. With music from a concert in the nearby theater at Madison Square Garden echoing through the media room, the coach was forced to put his postgame press conference on hold.
Instead of grumbling or impatiently glancing at his watch, MacLean made the most of the New Edition music seeping through the walls as he displayed some brief dance moves before stepping to the podium.
It's just one part of the first-year coach's temperament that has transformed the Senators from also-rans last season to postseason darlings.
"Yeah, he's a player's coach," forward Nick Foligno, who has been with the Senators since 2007-08, told NHL.com, "but at the same time, he's pretty stern and set in his ways as well."
The term "player's coach" can't be concretely defined, but in MacLean's case, it's all about his ability and willingness to communicate with his players.
MacLean took over for Cory Clouston, who spent two-and-half seasons behind the Senators bench before he was fired at the end of last season. The Senators finished with 74 points, the fifth-fewest in the League, and there was little reason to think much would change this season with most of that team's roster returning.
Clouston had a reputation as a strict coach, and as is the case most times when a coach is fired, MacLean came on board with a much different approach. For the Senators, MacLean's desire to listen to his players and delegate responsibility to the team's veterans has made a big difference.
"Cory was just a little bit harder. He just didn't connect with the guys as well," Foligno told NHL.com. "That was his style of coaching where he just felt like it was the coaches and us. I think Paul has used the room a lot more and got feedback. I think it's been great that way."
"Just his general understanding from being a player, because he's played the game," Spezza said. "He knows the ups and downs that go with it and knows we can get frustrated at times and we know he can get frustrated. It sounds corny, but we've been all on the same page and together all year and I think that's what's made it successful for us."
"You feel more like a team and feel like you're giving more input on how the game's going because we're the ones that go out there and play," Foligno said. "We kind of have a different feel for the game than he does, so he understands that having played himself. It's been really good that way."
MacLean's coaching career began in 1993 with the Peoria Rivermen of the IHL, where he was named the Hockey News Minor League Coach of the Year in 1994 after leading the Rivermen to a 51-24-6 mark and a division title. He was an assistant coach with the Phoenix Coyotes in 1996-97 before returning to the IHL for three seasons with the Kansas City Blades and two more seasons with the Quad City Mallards of the UHL.
From there, MacLean found a spot as an assistant alongside Mike Babcock of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 2002 and joined Babcock in the same capacity with the Detroit Red Wings for the previous six seasons.
"Mac's done a great job of finding a spot for everyone, getting them involved in the game, and it makes everyone feel important out there." -- Senators' forward Chris Neil
That's a lot of stops at a lot of different levels, and along with his experience as an NHL player, it has given MacLean a special skill set for relating with today's players.
"I think one of the biggest things I've noticed is he's connected with each guy and found out what makes them tick, and that's what he uses to push you to make you your best," Foligno said. "I think that's been his biggest asset. He figures out what makes you a better player, and it's a lot of credit to him for getting to know each guy."
"Mac's done a great job of finding a spot for everyone, getting them involved in the game, and it makes everyone feel important out there," forward Chris Neil said. "I think coaching is a tough job. I definitely don't want to do it. You're dealing with, and in the playoffs a lot more, a lot of personalities. He's been able to cope with all of them and deal with all of them. He's done a great job of that."
MacLean has also showed faith in a leadership group that includes Spezza and captain Daniel Alfredsson.
"I think he's been real good at defining roles for everybody," Spezza said. "I think he's a put a lot of onus on us as veterans to take control of the locker room. There's a lot of great dialogue back and forth. His personal relationships with everybody have been good. He can fire up different guys in different ways."
"He puts it on the leadership group to make sure that they're pushing us as well," Foligno said. "It's been a really good year with that give-and-take kind of thing with the guys."
Don't be fooled into thinking MacLean is a pushover and the players control the team. Despite the "player's coach" tag, the 54-year-old lays down the law when it's required.
"He's definitely let us have it a few times," Foligno said. "I think it's good for us. We're still a young team and a team that's learning. I think it's been big in that sense in that he's been able to put his foot down in areas and say, 'I don't like the direction we're going in.'"
With the eighth-seeded Senators taking the top-seeded Rangers to seven games in their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series, MacLean definitely has the Senators headed in the right direction.