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McLellan ready for San Jose challenge

by Brian Compton

Todd McLellan has been named the new head coach of the San Jose Sharks.
The San Jose Sharks are coming off a season that saw a talented roster rack up 108 points, only to exit the Stanley Cup Playoffs much earlier than anticipated.

Clearly, the franchise is hungry for more.

Strong regular seasons are important, but General Manager Doug Wilson is focused on delivering San Jose its first Stanley Cup. He believes he took another step in that direction Thursday with the hiring of Todd McLellan as head coach.

Just eight days after hoisting the Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh, the Detroit Red Wings assistant coach was named the seventh head coach in Sharks history at a press conference at HP Pavilion. He replaces Ron Wilson, who coached San Jose from 2002 until this season; Wilson was named head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs earlier this week.

This will be McLellan's first head coaching job in the National Hockey League. Prior to his three seasons in Detroit as one of Mike Babcock's assistants, McLellan was head coach of the American Hockey League's Houston Aeros from 2001-05. He guided Houston to a Calder Cup championship in 2003, and overall, his record with the Aeros was 154-111-37-18.

"Everywhere I looked for a flaw or for some type of concern, the check mark that came back was good," Doug Wilson said of his new coach. "This was a thorough process. We got the right guy. He wanted to be here as much as we wanted him, and that's a nice match."

So much so that Wilson said McLellan was on the phone with the Sharks' GM just hours after the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh. McLellan's desire to coach one of the more talented teams in the League -- combined with his obvious desire to become a head coach in the NHL -- made San Jose the perfect fit.

Now, he has the task of helping the Sharks get over the hump. Despite several successful regular seasons, San Jose has yet to even reach the Stanley Cup Final.

"I think the marriage between myself and this organization will be a successful one," McLellan said. "As far as the hockey goes, there are some very good things that have happened in the San Jose organization. You don't win close to 50 games every year by accident. There's an incredible amount of skill on this hockey team. If you combine the skill with the will, good things can happen."

The Sharks waited until the completion of the Stanley Cup Final before pursuing McLellan.
With McLellan's help, Detroit did that this past season. Not only did the Red Wings win the championship, but they also finished the regular season with the most points in the League (115). McLellan believes when he looks up and down the rosters of Detroit and San Jose, he sees many similarities.

"I believe there's some real strong parallels between the two hockey clubs," McLellan said. "I think when you look down the center ice position with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg in Detroit, and then you compare that with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau here, there's some real good parallels. I think Pav and Hank were at a point in their career two years ago where they were prepared to lead the team, but they still had to evolve as players and they had to push themselves beyond their expected limits, and they found a way to do that. I think Patrick and Joe are in that situation as well."

Detroit's march to the Cup was the obvious reason why the Sharks waited more than a month to name a replacement for Ron Wilson. Since McLellan was a top candidate for the job, the Sharks waited until the completion of the Stanley Cup Final before pursuing him.

"When we identified that this is a gentleman we wanted to interview, we made sure -- and this is a policy that we have -- that we were not going to interfere with anybody who was in a present coaching position until their year was over," Wilson said. "We are very, very pleased to have a guy that fits for us now and for the future. He is a winner. He understands the expectations and he welcomes the expectations.

"You want people that want to coach this organization and will accept the expectations of winning," Wilson said. "Sometimes people tend to shy away from that. Some people like the comfort of 'Let's go and develop something,' or 'Let's take some time.' This is a guy that likes winning. He made a conscious choice to go to the Detroit Red Wings' organization and learn from the best."

McLellan briefly played in the NHL, notching a goal and an assist in five games for the New York Islanders during the 1987-88 season. He coached the Swift Current Broncos of the Western Hockey League for five seasons (1994-2000), where he went 47-18-4 in his final season. He then coached the Cleveland Lumberjacks of the International Hockey League for one season (2000-01) before moving on to Houston.

Fifteen years after his first coaching job, McLellan has achieved one of his dreams.

"He's really worked at his craft," Wilson said. "You say people like to take shortcuts … but his history, we went way back to his Swift Current days. I know the work that he did and the people that he worked with shared what he did. Having the first conversation with him, I almost kind of knew right from then. Here's a guy that just won a Stanley Cup, and the next morning I'm getting a call and he's ready to hop on a plane, wanting to interview with us."

So can McLellan turn San Jose into Hockeytown? That remains to be seen, but the Sharks' new coach is determined to at least bring some parades to the Bay Area.

"I think it's our job to make it big," McLellan said. "If we go where we'd like to go with this hockey club, we'll make it big. As you win championships or as you get close to doing that, you create that environment. You earn that environment. That will be a goal of ours as an organization. I know that the pressure will be immense, and deservedly so. The fans demand and expect a quality product. I think our club and our players will handle it well."

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