The excitement has been building inside him since the day Paul MacLean was handed the keys to his new team's future.
Finally, the Ottawa Senators head coach can put the pedal to the medal and begin building the kind of National Hockey League team he can call his own.
"I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time, especially since June 14," MacLean said Thursday in reference to the day he was hired as the Senators' bench boss after eight seasons as an NHL assistant in Anaheim and Detroit. "I think I’m getting into a good situation. It’s a great opportunity, not only for me but for my coaching staff, the city of Ottawa and the hockey fans.
"We have a group of good players, young and old, and we just have to get them to come together, believe in what we’re doing and we’ll see where we end up."
As MacLean spoke earlier today, he stood overlooking the Kanata Golf & Country Club, where the 18th annual Bell/Sens Charity Club — the traditional kickoff to a new hockey season — was about to begin. Players will report to Scotiabank Place for medicals and fitness testing on Friday morning before the real work begins Saturday on the ice at the Bell Sensplex.
That's when MacLean and his two new assistants, Dave Cameron and Mark Reeds, will start laying the foundation for what the head coach believes will be long-term hockey success in Ottawa. He'll start with a group led by captain Daniel Alfredsson
and fellow veterans Chris Phillips
, Jason Spezza
and Chris Neil
, but spiced with an influx of new young talent that will create an interesting mix.
"All I want to do is get better every day," said the 53-year-old MacLean, a native of Antigonish, N.S.. "We have a good group of players coming from Binghamton (where the AHL Senators won the Calder Cup last season), we have a good group of players here that are veterans and we just have to make them come together and do things right. Then we’ll be where we want to at the end of the day.
"We’re going to grow as we grow and my expectation is to win. That’s what I like doing and that’s what I’m used to doing. But that doesn’t mean that’s going to happen right away. We’re just going to get better every day and our expectation is to win every day, knowing full well that we’re not going to win every day."
While Alfredsson admits "it’s going to be a tough year" as the Senators embark on a major retooling of their roster, he's clearly intrigued and enthused about what the coming season will bring for the team.
"The expectations are not as high as we’ve had previously, but I think we’ve got a good group of guys that can play at a real high level," said Alfredsson, who's returning for his 16th season with the Senators after off-season back surgery. "Who knows how far it’s going to take us? We’re going to be a team that’s going to work really hard. We’re going to be exciting to watch and come February and March, I hope we’re in a good position to give a push for the playoffs. But most importantly, we hopefully have seen a lot of progress with the team."
Spezza is similarly excited by what lies ahead and believes the Senators can defy the experts who are predicting the young squad will finish at or near the Eastern Conference basement.
"We don’t want to be near the bottom and we feel like we can compete, but we have a long way to go first," he said. "We’ve got a lot of learning to do as a team, but I think we can win some games. We’ve got a great goaltender (Craig Anderson
) and some veteran guys that are coming off years we think we can improve on. And some young guys are going to be excited to be here. So we feel like we can compete."
But as MacLean pointed out, the end goal is to challenge for the NHL's biggest prize. And he stressed it's important for the franchise to take the right steps to make that kind of success a reality for the long haul, not just the occasional season here or there.
"We want to build a foundation for something not only starting on Sept. 16 or October or November of this year," he said. "We’re trying to build a foundation for down the road when we’re competing for the Stanley Cup on a consistent basis and that starts with A, B and C. We’re going to go slow at the start but by the time we’re done, we’re going to go fast.
"I’m not setting any timetable. All I know is where I want to go and I have a lot of people around me who want to go to the same place, and the process is the process. I know that’s not a great word to use, but it is a process and we have to learn how to do it. Once we learn, we’re going to be there and we’re all going to enjoy it."