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Ask the Sharks: McLellan's Answers

by Alison High / San Jose Sharks
Head coach Todd McLellan watches the Sharks game against the Los Angeles Kings in San Jose, Calif., Monday, Nov. 15, 2010. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
The funny thing about Todd McLellan's coaching career is that it actually started while he was still a player.

After a shoulder injury ended his NHL career, McLellan and his wife Debbie (who was his fiancé at the time) moved to the Netherlands where he played for S.IJ. Utrecht of the Eredivisie. As fate would have it, Debbie returned to Canada to plan their wedding at the same time that S.I.J Utrecht had a coaching change. McLellan had extra room and the new coach was looking for a place to live. So the two became roommates.

"He would be planning practice and watch games and video and I had nothing to do so I would watch them with him," said McLellan following practice on Friday. "And that began to peak my interest in coaching."

McLellan was invited by his coach to be a player-coach for the team in Holland. Then after three seasons in that position, McLellan was offered a position coaching at the Junior level back in Canada. He had to make a choice: play hockey in Holland or coach in Saskatchewan. McLellan chose to coach.

From then on McLellan had a domino-effect of success, leading him all the way to the helm of the San Jose Sharks.

Sharks coach Todd McLellan, right, talks with center Joe Pavelski. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
But what we found out from this exclusive "Ask the Sharks" interview is that McLellan will always be a hockey player at heart. And that is probably why he gets so much respect from his players.

Below are McLellan's answers to your best questions.

1. What is your favorite part about coaching the Sharks? - Text Submission
I love the city. I love being in San Jose, the passionate fans and the people. My family really enjoys it here. And when I mention family, it’s not just my immediate family, it’s the Sharks family. I get treated very well and I enjoy being around everyone in the organization.

2. What is the most important thing you do as a coach to help your team reach their goals? - Text Submission
Get them to believe that they can push the limits; they can reach their goals. You have to make sure they believe that they’re capable of accomplishing everything they want to achieve.

3. How would you describe your in-game coaching style? - Pete S.
I think the players could answer that the best. I think there’s enough emotion there that it’s just exposed at the right time and in the right way. I’m the one they look to initially and I have to have some composure and some poise, but when it’s time, it’s there.

It’s situational – and different for each individual. It doesn’t always have to be done with words. Sometimes it’s just a little tap on the back – they know when they’ve made an error, they know when they’re not doing something right – sometimes it’s just poking them and letting them know that we expect more from them. It doesn’t have to be a big rant or rave. The players need to know
Head coach Todd McLellan, from the San Jose Sharks, speaks with Anaheim Ducks goaltender Jeam-Sebastien Giguere during Western Conference hockey practice for the NHL All-Star game in Montreal Saturday, Jan. 24, 2009, (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)
we’re in it with them and that it effects us. And for the most part, they do respond.

Every one of them is different. It’s like a having a classroom.

4. Who would you say is your “go-to guy” in the locker room to motivate the team when they are struggling or playing up to their abilities? – Niklas T.
It has to be our leadership group. Obviously our organization has chosen Joe Thornton as the captain. His teammates had a lot of input into that so he has to be the go-to guy. But it’s not an individual’s job, it’s a group job. Clowie, Boyler, Patty Marleau, Niclas Wallin – there’s a number of veterans in there – all these players bring something that they can offer at that moment. Everyone has an ingredient that needs to come out at some point. For some it’s when we’re winning, for some it’s when we’re losing. But Jumbo is the go-to guy.

5. After a tough loss, what would you do to regain and encourage your players so that they will be able to get back on track? - Yuna H.
We use the word ‘accountability’. So win or lose we evaluate the game the same way. We re-watch it, we’ll pick scenarios or situations that we liked or didn’t like, we’ll expose the players to them through video or through a meeting and then we’ll have individual meetings and plan practice around it. That happens all within 12-hours after a game. So by the time the players are back at the rink ready to practice, we’ve done all that already.

6. If you could trade places for a day with anyone in the Sharks organization, who would it be and why? – Denise P.
With anybody in our organization? Oh... I would like to play. I'd like to be a player.

6a. Which player would you like to be?
(laughs) I’d be a forward and it wouldn’t matter who. I think they have the greatest job in the world.

7. Who is the one player that you have coached that has impressed you the most and why? – Tim
Wow. I think coaches all have stories to tell. One of the most impressive, memorable, emotional moments for me has nothing to do with the NHL. It had to do with a player that I coached in Junior.

The very first year that I coached, we had a goalie on our team that was very overweight and we tried to help him lose weight. Obviously you want your athletes to be in really good condition. It got to the point where he didn’t even feel comfortable being around his teammates when they would shower and all that type of stuff.

San Jose Sharks head coach Todd McLellan coaches his team against the Carolina Hurricanes during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Raleigh, N.C., Sunday, Nov. 1, 2009. San Jose won 5-1. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
I saw him about a year-and-a-half later in an airport and he walked up to me and he said, ‘hey Todd, how are ya?’ and he goes, ‘you don’t recognize me do you?’ and I didn’t. Then he told me who he was and I couldn’t believe the difference. He said the players and the organization had such an impact on him that he went and got himself healthy. That was one of the most memorable moments I’ve had with a player. There’s been a whole bunch of other ones with our players and players from other organizations, but that one is the one moment that stands out to me.

8. You started the season with “growth” being the theme. Do you feel the Sharks organization has gone through enough growing experiences to get to the Stanley Cup?
Zak M.
We’ve gone through a lot of experiences, that’s for sure. I think the moment you quit growing, decay begins. So we need to continue growth. So for me to say that we’ve had enough would be impossible. We’ve had our share of ups and we’ve had our share of downs. I think individually there’s been a number of guys that have grown. Collectively over the past month, you can see that our team has grown. But we’ll really be evaluated on what happens from now until the end of the year.

9. What was your dream job when you were young? – Chris H.
I wanted to be a hockey player. It’s different when you’re a player. You’re really part of the team. You’re on the inside. You get to experience the fun on the plane, the jokes. The camaraderie is a little bit different. We have our own team – our coaching staff – and we’ll still get to goof around a little, but it’s really unique being a player.

Coaches play every game – every shift of every game. It’s just mental, it’s not physical. So you’re exhausted. You’re like the goalie. There’s players that can come to the bench and put their head down and catch their breath and rest because physically they’re exhausted but we don’t get that moment. We have to play every shift. And I guess in some sense it’s a lot like being a player.

10.What is the biggest different between the way the game is played today compared to when you were a player?
– Robert K.
I think the players now are just way more skilled, talented, bigger, stronger, faster and better prepared. I think the coaching and the tools we have to coach – I just think there’s been growth in our game.

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