by Les Lazaruk | Sports Director, Saskatoon Media Group
SASKATOON, Saskatchewan -- The San Jose Sharks and their fans are hopeful that Todd McLellan will be able to replicate his Monday with the Stanley Cup…hopefully as quickly as 10 to 12 months from now.
McLellan was an assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings when that storied NHL franchise won their 11th Stanley Cup championship back in June. A few days later, the 40-year-old Saskatoon, Saskatchewan product was named head coach of the Sharks.
“The important thing that I have to do, and maybe even the people around me, is to separate what’s happened this year because it’s a different organization…a different group of players,” said McLellan, while a horde of well-wishers strained to get into position to get a picture of hockey’s ‘Holy Grail’ following a fund-raising luncheon.
“I look forward to what San Jose has to offer. It’s an exciting hockey club, they won 49 games this last year…you don’t do that by mistake…they were well-coached, they had a great team. But, there’s just something there that’s holding them back from getting over the top. As a coach and a coaching staff, and the players, we all have a responsibility to solve that problem. If we can do that, we will have our exciting moments. If we don’t, then we have to go back to the drawing board and keep plugging away until it happens.”
The new Sharks bench boss’ day with Lord Stanley’s mug didn’t start on time. A flight from Calgary to Saskatoon was delayed and a two-hour window for pictures and autographs at City Hall was reduced by almost half…but that didn’t seem to upset McLellan.
“We’ve waited a long time to win it. We can wait an extra hour to celebrate with it.”
But, that didn’t mean everything went smoothly after that. “Going to City Hall with the Cup, we pulled around the corner and had no where to park,” explained the former member of the Saskatoon Blades of the junior Western Hockey League, “I thought for sure Don (Saskatoon mayor Atchison, a former coach of McLellan’s) would have a spot reserved, not necessarily for Todd McLellan, but for Stanley. And, he failed…he must be really busy.”
“So, I thought we should park in the bus stop…which was a no-no. A very nice gentleman in a fine (Commissionaire’s) uniform started to write a couple of tickets. I looked over my shoulder and he was writing the tickets and I thought, ‘oh, no, here we go, we’re going to have to pay that.’ A few minutes later, the same gentleman was taking a picture with Stanley and I. So, it was a really unique situation!”
Upon telling that story at the luncheon, mayor Atchison immediately rushed up to the stage where McLellan was speaking and took the two parking tickets (one for McLellan’s car and one for the vehicle in which Walter Neubrand, from the Hockey Hall of Fame, was escorting the Stanley Cup) and said, “don’t worry, I’ll look after them.”
McLellan says he and his family try to get back to Saskatoon every third summer, but he acknowledged it’s not always possible to see some of the people whom he credits for helping him get to where he is in the hockey world.
“It’s exciting to see the Blade crew with the Brodsky family (owners of the Blades) who treated me like gold. Obviously, Daryl Lubienecki (McLellan’s G.M. and coach with the Blades) and the rest of the crew there, I’m very thankful to them to give me an opportunity to play junior at home, first of all. And, then secondly, to spend the full four years here. It was very rewarding and I learned a lot about, not only being a hockey person or player, but also about being a young man. They do a tremendous job with that so they should be very proud of their organization, a big part of the community.”
McLellan was a centre with the Blades from 1983-86, playing in 178 games…scoring 66 goals and 98 assists for 164 points. He was drafted in the 5th round of the 1986 NHL entry draft, 104th overall, by the New York Islanders. After four years of bouncing around the minor professional ranks, McLellan decided to give coaching a try when he received his big break.
“Bob Shepherd gave me an opportunity to coach in North Battleford in the Saskatchewan Junior League at 24 years old and I’m not sure a lot of people would’ve taken that chance. But, I was fortunate enough that he did. Two years later, the Swift Current Broncos organization, led by the late Doug Mosher at that time, gave me a chance to be a coach in the Western Hockey League at 26. I’m very grateful to the communities, to the people who supported me there…to the players who have come through. I’ve always had a good relationship with the players and to come back and see them and find out that they’re married or they have children or they’re doing this or that, is very rewarding for me.”
Following the City Hall and fund-raising luncheon, McLellan and wife Debbie and sons Tyson, 12, and Cale, 9, took the Cup for some private time with family and friends. Then, it was off to a “Boston Pizza” for dinner and a restaurant full of patrons who wanted more autographs and photos. Finally, the day ended with a social function with the Cup for family and friends.