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The Secret Of Success

by Tony Khing / San Jose Sharks
On Wednesday night in Anaheim, two members of the San Jose Sharks could achieve some major plateaus.


Joe Thornton’s next goal or assist will give him 1,000 points, making him one of only 79 players in National Hockey League history to achieve that mark.

San Jose Sharks head coach Todd McLellan gestures to a linesman during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011. The Sharks won 3-2 in overtime. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
And then there’s Coach Todd McLellan. His next victory will give him 152, tying him with Mike Keenan for the most wins in his first three seasons as an NHL head coach.

“Someone mentioned it to me the other day,” McLellan said. “I didn’t even know it existed.”

However, in the same breath, McLellan said the mark is “not important to me at all.” It’s not because McLellan doesn’t care, but more because he’s got other priorities. “The regular season success is great,” McLellan said, “but what you’re evaluated on is playoff success. We have a good group of players and we should be in a position to compete in the second season. That’s a lot more important to me than any records.”

McLellan -- along with Assistant Coaches Trent Yawney, Matt Shaw, Todd Richards (in the first year) and Jay Woodcroft – have enhanced the Sharks standing as a consistent postseason contender. In the staff’s first two seasons, the Sharks have won 50-plus games in each of those years. They won the Presidents’ Trophy in 2008-09 and finished first in the Western Conference last year. In 2009-10, the Sharks went to their second Western Conference Finals. This year, San Jose won its fourth straight Pacific Division title.

Why has McLellan been successful?

For starters, he’s quick not to take the credit himself. It’s all about him and his staff. “We are a passionate group,” McLellan said. “We understand what it’s like to play. We put a lot of time and effort into preparing the team.”

McLellan and his staff also incorporate the players into their approach. “Players like to be held accountable,” McLellan said. “They need feedback, they’re looking for it and you better be there to give it to them.”

“He’s very direct and has good communication,” said center Joe Pavelski. “You know what to expect. You know what he wants done. He prepares us well when we’re out there.”

“He respects the guys,” said left wing Ryane Clowe. “He has a relationship with the players. The communication lines are always open. He holds everyone accountable. It’s no different for a 20-minute guy than a four-minute guy.”

“He makes it more of a partnership, as opposed to other coaches telling you what to do,” said forward Patrick Marleau. “It’s like, ‘We’re in this together. I want you to do well. I need you to do well.’ He comes across as genuine when he does that. You can feel it as a player and as a team that he wants the best for you and out of you.”

“We’ll listen to the players,” McLellan said. “We’re not always telling them what to do. I think that’s important.”

San Jose Sharks head coach Todd McLellan watches in the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Los Angeles Kings in San Jose, Calif., Monday, Nov. 15, 2010. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
While McLellan is generous in giving props to his assistants, a team’s coaching staff still needs a leader. It just so happens that McLellan has the title of head coach, making him the top man.

Perhaps he was born to sit at the front of the bus. His father, Bill, was an officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for nearly four decades and retired as a sergeant. Whether you’re in command of a unit or stand behind the bench running an NHL team, one must have the proper people skills to successfully guide the troops.

“I do think there’s some remnants of that in my personality,” McLellan said when asked if his father’s police skills rubbed off on him. “There’s some validity there. They (those under his father’s command) belong to a team. They have to train. They have a large group that relies on them to be sharp on a daily basis or who knows what could happen.”

Maybe McLellan has been successful because he knows how to get the most out of his players. “He treats you like a human being,” Clowe said. “He cares about you as a person first. He wants you to succeed and get better. He doesn’t write you off if you have a few bad games like some coaches. That means a lot.”

“That’s not to say he won’t get on you when things are going wrong,” Marleau said, “but he’ll be one of the first guys to pat you on the back when things are going good. He does it both ways.”

“He’s not as in-your-face like Torts,” said defenseman Dan Boyle, who won the 2003-04 Stanley Cup under the intense John Tortorella in Tampa Bay. “Todd uses a loud bark when he needs to, but it’s not quite as often.”

If McLellan has made any changes over his nearly three years in Silicon Valley, his expectations are now higher. That’s understandable, considering the success his teams have achieved.

“He expects more out of us,” Pavelski said. “We’re not in the learning stage anymore. We know what to do. He can hold us more accountable.”

“He’s had to adjust,” Clowe said. “His methods of getting things out of guys has changed a bit. He’s leaning on guys a little more.”

“By the end of the season, you’ve hit the nail so many times that the players can almost manage themselves,” McLellan said. “They know how to play in situations. I hope our team is at that point when it matters. We’ll see. We have to take that test.”

In slightly more than a week, the hockey world will begin to see if McLellan and the Sharks can earn an “A.”

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