Long wait for Sens coach MacLean

After spending six years as an assistant coach in Detroit, Senators head coach Paul MacLean says he...

After spending six years as an assistant coach in Detroit, Senators head coach Paul MacLean says he is taking advantage of the opportunity the Ottawa club has given him. (QMI Agency)

Derek Van Diest, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:11 PM ET

For Paul MacLean, it’s been Movember every month for the past 30 years.

No one rocks the moustache the way the Ottawa Senators head coach does, having worn one dating back to his playing days.

“I’m always in the lead in Movember,” joked MacLean about the annual prostate cancer awareness fundraising campaign. “I’m just trying to be a motivator for everyone, I guess.”

Moustache aside, it’s been MacLean’s abilities behind the bench that have drawn attention to the rookie head coach.

After a tough start to the year, the Senators were able to turn things around, heading out on a six-game winning streak that propelled them back into Northeast Division contention.

“I think the biggest thing is that he’s come in and really demanded our attention, he’s got a lot of respect from everybody,” said Senators winger Nick Foligno. “He’s come in and communicated really well with us and that has allowed us to play really good hockey.

“We know what he and the rest of the coaching staff expect of us, and we go out there and try to do it.”

Having spent the last six years as an assistant with the Detroit Red Wings, MacLean had plenty of opportunity to refine his communication skills.

Often it’s the assistants that players go to when they have issues and require someone to lend them an ear.

Also having played in the league himself — seven years with the Winnipeg Jets, one with the Red Wings and two with the St. Louis Blues to close out his career — MacLean can relate to his players.

“Every player wants to know where they stand and what they’re needed for on his team,” Foligno said. “I think Paul and the other coaches make you feel really important on this team. It makes it easier for guys to buy in. Guys feel important on this team and they want to help make a difference, and I think that’s why you’re seeing some guys have great years.”

MacLean replace former University of Alberta Golden Bear alumni Cory Clouston behind the Senators bench this season.

Having struggled early in the year, there was a lot of pressure on MacLean to turn things around, which he was able to do, in part by showing patience with some of his younger players.

“Just the other night against Toronto we were winning 3-1, and we had been on a losing skid for a few games, when I made a little mistake and the puck ended up in the back of our net,” said Senators centre Jesse Winchester. “I thought my night was over, but with a couple of minutes left, I was right back out there.

“He just lets us play and expects us to play as hard as we can every night.”

Having been an assistant for so long, there were times when MacLean didn’t think he would get the opportunity to become a head coach in the league.

He had interviewed for a handful of top jobs before landing the gig in Ottawa.

“Interviewing for coaching jobs is not a race you want to be second in, you’re only interested in being first,” MacLean said. “I have a pretty good sense of who I am and what I am and I also realize that there are only 30 jobs available in this league, and there are a lot of people like me that think that are qualified to do this job.

“It’s all about getting an opportunity in the right situation and try to take advantage of it. That’s all I’ve tried to do.”

MacLean is doing that by trying to lighten the mood in the Senators dressing room, while at the same time demanding a strong work ethic out of every player. It’s the same approach he had as an assistant with the Red Wings working under Mike Babcock and alongside Brad McCrimmon, who passed away in a plane crash earlier this year while coaching in Russia.

“Brad McCrimmon, my good friend, God bless him, and I had some good conversations in Detroit about becoming a head coach,” MacLean said. “If I could have been an assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings for however long until I retired, that’s still a pretty good job. That’s still a good opportunity, knowing with the conversations Brad and I had that we were both qualified to be head coaches in the NHL. We both understood that circumstances don’t always arise for those that think they can coach in the National Hockey League.”

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca

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