Howard Cornfield admits he really never planned to interview Paul MacLean to be the coach of the Quad City Mallards in 2000. He's glad he did. And today he's proud to have had his coach named the NHL Coach of the Year.|
MacLean outdistanced Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville for the Jack Adams Award after leading an injury-plagued Ottawa Senators team to the second-round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
"It's a story I've told many times, but in the summer of 2000 I had my choices narrowed and was set to make a decision,'' said Cornfield, the former general manager and team president of the Mallards. "I had received a call about Paul, but I didn't know him and was pretty happy with my choices.
"Then Kevin Cheveldayoff (former general manager of the Chicago Wolves) called and told me I have to bring this guy in and talk to him. I no sooner hung up the phone and Don Levin (owner of the Wolves) called and told me I had to call Mac. I did and it was the best interview I've ever had. I offered him the job on the spot."
What MacLean brought to the Mallards couldn't be measured in a 112-27-9 record and 2000-01 Colonial Cup title. It went much deeper than that.
"He brought an NHL aura to the entire organization,'' Cornfield said. "He was the right man at the right time for our team. We had great success with John Anderson, Paul Gillis and Matt Shaw being great players' coaches. We needed something different to shake things up.
"Mac came in with a tough, hard-nosed attitude. He wanted and expected a win every night. His expectations were for his players to be professional 100 percent of the time. He took losing personally and his players respected that. When you walked into his locker room, you felt like you were in the NHL"
Likewise, it was the right job at the right time for MacLean. After six outstanding seasons in the IHL (then the top level of minor-league hockey) MacLean had missed out on a number of NHL jobs.
MacLean's son, A.J., who played for the Mallards during the 2004-05 season, remembers well those days.
"It was a tough time for my dad and the entire family,'' A.J. said. "We all thought he should have gotten a number of NHL jobs and always got passed over. It was really rough. It became a real different dynamic when he took the job with the Mallards. It was the first time the family wasn't all together -- my sister was at college and I was in my first year of major juniors.
"It turned out great for everyone. I remember coming to the Quad-Cities for Christmas and no one knew me, but I was treated like I was part of the family. I could see why (his father) was so happy there."
MacLean won the title that first year and Cornfield was fairly sure his coach would be gone after one season. That wouldn't be the case.
"I tried to find him jobs in the NHL and the AHL,'' Cornfield said. "He came in a short time after the season and said to me, 'That was fun, let's do it again next season.' That told me a lot about him. That's why no one is more deserving of this award. He went back to the bottom and found a new energy for himself."
A.J. MacLean couldn't agree more.
"He was a star player in the NHL and had only coaches top-level minor-league players,'' A.J. said. "I think coming to Quad helped him realize what the guys in the low minors go through and where they come from. I think that helped him become a better professional coach."
Paul MacLean on the Jack Adams
Former Quad City Mallards coach Paul MacLean was named the winner of the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year. He was unavailable for a phone interview on Friday but here are few quotes from wire stories:
- "It was a very proud day for myself, my family and the Ottawa Senators organization and what we've gone through. We're pretty pleased here today."
- “For me it was important that I continue to set the expectations of the team at a high level but also be realistic about those expectations. We had Erik Karlsson injured, we had Jason Spezza injured. We didn’t have those two players playing in Binghamton. For us to expect someone to come up and be able to be those two players is not realistic and it’s not fair to the players.
- “We try to stay as real as we could game-by-game and give the players realistic expectations and a realistic way to play the game to have success.”