Source: Dan Ackerman, Waterloo Sports
WATERLOO, Ont. - Brett MacLean's heart might have taken him out of hockey, but he just couldn't take hockey out of his heart.
VIDEO: courtesy of CTV News
MacLean, a former NHLer whose career was cut short by a sudden cardiac arrest just under a year ago, will start the next chapter of his hockey life behind the bench of the Waterloo Warriors men's hockey team as an assistant coach, beginning this September.
MacLean will take over from longtime Warrior Jordan Brenner, who is moving on to new academic aspirations after nine years as first a player, and then assistant coach with Waterloo. He'll learn the ropes in his first coaching gig alongside returning assistant Trevor Fraser, under the direction of head coach Brian Bourque.
Bourque didn't exactly seek out MacLean for the position, nor did MacLean apply to Bourque. It happened organically, almost by chance, when it was brought to Bourque's attention that MacLean would be attending school at uWaterloo. It wasn't long before both men realized the arrangement could be beneficial to all involved.
“Brian contacted me and we talked about the program,” said MacLean. “We thought it was a good fit. With how well we did this year, that's a huge bonus. I think I can help out, having played pro, to bring a different prospective to things.”
“What we hope to get from Brett is a different approach to some things,” echoed Bourque. “We hope he can make us grow and think differently as coaches and players.”
If MacLean's name is a familiar one, it's because his on-ice acumen, specifically in the OHL, made him one of hockey's top prospects. He was a 32nd overall pick in the 2007 NHL draft, and he scored 108 goals in a two-season span with the Oshawa Generals from 2006-2008. After some time among the AHL's scoring leaders, he was called up to the Phoenix Coyotes, where he scored his first NHL goal in his third career shift.
His name might also be familiar because his story has often been told: It was July 2, 2012, and MacLean, once again property of the Coyotes after a brief stop with the Winnipeg Jets, strapped on the blades for his first on-ice workout of the summer in Owen Sound, Ontario. A completely normal day became suddenly – and almost tragically – abnormal when MacLean collapsed just after making a pass.
MacLean had suffered a sudden cardiac arrest, which carries with it a 5% survival rate without immediate response. Luckily for MacLean, some friends in the building – including a phys. Ed teacher and firefighter with training in CPR and defibrillator use – jumped to his aid and revived him using the arena's AED unit.
About two weeks later, MacLean left a London hospital with three things – a clean bill of health, no medical explanation for his episode of cardiac arrest, and a small internal defibrillator implanted in his chest. The latter would prohibit him from intense physical activity. His NHL career was over after only 18 games.
It was obviously a shocking end to a promising career. And while he acknowledges he needed some time to digest the situation, MacLean said his work with kids – both on the ice in his hometown of Port Elgin, Ontario, and through his work with the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation.
“My career was a lot shorter than I thought it would be,” said MacLean. “But I got to play in the NHL, I scored a couple goals, and I got to play in the first game of the new Winnipeg franchise. I had a great OHL career. If you'd have told me that was my career 10 years ago, I'd have been happy.”
According to Bourque, it's that positive attitude in the face of adversity that made MacLean the man he wanted for his newest assistant coach.
“His approach to that, his maturity level in it, it's exactly what we wanted,” said Bourque. “Things didn't work out for him (professionally), so now he's working on his academics. With how he's handled a dramatic life situation, he's an instant role model.”
MacLean will have some legendary shoes to fill behind the bench, as Brenner's departure ends his near-decade with the men's hockey program – first as a player and captain, then as an assistant coach. Bourque has been preparing for Brenner's departure for nearly a year now, but the bench boss was quick to point out that the man who both played and coached under him would not be easily replaced.
“His personality and approach to the game was something I liked and respected right away as a player,” said Bourque. “His opinions and decisions on in-game adjustments were so strong. I relied on him big time on line matchups and adjustments between periods. That will be missed.”
While the assistant coaching duties are still undecided – Bourque and MacLean will have those discussions this summer – both men see the new assistant lending his expertise to the offensive side of the game.
“I was always successful on the power play,” said MacLean, “so that's an area I where think I can have some good input. There's a lot of learning from (Bourque) as well, learning how to break down video, things like that.”
“He's close in age to a lot of our guys, and all of our guys are fully aware of who he is and what he's done,” said Bourque. “He brings an immediate respect level from our guys. I don't have specific duties for him yet, but Brett got to the best league in the world with his ability to create offense.”