McLellan gets chance to coach against Wild

McClatchy Newspapers

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Back when Todd McLellan was guiding the Houston Aeros, the Minnesota Wild knew it had a hot commodity.

The rest of the hockey world caught on when McLellan guided the Wild’s American Hockey League team to a Calder Cup title in 2003.

"We saw from early on he eventually would be an NHL coach," said Wild assistant general manager Tom Lynn, also Houston’s GM. "When the lockout ended (in 2005), we knew people would be calling us to take him to the next level. He won a championship, had successful teams, developed our players — all the things we wanted out of Houston’s coach."

The Detroit Red Wings turned out to be the perfect place for McLellan, who wanted the challenge of learning the NHL. He spent three years in Detroit as an assistant. Then, a week after the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup last June, McLellan was hired as the head coach of the San Jose Sharks.


Tonight, for the first time, McLellan will coach against the Wild, which has him to thank for helping mold players such as Mikko Koivu, Stephane Veilleux, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Brent Burns, Derek Boogaard, Josh Harding and Erik Reitz.

Asked last week what the Wild meant to his career path, McLellan, 40, didn’t hesitate.

"Everything," McLellan said. "They were the organization that took a chance on a young coach of the Western Hockey League (Swift Current). The mentoring that (GM) Doug Risebrough in particular gave me was second to none. He passed along ... coaching thoughts often relayed from Jacques (Lemaire) to him. It allowed me to grow a whole lot more confident in what I was doing and how to approach the players."

McLellan’s Sharks have gotten off to a 10-2 start, the best record in the Western Conference. In virtually every offensive and defensive category, the Sharks are at or near the top.

"He deserves everything that’s happening to him," Veilleux said. "First of all, he was a good man. Just a good, honest man. He knew how to respect every individual. But he’s got an unreal hockey mind, too. He’s never on the panic button. Mistakes are human for him. You mess up, he’s going to turn the page, stay positive and move forward with you."

Veilleux could have gotten confused playing for McLellan. Veilleux not only led the Aeros with 18 points during the 2003 playoffs, he led the entire AHL in scoring.

He played in every situation for McLellan — power play, top-two lines — but Veilleux said, "He taught me in the NHL what’s going to be my bread and butter and what would make me an established player. I needed to play hard, be solid defensively, finish my hits, be on the puck, be a consistent checker."

Lynn said McLellan’s "strength is as a player’s coach."


"When they won the championship, they dedicated it to him in the locker room," Lynn said.

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