For Wolves’ MacTavish, coaching his calling now
For a moment there at the Triphahn ice rink in Hoffman Estates time stood still as Craig MacTavish gathered the puck at center ice, sped in unimpeded, his helmetless hair flowing just like it did during a sterling career that saw him hoisting the Stanley Cup four times.
Forehand, backhand, forehand and … doink.
"I was moving, eh?" the first-year coach of the Chicago Wolves said with a smile after a recent practice. "You have to have a few laughs out there."
All kidding aside, MacTavish still looks like he could take a shift or two even though he's in his early 50s.
"I stopped believing I could still play at the age of 45," he said. "It wasn't entirely true, but I believed it."
And he never stopped believing that coaching was his calling once his playing days were over.
After an eight-year run behind the bench with the Edmonton Oilers (301-252-47-56) — including a surprise trip to the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals — MacTavish spent a few years working in the TV studio talking hockey.
And now MacTavish believes he is back where he belongs: behind the bench with the Wolves.
"I wanted to coach again. I didn't want to go one job and out," said the last player to go helmetless in the NHL. "I still felt I had something to offer and I wanted to go out on my own terms. I wanted to give myself a chance to get back to coaching, and this was a good opportunity."
Returning to the AHL for the first time since he bopped around as a player between Binghampton, Springfield and Erie in the late 1970s and early 80s, it has been an eye-opening experience for MacTavish.
"There's way more scrutiny than there used to be, way more importance on development; everyone is more aware of what's going on down here," he said. "The game itself is so much better, there's so much depth then there used to be."
And there is a lot more pressure on the players today, not always an easy adjustment for young guys just getting their feet wet in the game.
"There's still issues of guys being away from home and they're still shopping for themselves, fending for themselves. Insurance, drivers licenses, banking stuff," MacTavish said. "You have to remember what we were like at that age. You always want these guys to be so polished on and off the ice, and then you think back to what we were doing (at that age).
"These guys, I have a lot of respect for them — their dedication to the game."
The Wolves, under MacTavish, got off to a slow start, but have begun to hit their stride of late, going 6-3 in November. The month, however ended with a thud, when they followed up a come-from-behind win over Peoria with a 4-0 blanking the next day at the hands of the same Rivermen's team.
"I think that was more an aberration," MacTavish said. "Our guys are playing pretty tight. We're getting pretty healthy.
"We've got a pretty good team."
And they have a pretty good chance to prove it in December, with 8 home games at the Allstate Arena this month.
MacTavish seems to be loving life in Chicago and says any talk of what the future may hold for him is just that, talk.
"I'm a firm believer that life's too short and you have to enjoy the job you have," he said. "If you're always chasing another job … life goes by pretty quick.
"I'm here enjoying the experience, with no expectations, really."
Except to win another Cup?
"Just one more," he said with a smile. "I haven't won anything since 1994."
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