Four-time Stanley Cup champion McClelland joins Renegades
It’s quite often a player that shared the ice and dressing room and Stanley Cup celebrations in the NHL with the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Jari Kurri lands a job in the game after their playing days are done.
Some players become NHL team executives, coach junior teams or college teams or simply fade out of the public spotlight.
And some wind up in Utah coaching with an up-and-coming AAA youth organization.
Kevin McClelland won four Stanley Cups in the 1980s playing for the star-laden Edmonton Oilers, serving as the grit and sandpaper on those teams that featured so many future Hall of Fame players.
After his playing days ended with the 1994-95 season, McClelland coached in the Ontario Hockey League and Western Hockey League and then served as an assistant for five seasons in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the St. John’s Maple Leafs.
Three of his next four stops were where not many consider hockey a prime location – Tennessee (Central Hockey League’s Memphis Riverkings), Mississippi (CHL’s Riverkings) and Kansas (CHL/ECHL’s Wichita Thunder). He also coached the Colorado Eagles when the franchise called the CHL home.
Over the summer, the West Coast Renegades hired McClelland, now 54, to coach the organization’s 16U AAA National and 18U AAA teams for the 2016-17 season.
“I wasn’t retained in Wichita, so I had to move back to Canada with my family,” said McClelland, a native of Oshawa, Ont. “My family went back to St. John’s and I was in limbo, so I went back to Ontario and sat around listening to a bunch of different coaching offers. I had some offers in Europe and for some junior teams in Ontario, but then a buddy of mine in Utah called and mentioned this job here, which really interested me, and I took it.”
McClelland said from his initial conversations with Renegades owners Joe and Lisa D’Urso and former director of hockey operations Adam Bartholomay, he was immediately impressed with the vision and direction of the program.
“It’s all top shelf,” said McClelland. “The way they treat the kids here and the facilities that the kids get to use here is incredible. Joe and Lisa keeping the team running during the winter months is just as incredible because they love it for the kids and they want it first and foremost for the kids. They want to grow hockey in Utah and to be around people like that, it’s just so great to be a part of that.”
To have prior experience in non-traditional hockey markets can only help McClelland adjust to the atmosphere in Utah.
“Other than in Colorado, where it’s also top shelf and Chris Stewart runs a gem of an organization, I’m used to the challenges of being in places like Wichita and Memphis,” noted McClelland. “Like I said, you look at what they have here with the Utah Olympic Oval and Tyler Dabrowski, the Olympic trainer that trains our guys, and it’s incredible. You’ve got no choice but to grow hockey in Utah and once it really gets going, I think it’s going to steamroll and you’ll see a lot more kids having success coming out of Utah.”
Making the jump from coaching professionals to now coaching the youth game is another challenge McClelland is anxious to knock down and get started.
“The thing is, these kids are still really green,” McClelland said. “To be honest, I think my experiences will be extremely valuable to the guys on the team. You know, you just want to share with these guys what it takes to be a pro, play junior or get a university scholarship, and just show them the ropes and how difficult this sport is in terms of getting to the next level or making a career out of it.”
During his playing days, McClelland was drafted in the fourth round (71st overall) by the Hartford Whalers (now Carolina Hurricanes) at the 1980 NHL Draft, but never suited up for the Whalers. Along with Edmonton, McClelland also skated in the NHL for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Detroit Red Wings, Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets (the first incarnation before the franchise moved to Phoenix and became the Coyotes).
A Stanley Cup winner in 1984, 1985, 1987 and 1988, McClelland’s most memorable playoff moment came in Game 1 of the 1984 Stanley Cup Finals when he scored the game’s only goal in a 1-0 win over the New York Islanders. McClelland retired from the NHL after playing 588 games and recording a total of 68 goals and 112 assists for 180 points, and adding 1672 penalty minutes.
“To be able to play with all those great guys, I came out of Pittsburgh and didn’t have a lot of confidence as a hockey player,” said McClelland. “Just to be a small piece to the puzzle was just amazing and to be associated with that group in Edmonton is huge. I’m not a big name, that’s for sure, but you’d never know it from being in that room. That was such a great group of guys that really made you feel special. I enjoyed it and there are memories there that will last forever, that’s for sure.”
And getting into coaching was in one sense McClelland’s way of giving back to the game that gave him more than most, but it’s also a comfort zone in another sense.
“I think when you spend that much time in hockey, even when you’re young, and then you have a pro career, you obviously want to stay in the business you’re used to,” explained McClelland. “It’s hard to pick up a pencil or go work on computers, you know? I mean, I still have a tough time sending text messages and learning all the technology. I think you just always want to stay in the business you know best and that you have had some good success in.”
His first season in Salt Lake City on tap, McClelland has some realistic expectations for his Renegades 16U and 18U squads.
“We just want to go out and conduct ourselves in a good manner,” said McClelland. “And that’s both on the ice and off the ice. Obviously, when you throw a group of guys together, you have to find out what the chemistry will be, but that’s your job as a coach. It’s almost like you’re more of a manager managing 20 different hockey players with 20 different personalities.
“You just want to get the most out of your players and establish the fact that we are going to be a top-shelf hockey club, and that’s not going to happen overnight, but there is a lot of interest here and a lot of great kids and I see this as being very prosperous very soon.”
– Matt Mackinder