The road to the NHL has been nothing but a straight line for Kyle McClain.
The Middleton native left home first to chase his dream when he was 15 and just reached the final destination this summer when the Calgary Flames appointed him as assistant coach. Along the way, McClain played five junior years in Ontario and spent 22 seasons in the AHL and ECHL – 11 as a player and another 11 as a coach.
“It’s very exciting and it hits you,” the 44-year-old said of his new job with Flames. “There was a week of just sharing the moment with the people in my life, all the way back to the people who coached me in my little hockey game, everyone I grew up with and all my family. There was so much support and I really wanted to make sure they knew how much I appreciated it.” Then I quickly determined that I had a great job and a great opportunity so I want to make sure I do everything I can to help Calgary Flames in any way I can.
“We’ve kind of been through the honeymoon phase and we’re in the process of relocating our lives. We’re trying to arrange our family’s arrival in Calgary, find a new school for our daughter, move cars and furniture and all that stuff, but at the same time I’m trying to prepare for the hockey side of things. So it was all exciting. Early on and now I’m getting ready to prepare for all the work that needs to be done to be ready to go on the right foot.”
Back when McClain was a star with the Valley Wildcats in the Nova Scotia Midget AAA in the early 1990s, QMJHL had not yet expanded to the Maritimes so he knew his only option to pursue hockey at the highest levels was to leave Atlantic Canada. He chose the Junior A in Ontario because his original goal was to hunt down a scholarship for the NCAA program.
But he caught the eye of OHL’s Kingston Frontinax during the 1992-93 season with CJHL senators in Ottawa and they convinced him to change tracks. McClain went on to have an impressive junior career, highlighted by his final 74-point season as captain. His distinction as a leader revealed his greatest strength as an athlete and created an identity that continues to this day.
McClain was a team captain on several stops during his ECHL and AHL playing days, then immediately moved into training due to his natural inclination to drive.
“When I was finishing up, I knew I was spending a lot of time at the ECHL level,” explained McClain, who has skated in 847 professional games. “When you look at the different leagues, age becomes a factor more quickly at the lower professional levels because that’s where young players develop. So I knew I had to look for positions where I was captain in my different teams and I started to see myself in a capacity where I was More connection between the coaching staff and the players.It was something that I definitely cared about and had the opportunity to play with and learn from many different coaches.
“What happened was when I was in South Carolina (ECHL) my playing days were over and I was also finishing my degree so this was a good place for me because I needed extra time to work on my degree but there was also the opportunity to be a part time assistant with the stingray, which I was playing for him. So it was convenient because I can do both but also I’ll still be involved.”
“I don’t think I was surprised by how much I liked the training because it was a continuation for me,” he added. “I always saw it as being part of a team and helping a team win so all of a sudden I was still doing it but with a different ability. It got me on the ice and I had to stay in a sport that I loved. I grew up playing hockey and really saw it as a smooth transition because all I wanted was What he does is help the team achieve success, so I’ve never felt any pangs of jealousy with the players who are still playing. There was no such thing. It just felt really normal and the only change was to increase the accountability a little bit on a different side of things” .
Just one season after retiring as a player and transitioning to an assistant role with stingrays, McClain became the head coach. He remained in this position for two years before moving to the AHL to be an assistant at the Abbotsford Heat.
He spent two years in this position, followed by another two-year stint as head coach of ECHL with the Adirondack Thunder. His big break came with his next organisation, Stockton Heat, who hired him as assistant coach in 2017-18 and then promoted him to head coach the following year.
“Becoming an AHL-level head coach was a huge step,” McClain said. “This is a great opportunity that Calgary Flames have given me and this was clearly something I viewed as a real honor because of the way (Flames General Manager) Brad Treleving talked about the position in their training tree. He described the importance of developing prospects for the organization in this role. That was something I was really honored to be. And being the head coach of the AHL was something I hadn’t experienced, so it was definitely a challenge and a great opportunity.”
After three seasons preparing Flames’ top talent in the AHL, Flames decided they wanted Calgary’s MacLean to work with some of these players at the NHL level, while also adding value to the coaching staff in other ways.
“We will be working more this summer on what all the staff will do, but I know my role will be one in which I will be in the press box (during matches) as an eye,” McClain said. . I will also work with individual players on and off the ice. So I see it as an opportunity to look at the game from a different angle and I’ll be working with a great staff and I’ll be able to work with some of the players I’ve worked with through the ranks. I am working on forming relationships with them and I will now work with them in a different capacity on a different level, so this is an exciting opportunity.”
As much as McClain views his arrival at the NHL level as the fulfillment of his life goal, he also sees it as more of a stepping stone than a finish line. He has new goals now and jokingly admits he is frustrated. Training camp is too far away.
“It’s something I’ve been working on for a while and it’s definitely exciting but also helpful in the sense that there are a lot of people who have helped me along the way,” he said. “It’s fun to see excitement from others in my life too. When you look at my training stops along the way, there was a lot of movement, so I gave my wife (Kerry) and my daughter (Ashton) a lot of credit because we had to change addresses, schools and homes so many times This is definitely something that is part of the job but at the same time I really appreciate their willingness to do this as a group and support me as I work towards this. This has been an adventure.”
American Hockey League (TheAHL) October 19, 2020
Thinking back about having to leave home nearly 30 years ago to start his journey, MacLean said this was one of the biggest sacrifices he had to make, but he knew from the start that it wasn’t another way to do it.
“When I was young, I went back to Nova Scotia as fast as I could. I spent all summers there and really enjoyed it,” said McClain, whose father still lives in Middleton but his mother Trinda Lee has passed away three times. Since years. “I had my family, friends and great support there. I had a good friend that I trained with and that was excellent. I loved coming back but when I later got into play sponsorship I had to start staying in the cities I was in in terms of owning a home and building a family.
“Then when you work those coaching jobs you’re going for a whole season and you need to be in your city to keep up. That’s when I just started coming home for visits and I would say that was one of the hardest things about our job, being so transient as a family and hard time spending that I would like it with my family at home because of the nature of the work. This was one of the big trade-offs but I like to come home whenever I can.”