Hot Rampage Prospect Eyes Shot With Coyotes
Brett MacLean remembers the rush of emotion -- joy, excitement, awe -- but few details in the current that swept him to the edge of a dream. So let’s begin the anecdote of his big hockey moment with a little context.
It was late February, the 23rd to be exact, and MacLean was in the midst of a high-scoring season with the San Antonio Rampage. The Phoenix Coyotes wanted a closer look at the left wing they picked in the second round of the 2007 draft and called him up.
Word came to MacLean in Grand Rapids, Mich., near the end of the team’s rodeo road trip, after seven games and 13 days of travel. That’s one detail that stands out. Fatigue.
When he stepped onto the ice for his first NHL practice, he gazed at the talent around him, soaked in the atmosphere, felt the wow-I’m-finally-here sensation. And then he went to work, hoping to impress coaches, and the rest melted into a fog.
“It was such a blur,” he says. “It’s difficult to remember much.”
One detail remains vivid. MacLean never got into a game. No one knows when the Rampage’s top prospect will get a second chance with Phoenix. But when it comes, nobody will be surprised if he sticks.
“I think he’s real close to that level,” says Rampage Coach Ray Edwards. “A lot of guys can go and play up there. But we want him to have a career.”
Edwards likes MacLean’s size -- 6-foot-1, 200 pounds -- skills and ability to score. MacLean led the Rampage with 65 points last season -- second most in franchise history -- and has been a scorer at every level.
“He’s got quick hands that are lethal around the net,” Edwards says. “We’re trying to get him to round out his game.”
MacLean wants to do precisely that and help the Rampage win games. And if he plays up to his promise? “My goal,” he says, “is to get called up.”
Edwards knows the dream. He nurtured one for years in minor-league hockey towns across the country. Once a rugged right wing, he attended NHL camps with Los Angeles, Chicago and Ottawa. Edwards even got to play in an exhibition game with Chicago against Detroit in 1990 -- “for about 10-12 minutes,” he says -- but never got any closer.
“For these guys,” Edwards says of his Rampage players, “that’s not enough. I was fighting to get noticed. They are fighting for a long career.”
Injuries and age doomed Edwards. MacLean has his health, his youth and a label. Top prospect. Oh yes, he’s even got a case of mistaken identity. Another player, a center with the same-sounding name -- there’s just one “a” in “Brett McLean” -- spent several seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers before joining SC Bern of the Swiss Elite League. From time to time, the American Hockey League MacLean will get a phone call. “Hey Brett, I saw you on TV last night,” a friend will say. “You scored!”
MacLean will clear his throat and offer a gentle correction. “That wasn’t me,” he’ll say. “That’s another guy. Our last names are spelled differently.”
The prospect was born in 1988, the veteran in 1978. Both are from Canada, and that’s virtually all the kid knows about the older McLean.
The Rampage star comes from good hockey stock. MacLean’s father, Ray, was an accomplished junior player in Canada. Brett’s younger brother, Miles, is a fine junior player himself. The boys learned to skate from their mother.
“I wanted to play hockey just like my father,” Brett says.
Ray built rinks in the backyard and taught his boys the game. They proved to be quick studies.
“Brett started to skate around age two,” Ray says. “He started to play organized hockey in Port Elgin (Ontario) when he was four. ... Brett spent hours, outside of his organized hockey, playing and practicing with his friends, brother and myself.”
Brett developed a flair for scoring and was recognized as one of the better young players his age. As his abilities grew, so did his passion for the game. But he never imagined life in the NHL until he became a dominating player in Triple-A hockey as a teenager.
“That’s when I thought, ‘There is a chance,’” he says.
After a while, scouts began talking him up as a possible first round prospect. Expectations grew. Then the first round came and went in 2007 and there was Brett MacLean, undrafted. Yes, he felt the sting. But Phoenix took him early in the second round, and Brett made the best of it.
Three years later, he’s stronger, faster, more polished. He’s also famished. It’s one thing to savor an NHL practice. It’s another to enjoy the taste of a game.