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Ex-Devils coach MacLean preps for awkward reunion

Dec 26, 2011, 4:45 PM EDT

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John MacLean

Tonight, Carolina assistant John MacLean faces the Devils for the first time since being fired last year.

Remember that? GM Lou Lamoriello canned MacLean two days before Christmas, mostly because of his 9-22-2 record (though running afoul of Ilya Kovalchuk probably played a part). New Jersey then proceeded to go on a tear under new head coach Jacques Lemaire.

So yeah, tonight shouldn’t be awkward at all — though to his credit, MacLean is trying to downplay how strange it’ll feel.

“I’m sure it will be for about the first six seconds,” MacLean told the Star-Ledger. “And then it’s just another team. You have to get focused in on what you’re doing. You can’t get caught watching. You have to be prepared and help out any way we can on the bench.”

It’s not fair to say the Devils completely tuned out MacLean last year…but hindsight being 20/20, they weren’t exactly tuning him in. He was a rookie head coach in charge of a massively-paid star (Kovalchuk), strong veteran personalities (Martin Brodeur, Brian Rolston, Jason Arnott, Jamie Langenbrunner) and a thinned-out blueline. As Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski put it, “[it] was like asking a rookie transit cop to take down a Mexican drug cartel.”

That said, it’s not entirely surprising MacLean resurfaced as an assistant in Carolina. He’s good friends with head coach Kirk Muller and did have some success coaching Lowell of the AHL prior to his disastrous stint with Jersey.

“I’m not sure you ever get peace,” MacLean said of how things ended with the Devils. “It’s part of the game. It’s part of the learning experience. You learn from it and you move forward. Now I’m moving forward and I’m excited about it. I don’t look back. I look forward. This is a good opportunity for me and right now that’s what I’m focused on.

“For me to be involved with Kirk in this situation is exciting. I’m looking forward to it. This is a team that’s had some struggles, but it has great potential. I think we’re going in the right direction.”

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