Mike McCann spent most of his life in a hockey rink.
Recently, he was presented with a unique opportunity to not only further his coaching career but to coach with his former coach, John Murphy.
This season McCann is assistant to Murphy on the Scouts’ varsity blue bench. It is an opportunity that McCann never expected to come his way, but one that he is excited for.
“I always knew that I wanted to coach,” McCann said. “I was fortunate enough as a young player to have the same coaches move up as us players. [Murphy] was one of two or three coaches I ever had as a young hockey player.
“I played with his son, Cody. … It was one of those things where I always knew that I wanted to coach and to be coaching alongside one of [my former coaches] was something that I’ve always wanted to do.”
McCann, who had played for Team Illinois when he was younger, had Murphy as an assistant coach on the team. From the time McCann was 10 years old until he was 14, he listened to Murphy’s guidance both on and off the ice.
McCann always gravitated to Murphy’s coaching style growing up. For him, it shaped the way he played the game.
“I would say that the biggest thing he taught, and what he continues to teach, is work ethic,” McCann said. “That really stuck with me as a young hockey player going through playing for him and them moving on to play college hockey. I think that’s very rare. It’s something that he continues to teach our kids.”
McCann went on to play hockey for Colgate University in New York, a Division I school in the Eastern College Athletic Conference.
From there, McCann played for two teams in the Southern Professional Hockey League: the Mississippi RiverKings and the Peoria Rivermen. He only played a combined thirteen games for the two teams during the 2014-2015 season.
McCann moved on to play a season for a Hungarian team, Dunaújvárosi Acélbikák, for the 2015-2016 season. There he played 31 games, scored eight goals and netted 18 assists.
“When I got back to the States full time, and stopped playing hockey, I reached out to [Murphy] and right away I was excited to work with him,” McCann said about his transition into coaching.
During McCann’s first year coaching for the Scouts, he coached with Murphy’s nephew, Johnny Murphy, at the varsity gold level.
“I’m just enjoying the experience learning from, in my opinion, one of the best coaches in Illinois hockey and hockey as a whole,” McCann said.
He admits that his opinion may be biased, but that in all his years playing another coach has not met the John Murphy standard. Even though the pair formed a bond as coach and player, McCann said that another bond, between coach and assistant coach, has formed. It’s working well for them team and the pair this season.
“It’s really a join effort,” McCann said. “On the bench I’m usually on the offensive side and he’s on the defensive. But it’s one of those team chemistries where we’re always communicating about what’s going on in the game.
“We’re both kind of giving input throughout the game, both offensively and defensively.”
Laying a foundation
McCann is currently working on his USA Hockey coaching certification, of which he is ranked a Level 2, out of a possible five. Despite his lifetime of experience playing the game, McCann looks at getting his certification as another step in understanding the complicated game that is hockey.
“You’ve got to go through the process,” he said. “You’ve got to start at Level 1 and I think it’s very important to do that. People often ask why a player who has played for so long, or anybody, would have to go through Level 1.
“It’s a different thought process, I would say, from playing to coaching. You really have to understand that it’s completely different. There is obviously part of the game that you understand, that you know very well, but to start from the basic and build a good foundation I think is important.”
McCann is hoping that by understanding the game from the coaching side he will be able to impart wisdom on his players, like Murphy did with him all those years ago.
“That’s one of the reasons that I love working with high school kids,” he said. “You’re with them for a long period of time. You’re able to stay with the same program.”
McCann said that getting those extra years with the players, as opposed to one, helps in creating chemistry not only between player and coach but establishing a good base for the team dynamic.
“You can really only develop them not so much in one year, or two, but we look at skills and guys that are ready to play at the top varsity level,” he said. “We have a good amount of players that are juniors and sophomores. We’re not just a team of seniors that we’re going to be loosing [at the end of the year.]
The thought that McCann and Murphy can work with young players like Charlie Altounian, a sophomore forward who has already found the back of the net several times this season, and two other sophomores, Will and Hunter Dee, for three full years is exciting, McCann said.
McCann sees himself coaching for a long time, he said. Going from practically growing up in a rink to now working a job outside of hockey was a bit of a shock for him.
Coaching allows him to get back on the ice every day. It also allows McCann to be there day-in and day-out to help those young players grow their talent and develop those essential hockey skills.
“I came to this team specifically because of my connection with Coach Murphy and it was always something that I wanted to do,” McCann said. “ I really have a great connection with all of the kids and their work ethic and their commitment, it is a lot of fun every day and it’s definitely something I enjoy doing, it’s a passion of mine because of their attitudes and that they want to get better.”