WATERTOWN — For the second time in Watertown Wolves history a coaching foe will become a friend.
The Wolves have hired Paul MacLean as the fourth head coach in franchise history, team owner Don Kirnan said Saturday.
MacLean started out the 2018-19 season as new head coach of the Danville Dashers, one of the Wolves’ competitors in the Federal Hockey League. He lasted just 17 games before being dismissed after the Dashers lost seven of eight games.
MacLean joins former Wolves head coach Phil Esposito in jumping from the opponent’s bench to the Wolves’ side. Esposito coached Wolves rival Danbury before joining Watertown as the head coach for the 2016-17 season.
“It’s going to be nice,” MacLean said. “I’m in Oakville (Ontario), it’s three-and-half hours away. I know the area ... The games I was at (in Watertown), I was impressed with the atmosphere. There seems to be a core group of fans. I was talking to some people outside the locker room there. It was a good atmosphere.”
MacLean replaces Wolves two-year coach Trevor Karasiewicz, who compiled a 53-28-13-6 record with Watertown from 2017 to 2019, leading the Wolves to the FHL championship in his first season in 2017-18. Karasiewicz has taken the head coaching job with Fresno in the Western State Hockey League, a junior hockey league.
Danville hired MacLean for the 2018-19 season and the Dashers started with an 8-1 mark but lost several players to call-ups and fell to 9-8, leading to MacLean’s ouster.
“It’s one of those things I’m still trying to figure out,” MacLean said. “... I think it was a timing thing to be honest. We were 9-8, tied with Watertown, I think. I think we could’ve very easily turned the corner because we had guys coming back.”
After departing from Danville, MacLean worked as an associate coach for the Elmira Enforcers under head coach and former Wolves coach Brent Clarke. The Enforcers defeated Watertown in a tight series in the FHL semifinals last season.
The Enforcers went on to battle the Carolina Thunderbirds in a contentious championship series, losing to Carolina in four games.
“In hindsight (the season) still ended on a pretty good note,” MacLean said of landing with Elmira.
MacLean has worked as an assistant coach, head coach and general manager in the Superior International Hockey League (Junior A League), Greater Ontario Junior B Hockey League and Metro Junior B Hockey League. He started his coaching career as an assistant for Port Huron of the United Hockey League.
He played junior hockey starting in the late 1980s in the MJBHL with Mississauga and the British Columbia Hockey League with Vernon. He also played for the Brockville Braves of the Canadian Junior Hockey League where he competed against the old Massena Turbines. He played pro hockey for 13 years, in the Colonial Hockey League with the Thunder Hawks and Thunder Bay Senators and in the East Coast Hockey League with the Johnstown Chiefs and Toledo Storm.
MacLean, noting that he’s happy Watertown features a Tim Horton’s doughnut shop, said he expects to be in Watertown in a couple of weeks and then settle in town for good sometime in September. The Watertown Wolves begin play this season Oct. 19 against Elmira at the Watertown Fairgrounds Arena.
The Wolves have announced the recent signings of three players, including the return of forward Anton Kalinin. Kalinin, as a rookie last season, recorded 32 points in 45 games for Watertown.
Watertown has also signed Marvin Powell, a forward/defenseman, who played for Danville and Port Huron last season. The Wolves also signed goaltender Máté Garbacz, a native of Budapest, Hungary. Garbacz played in Erste Liga, an international hockey league in Eastern Europe last season. He posted a 2.72 goals-against average and .901 save percentage.
The league, meanwhile, has rebranded itself as the Federal Prospects Hockey League and has added four more teams for a total of 10. New to the league this season are the Battle Creek (Mich.) Rumble Bees, the Columbus (Ga.) River Dragons, the Delaware Thunder and the return of a Danbury (Conn.) franchise in the Danbury Hat Tricks.
The Wolves will play in the Eastern Division with Elmira, Danbury, Mentor and Delaware.