Not Underappreciated In San Jose
November 4, 2005
Alyn McCauley can be very underappreciated as an NHL player. The hockey world loves him as evidence by him being named a Selke finalist last year as one of the NHL’s top three forwards, but for a long time he was overlooked. He has been moved twice in his career in trades clearly aimed at immediate needs versus long term planning. In San Jose , he definitely is part of the long term plan.
Originally the property of New Jersey , McCauley was a part of six-player deal that sent him to Toronto so the Devils could acquire Doug Gilmour for the playoff run, a player he enjoyed watching while growing up.
Then in 2003, he was traded to San Jose as part of a package so Toronto could have Owen Nolan for the playoff drive.
Neither New Jersey nor Toronto even reached the Stanley Cup Finals the year of the respective trades. New Jersey won a Cup several years later without Gilmour and Toronto may or may not have Owen Nolan in their lineup this year.
San Jose on the other hand reached the Western Conference Finals in McCauley’s first full year in Silicon Valley . He missed a few games with an injury, but returned to the lineup
“He basically played with one arm in the postseason,” said Sharks Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson . “Tough players play the same way in every building and he is as tough as they come.”
It doesn’t bother McCauley at all that he can sometimes slide under the radar.
“I’d rather overachieve than underachieve with expectations,” said McCauley. “At times I’ve had a high profile, but personally I enjoy being under the radar a bit.”
San Jose knew what McCauley made of was when he stepped in for an injured Mats Sundin and posted a strong 15 points in 20 playoff games during Toronto ’s 2002 run to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Even during his junior days, Alyn was overlooked by the NHL. He twice represented Team at the World Junior Championships, serving as captain on the 1997 gold medal winning team. He was only the third two-time winner of the Red Tilson Trophy as the OHL’s Most Outstanding Player. His team had the best junior record in the CHL. He registered 36 points in 22 playoff games. He posted 56 goals in 50 games.
All this and he was only a fourth round selection.
“I lost a lot of weight before one season and I didn’t have the greatest start,” said McCauley. “When my momentum would get going, it would stop for a variety of reasons.”
Maybe it was his size. At five-foot-11, he was smaller that the six-foot label most people were looking for. Maybe it was because he was named the OHL’s Most Gentlemanly Player that people didn’t think his game would translate to the NHL.
McCauley’s first trade to Toronto came as a complete shock.
“We’d just begun contract talks the week previous,” said McCauley. “I heard rumors that New Jersey and Toronto were talking, but I wasn’t expecting to be traded. I was excited - the Devils had just won the Cup and were a contender.”
Still the trade wasn’t all bad. Because of New Jersey ’s talent and depth, Toronto offered other advantages.
“My thoughts changed as I thought maybe I could get to the NHL quicker,” said McCauley.
McCauley did just that, going straight to the show without ever playing an AHL game. Then matters changed during the 2000-01 season. McCauley, a regular for three seasons was about to embark on a 47-game AHL stint.
“At the time, I hadn’t played much and it wasn’t much fun not playing,” said McCauley. “I had so much energy from being off, the AHL was fun and a chance to play. I wasn’t old yet. I learned how to have fun again and to believe in myself. St. John’s relaxed me.”
It could have been a difficult time for McCauley, but he chose to stop and smell the roses and he hasn’t questioned himself since that AHL assignment.
Even in Toronto where he was given checking line minutes, but was expected to be a significant point producer, he kept his head up.
“The opportunity wasn’t there, but I was expected to put up points,” said McCauley. “At times it was unfair, but it happens on teams. We are paid very well to perform. At the same time, if you’re not given the opportunities, is it fair to expect the same results?”
“His last year in juniors, he put up huge numbers,” said Doug Wilson of McCauley’s untapped potential.
McCauley is appreciative of the opportunities provided him in San Jose where he took advantage of the chance to earn time and never looked back. Prior to arriving in San Jose , McCauley’s career best goal total was nine. Thanks to his ice time in San Jose , it is now 20.
“Ron ( Wilson ) does a good job of allowing players opportunities,” said McCauley. “In Toronto , even if I played well, I sat on the bench a lot. Ron’s actions are that he is going with the guys performing that night and you are accountable. It keeps the guys behind you pushing you. You can’t say one thing and do it differently. He has a belief in the guys in the room.”
In short, the player who once scored 56 goals in 50 OHL games was only allowed the opportunity to showcase his defensive skills.
“He was pigeon-holed,” said Doug Wilson .
McCauley tries to pass on his experiences to younger players who might be experiencing difficult times for scoring droughts.
“I try to help the guys here and see if the guys have questions,” said McCauley. “ Everyone in the NHL is here for a good reason and they deserve it.”
McCauley’s leadership skills might be better displayed by the letter he doesn’t wear than the letter he does. McCauley routinely wears and alternate captains “A” with the Sharks . However it was when he wore the rotated captain’s “C” for San Jose that he pegged the Sharks future captain.
McCauley is the player who went to Ron Wilson and said Patrick Marleau was ready.
“He saw where our team was going and understood the importance of our young veterans,” said Doug Wilson . He identified what was best for the team. He is the ultimate team player and he has the respect of every teammate.”
Skill is important. Leadership is important. But combine those two with intelligence and the McCauley becomes one of the best all-around players on the Sharks .
“He has a very high level of hockey sense,” said Doug Wilson .
“He is the smartest player I’ve ever played with,” said linemate Nils Ekman. “He knows where you are going to be and he has gotten me some freebies. I think he as made me a lot better player and he makes others a lot better too.”
Even McCauley’s nickname is a little off base as it came from a character who is the polar opposite of McCauley.
“Shooter” dates back to his early professional days. A prolific goal scorer in juniors, McCauley hadn’t found the offensive side of his game. At the time, my coach was on me to shoot the puck. In practice I had to shoot it every time I got it.”
In the movie Happy Gilmore, the antagonist to Kevin Costner’s character was Shooter McGavin.
“Shooter McCauley was close enough,” said McCauley.
McCauley is a private family man, who enjoys playing golf, but would rather simply hang out with his wife and two kids. That can be tough when you are sent away for two weeks at a time. The cell phone keeps him in touch, but it still can be difficult.
“When you are on the road for 10 days, it can be tough to handle,” said McCauley. “You call and your child is crying because you’re not there. I love playing with my kids and my nieces and nephews.”
McCauley credits his strong family ties directly to his parents.
“My mom was a teacher at the school I went to and I spent a lot of time with her,” said McCauley. “My dad always worked eight to five and even if he had a tough day, he always separated himself from whatever he faced at work. I tried to be that way. I come home tired at 2:30 in the morning and my daughter wakes up ready to go, so I try to be ready too.”
As he is always ready on the ice.
Wayne and Thorty should be back tomorrow(?) and Nabby will be in goal(?) which is a big relief to me for ineffable reasons. I hear that the boys didn't tire themselves out tonight, so I'm hoping they make Nabby's return as pleasant as possible. And wow, I just typed that sentence in complete innocence.
I used to think, "Man, it must be rough to be a primary Canucks fan, that team is such a heart attack." Well, hahahahahahahahahaha to me.