By Andrew Miller
The Post and Courier
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – Just hours before the final exhibition game of the 1997 preseason, Jacksonville coach Bruce Cassidy had a meeting with Cail MacLean and told the rookie winger to pick up his game or he wasn’t going to be a Lizard King much longer.
“I knew I hadn’t done a whole lot in the preseason and Bruce had pretty high expectations for me,” MacLean said. “He put some major heat on me. I remember thinking that it might not work out for me. I felt pretty confident that I could play in the league, but I wasn’t sure it was going to happen for me in Jacksonville.”
MacLean took the message to heart and went out and scored a couple of goals against Pee Dee. And the rest, as they say, is history.
After 11 seasons, 15 teams, 747 regular season games in three professional leagues and more miles and hours on a bus than he cares to remember, the captain of the South Carolina Stingrays announced his retirement from hockey Thursday afternoon.
“It’s something that I’ve been thinking about for a while,” MacLean said. “I think I started to give retirement serious consideration last summer, but I decided to play again. To be honest, I knew from the beginning of this past season that this was probably going to be it for me.
“I have kind of mixed emotions about hanging ’em up because playing hockey is something I’ve done pretty much my whole life. I’m a little sad, but I’m ready to move on with my life, it’s time.”
MacLean, 31, finished his career with 266 goals and 258 assists in 747 professional games. MacLean played for 15 teams over his career in the ECHL (Jacksonville, Trenton, Reading, South Carolina), American Hockey League (Cincinnati, Lowell, Philadelphia, Providence, Hartford, Hershey, Bridgeport), and International Hockey League (Cleveland, Indianapolis, Michigan, Grand Rapids). He spent most of his career in the ECHL where he ranks 16th all-time with 224 career goals. He had 215 assists and 439 points in 474 games in the ECHL. He served as team captains for the Stingrays, Reading and Trenton.
“The league has changed so much over the last decade,” MacLean said. “The skill level and the talent in this league have improved so much since I first started to play. Everything about the league is so much more professional than it was during my first season. I think that’s been the biggest improvement in the ECHL.”
After a vagabond existence in professional hockey, MacLean settled in the Lowcountry three seasons ago. His 169 games in a Stingrays uniform are the most for any one team during his career. In three seasons with the Stingrays, MacLean had 63 goals and 74 assists for 137 points. He served as the team captain for the past two seasons.
“Cail will definitely be missed next season,” said Stingrays head coach Jared Bednar. “He was an awesome captain, almost like an assistant coach. To lose a quality guy like Cail — that’s a big hole for us to fill.”
One of MacLean’s most memorable moments in pro hockey came at the North Charleston Coliseum — albeit a memory he’d like to forget. Serving as the Trenton captain, MacLean still has a vivid recollection of the final seconds of Game 5 of the 2001 Kelly Cup finals in which the Stingrays captured the franchise’s second league title.
“I can still remember how loud it was that night,” MacLean said. “It was so loud, I couldn’t hear myself think. It was one of the worst nights of my career, but it’s one I’ll never forget.”
MacLean said he’s not sure what the future will bring.
“I want to finish school, get my degree, and then see what happens,” MacLean said. “We’re not leaving Charleston anytime soon. We love it here. I hope to be associated with hockey in some way in the future, but I haven’t really sat down and talked about it with anyone.”