Sean McAslan was born in Okotoks, Alberta in January 1980 and like most Canadian youngsters skated on frozen ponds dreaming of making the NHL. Sean did carve out a career in the WHL, ECHL and AHL before joining Nottingham Panthers in 2006 and winning three trophies in the three seasons he iced for them.
Jay Courtney spoke to the former Panthers forward.
Listening to a number of hockey players over the years, many players started playing hockey in their back yard, when the pond had frozen over was that the same for you?
Yes absolutely. My Dad made a little rink in our back yard for a couple years starting when I was 5 and then after that it was out on the local outdoor rink every chance that I could.
What players did you admire and look up to as a youngster?
I was always a huge Flames fan, so I looked up to guys like Joe Nieuwendyk, Gary Roberts, and Doug Gilmour. When I got a bit older I admired Steve Yzerman because of the way he played and had to change his game for his team to win.
Were you always a goal scorer back in the WHL, or did your grow into that role?
When I started with the Hitmen as 16/17 year old, I found a role on the team on the 3rd line being an energy guy and shutting down other teams top lines. My last couple of years, when I was able to play on the top lines is when I started to find some success scoring goals.
During your time with the Hitmen you played along side Brad Stuart who has iced for the San Jose Sharks and Boston Bruins and now is a Red Wing. Did he stand out in junior hockey and could you tell he was going to become an established NHL’er?
Most of my experience with Brad was playing against him in junior and we all knew that he was a tremendous player. After he was traded to us at the deadline in his last year was when we really saw how great he was and that he would be in the NHL the next season at 19.
Did you ever think you would get the chance to play in the NHL?
I had a pretty decent year my first year in the AHL and I thought if I could continue to work hard and develop that I would get at least a shot at getting called up the next season. That 2nd year turned out to be the lockout year, so obviously there was no NHL for a full season. I had a bad year, and ended up in the ECHL the next season.
During your time playing hockey in North America what would say were the major differences between the ECHL and the AHL?
I would say the jump from the ECHL to the AHL is very close to the jump from the AHL to the NHL. Players at the next level are just that much faster, stronger, better with the puck, etc. I would have to say there is also a lot more pressure at the AHL level. There are always guys coming down from the NHL and getting called up from the ECHL. If you don’t perform your stay will be very short. There isn’t as much of that pressure in the ECHL.
In the summer of 2006 you signed for the Panthers, what attracted you to come over and play hockey in the UK?
I had just finished a strong year in the ECHL, and went to the Calder Cup finals with Milwaukee in the AHL. So in the summer after not receiving any AHL offers, I decided it was time to make a change. I had an agent working for me in Europe and Nottingham was the first offer he came to me with. It seemed like a good fit, and everyone I talked to said it was a great place to play, so it was an easy choice.
2006/07 was a big season for the Panthers, and yourself. You played a huge role helping the Panthers win the play-offs and you became a father for the first time in 2007. How would you sum that season for you as a player and as a new Father?
It definitely ranks up there as one of my favorite years of hockey. To be able to lift a trophy for the first time as a professional and then welcome my first son a few weeks later was an unbelievable way to top off a year of having a lot of fun playing with a great bunch of guys, and also having a lot of personal success as well. The excitement of playing for a new team in a new league along with the anticipation of an upcoming baby made it an unforgettable season.
You returned for a second season and you became team captain. Were you expecting to wear the C that season and how did you feel when the then Coach Mike Ellis told you that you would be the guy to Captain the side?
I definitely wasn’t expecting to wear the ‘C’. After I re-signed, I was just really excited to get back and have another season in Nottingham. I had been the captain a couple years earlier in Long Beach, so when Mike told me I would have that chance again I was definitely honoured and looking forward to that responsibility again.
You helped lead the Panthers to a Challenge Cup win. How proud were you when you got to lift the trophy?
Any time you win a championship as a team and get a chance to lift a trophy it is the ultimate feeling. I don’t know how to describe it, but once you do it for the first time, you want to do it again, and again. To be able to be the captain and lift the trophy first and pass it along to my teammates was one of the proudest moments of my career.
When Mike Ellis left you also departed for Denmark. Why did you leave and why did you choose Denmark?
I was actually on holiday and an offer came in to play with an old line mate of mine who I had some success with in Long Beach. I looked at it as a chance to try something different before my career was over. It was also a chance to see a new country, experience a different league, and to make a little bit more money which was important having a young family at the time.
After a season in Denmark you returned to Panthers. Why did you return and what were the reasons that you chose to come back to Nottingham?
It was an easy choice to be honest. I tried something different, and had a great experience in Denmark and really enjoyed playing there, but Nottingham was where I felt most comfortable. I knew that my career was probably winding down and wanted to spend the last year or two in a place that I loved, and with guys that I enjoyed being around. Plus there are not many minor pro hockey players that get to play in a sold out arena every Saturday night!
After a year in Denmark, many fans thought you returned a more ‘complete player’. Is that a fair assessment from the fans?
I would say so. I’ve always been the first to admit that I turned into a pretty one-dimensional player towards the end of my first stint with the Panthers. Denmark was a good opportunity for me to start fresh and re-establish myself as a guy that played physical, played well defensively as well as scored goals and create offense.
Also in your third stint as a Panther you were coached by Corey Neilson. As a player what did you find different being coached by Corey rather than Mike Ellis?
Mike was a little more conservative, which to his credit won us our first Play-off trophy and the Challenge Cup the next season. Corey’s approach is definitely more up-tempo, aggressive attack, which is a lot more fun as a player and is turning out to be just as successful, if not more. Corey’s level of preparation is second to none, which is always comforting as a player.
You scored 115 goals for the Panthers do any of them stick out in your memory at all?
Although they didn’t count towards that total, the 2 shoot-out goals in the playoff quarter and semi-final probably rank up towards the top. Next to those would probably be the two seperate goals that got me to 40 in my first two years. After that would definitely be the time Danny and I were on a 2 on 0 in Belfast and he wisely dished it over to me…..(he loves that one too)
In your third season as a Panther you won another trophy another Challenge Cup. That’s quite a record three seasons with the Panthers and three trophies won, what’s your secret?
I don’t know if there’s a secret really. Getting to the point to have an opportunity to win a Playoff or Challenge Cup trophy is really a team effort. I’ve been fortunate to play for championships and be in big games at almost every level I’ve been at, so I suppose it just comes down to having experience in those situations. I’ve been on both sides of the score so knowing how to come out on top in those games and also understanding why you lost can go a long way.
You have played in the WHL, ECHL, AHL, EIHL and the Danish League. Do you have many close hockey friends at all?
The best thing about hockey is the time you spend with your team mates and the relationships that you build and carry on for years after. I have very close friends from everyone of the teams I’ve been on, and still keep in contact with many more.
In the summer Steelers former media man David Simms said you were interested in the Belfast Giants coaching job. Was that true?
It is true that I was contacted by Todd Kelman and he asked me if I would be interested in the job. I was pretty sure that I was done playing but I took a few days to think about it because coaching was something that I wanted to do. When I made my decision and called him to turn the offer down, he told me they were interviewing Doug (Christiansen) that day. They got the right man for the job.
At the moment I’ve noticed you’re not any roster according to Hockeydb and Elite Prospects, are you having a year out, looking for work or retired at all? Are you enjoying not playing at the moment?
I am retired from professional hockey and at the moment I am coaching a high level of minor hockey in Calgary. I am in fact on the roster of the High River Swamp Donkeys though…….I guess those stats haven’t been added to hockeydb yet…..
Do you have any message for the Nottingham fans?
I miss playing in front of you all every week. It’s a memory that I will carry with me forever. Thank you for all of your support. And for old times sake, ‘goal for the Panthers scored by number 37, Sean McAslan’.
The Cat’s Whiskers would like to thank Sean McAslan for his time and Jay Courtney for conducting the interview.