Brett MacLean's heart still in hockey

Former Coyotes prospect Brett MacLean rebounds from cardiac incident, returns to hockey in coaching role.

Two vastly different incidents convinced Brett MacLean how beneficial it is to be in the right place at the right time.

The second was when he enrolled at the University of Waterloo (Ontario) last fall to begin his post-hockey life and was recently offered a job as an assistant coach for the Warriors’ hockey team. 

The first was the incident that prompted his post-hockey life.

“It was a normal Monday,” MacLean said of July 2, 2012. “I did my training in the morning and I felt really good, so I decided to go skate with some friends for the first time that summer.”

Forty minutes into that pickup game, MacLean made a pass and then collapsed, the victim of cardiac arrest.

Two friends, Jason Gallagher and Jason Silverthorn, rushed to his side to administer CPR. Jay Forslund, an off-duty local firefighter who happened to be in the rink, grabbed the arena's automatic external defibrillator to shock MacLean’s heart.

Moments later, paramedics rushed him to the Owen Sound Regional Hospital before he was airlifted to University Hospital in London, Ontario.

“I don’t remember much,” MacLean, 24, said. “But I was glad to have someone tell me about it afterward. I’m lucky that so many people were there to help me.”

Doctors still have no explanation for what happened, although a genetic malfunction is a possibility. MacLean is still undergoing blood tests to determine if he has Long QT Syndrome (LQTS), a rare inborn heart condition in which delayed repolarization of the heart following a heartbeat increases the risk of irregular heartbeat, with the possibility of death.

No matter what the diagnosis turns out to be, MacLean’s hockey career is over. Doctors implanted a cardiac defibrillator that rules out all contact sports for the rest of his life.

It might seem like an easy sacrifice, given the potential cost, but MacLean was on the verge of securing an NHL roster spot with the Coyotes. The 2007 second-round pick posted more than 100 points in his final two OHL seasons, and he topped 20 goals in each of his four AHL seasons in San Antonio and Portland.

He played 18 games for the Coyotes.

“I had a choice to make,” he said. “Did I want to live a life where I was worry-free but could still be active, or did I want to take a chance on hockey? 

“To be honest, it becomes an easy life decision when you have family and friends who care about you, so I know that this is the right thing to do.” 

MacLean got his feet wet in various coaching duties recently. This past winter, he started training kids privately, and he also helped out former San Antonio Rampage coach Greg Ireland, who is now coaching the Owen Sound Attack of the OHL.

“I think it’s great that Brett has a passion to stay with the game,” said Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, acknowledging how tough that transition must have been. “He was a young player on the cusp of making it at the NHL level when his medical tragedy struck. I’m sure he will use all the experiences he has had and become a very good coach.” 

As luck would have it, Waterloo coach Brian Bourque was looking for a replacement for departing assistant Jordan Brenner when he heard that MacLean had already enrolled in the school's arts program. The two have not hammered out all the details of MacLean’s duties, but he is expected to work with the power play and take on some offensive responsibilities.

“It was tough for the first two months or so dealing with the fact that my dream of playing in the NHL was over and I had to find something else to do,” MacLean said. “But when you look at all the possibilities and realize it could have been a lot worse, it’s hard to find too many negatives.

“I still got to play in the NHL and experience a lot of things that most people never get to experience. But the biggest thing is, I’m still here.”  

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