A gold medalist for Canada at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, defender Carla MacLeod has adapted a new role four years later. After retiring from the Canadian national women’s team, MacLeod has extended her career by joining the coaching ranks.
Having served on the coaching staff for the U18 Canadian national women’s team, MacLeod, a native of Spruce Grove, Alberta, has mentored the likes of Erin Ambrose and third-generation star Laura Stacey. Also coaching at Mount Royal University in Alberta, hockey mentor Melody Davidson would phone her in 2012 with a remarkable opportunity.
Being offered a chance to serve on the coaching staff for the Japanese national women’s team, it would bring MacLeod to a part of the world she may never have deemed possible. Her role with Japan is separate from the IIHF AMP program, although it is an international initiative to grow the game globally and fits the programs goals.
Besides Davidson, another key figure in ensuring that Canadian expertise would come to Japan was Mark Mahon. The head coach of the Japanese men’s hockey team, Mahon also resides in Canada and made the suggestion to the national women’s team.
MacLeod was hired to serve on Ilzuma Yuji’s coaching staff. The acquisition would pay dividends for Team Japan as MacLeod’s acumen and encyclopedic knowledge of the game would prove crucial in the squad earning a berth at the 2014 Sochi Winter games. When MacLeod competed at the NCAA level with the Wisconsin Badgers, she also had responsibilities instructing younger teammates on the finer aspects of the game.
As this marks the first time since the 1998 Nagano Winter Games (when Japan automatically qualified as the host country) that Japan is back in the event, it marks a significant leap forward for the program. Of note, it has also presented MacLeod with an opportunity for personal growth.
Although MacLeod has traveled throughout North America and Europe with the Canadian contingent, the journey to Japan brought with it a new experience. From having to learn about a new culture, to being considered a visible minority socially, MacLeod has acquired a new perspective.
Her first foray into coaching the Japanese team involved observing the players at practice. In looking at the team’s routine and what they were accustomed to, MacLeod quickly discovered how eager to learn the players were.
The key approach for MacLeod was injecting a winning attitude while implementing a more physical style of play. Although the team possessed great speed, she would introduce 1-on-1 drills in order to force them to adapt a physical approach to the game.
Forcing the club to adapt a winning attitude presented a more ambitious task. In the early days of her tenure, she asked the players how many of them thought they had a chance to qualify for Sochi; not one player responded yes.
Despite the language barrier, MacLeod was successful in eliminating the passive attitude that losing to more superior teams was acceptable. With Japan winning a four-team tournament in Slovakia (competing against Denmark, Norway and Slovakia) to qualify for Sochi, it was quite possibly MacLeod’s greatest moment as a coach.
Four years ago after the euphoria of the Vancouver Winter Games, no one could have predicted that MacLeod would help the Japanese team qualify for Sochi. In effect, she has shown that there can be a rich and productive life after playing, and the opportunity to provide empowerment to an underachieving group of girls has developed into a labor of love. While Japan was not in the same pool as Canada, there is no question that the opportunity to reunite with former Canadian teammates has brought MacLeod full circle.
Although Japan was unable to qualify for the medal round in Sochi; there is no question that the program has grown by a quantum leap. As the only female member of the Japanese coaching staff, MacLeod has become a big sister to these remarkable players who exceeded their own expectations and earned an opportunity to compete on the world’s biggest stage.
Photo credit: Sei Uchigasaki/hockeynow.ca