Full circle
by Erin Brown|08 JUN 2022
Former Team Canada defender Carla MacLeod took over as head coach for Czechia's senior women's team in April.
photo: Micheline Veluvolu / HHOF-IIHF Images
After Carla MacLeod wrapped her playing career at the absolute highest peak — winning a gold medal on with Canada at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver — she began yet another next climb to the top, this time as a coach.

In fall of 2010, the Alberta native signed on as an assistant coach with Mount Royal University in Calgary. Two years later, the Japanese women's national team brought her aboard as an assistant to prepare the squad for their appearance at the 2014 Olympics.

After Sochi, she continued to build her resume behind the bench, overseeing teams at prep and private school teams before assuming the role of head coach at the University of Calgary.

In April, Czechia named her head coach of its women's national team.

In preparation for the 2022 IIHF Women's World Championship in Denmark, she is serving as an assistant for the U18 squad. It has been a homecoming for the former captain at the University of Wisconsin, where Coach Mark Johnson began planting the seeds for her coaching future.

MacLeod recently sat down with IIHF.com to discuss her passion for helping the next generation in women's hockey and the emotions of seeing her career come full circle in Wisconsin.

How did you get into coaching to begin with?

I think when I was playing, there was always a natural sort of coach 'lens' at which I went at the game. I had so many great coaches growing up who impacted me and shaped me, not just as a player, but as a human. I realized how incredible it was to be the recipient of that. So I think that inspired me when my playing days came to an end after 2010. It was really natural next step.

I'm certainly glad I've taken it because I absolutely love coaching. I think in a lot of ways it fills me even more than playing. For me, it's been natural niche.

I go back to my second year of hockey — my coaches asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I said, "Teacher." I think the blood that's in me is teaching, and I love that I can teach the game and teach life through the game. That's why I'm pretty passionate about it.

When you started, where did you begin? With youth players? At a higher level?

When I retired in 2010, I was offered an opportunity to work with one of the universities in Calgary, Mount Royal University. I ended up working there with Scott Rivet for four years in an assistant coach capacity. He's one of the best guys in the game. I got to learn from somebody who understood how to go about the game and teach the game at that age group. While I was with Mount Royal, I also had the opportunity to work with Japan internationally.

Calgary seems like a central point not just for Team Canada, but internationally. The city just doesn't attract talent from North America to train.

I think we're really fortunate in Calgary. The legacy of the 1988 Olympics has really impacted a lot of us in that community in western Canada throughout a lot of sports. So as an '88 kid, somebody who's benefiting from the infrastructure and the greatness brought to the city, that was sort of the magic of the Olympics.

Calgary ends up being a really nice hub, particularly for winter sport athletes. I feel pretty fortunate to have been able to grow up in the Olympic Oval and be around surrounded by speed skaters and high, high-end athletes in general. I think there is a niche in Calgary that's unique because of the Olympic legacy.

Women's hockey has long been centered around what happens in North America. You mentioned going to Japan. How much do you feel with Canadian and American coaches, players, there's a responsibility to help other countries that do not have the same resources?

I think everyone is genuinely trying to do their best to continue to evolve the sport. Everyone's toolset is slightly different and for each federation, each country, each coaching staff, everything's a little bit unique. But there's so much positivity within the game right now, internationally and professionally, that we have to be pretty excited about where the future is. We need to get it there. It has been a long time coming and there have been generations well before my time that put in the foundation we've got to be grateful for because it got us to this point.

I think it is important for any sport around the world — you've got to share your expertise. I think you see that in every sport. There have been German bobsled coaches in Canada. That makes sense to me – (the Germans) are dominant within the sport. The sharing of knowledge and trying to help the game globally is a really important piece to women's hockey and establishing it even further.

But it's not just on-ice —

Even with Czechia now, our long term vision is, can some of the ladies that we're working with currently in six, eight years, will they be in this seat? Will they be leading the group? That's actually the long term goal.

You want to potentially help somebody to see their path within this profession, because it's such a fulfilling profession. I think everywhere you go, you try to inspire them to continue within the game to further the game within your country and around the world.

I can see with Japan now — I was with them in 2014 — and some of those players are on the U18 staff and they're continuing to give back to the game. Many are running kids camps now and other women on our Czechia team are doing the same thing.

When I talk to them all individually, I ask, "Why are you passionate about the national team?" Obviously, you have pride in the country and the opportunity to play at the highest level, but it is also to inspire the next generation.

Everyone is carrying that torch right now. It's been carried for decades well before my time. I just think everyone's continuing to do their part and there's always an opportunity to pay something forward.

How did you become involved with Czechia?

They had a change in the head coaching position after the Olympics with Tomas Pacina pursuing other opportunities. They were looking for a new coach. I was just trying to help them find a new coach. I wasn't thinking it was going to be me – I just had a new job of my own at home.

But as communication went back and forth, it became apparent pretty quickly this was a real special opportunity for myself with a group of players and staff. They are driven and inspiring to work with. It came about organically in a lot of ways, and I'm grateful for that. It felt really, really comfortable. It's a shared opportunity between them and myself and our staff. So I'm really excited to get going and see what we can do.

What is your vision for the team? What kind of style would your like to see them play? It's obviously not going to be a clone of Team Canada; Czechia has its own brand of hockey.

They've done a lot of hard work in the last handful of years with Thomas at the helm. Thomas is a tremendous coach. I played for him, so I know how good he is. We can see it. When you watch (Czechia) play, it is a very puck possession style hockey. Certainly that's their root system. So I have to go in and understand where the root system lies because we've  got to just leverage that. You don't always want to replant new roots. I think it is going to be a bit of a give-and-take for them and me to naturally figure where's the comfort zone between my natural styles as a North American coach and their root system.

I'm really confident we're going to get there, really excited at the opportunity to help them grow. And certainly, helping them understand they can achieve the goals we want to achieve. We have the capacity to do that. Instilling a belief is going to be really important in building confidence. But that's actually what your job is as a coach. That's what's going to be our objective as a staff.

What is something you have learned from Czechia you did not see in your time as a player with Team Canada? Maybe a strategy or technique that made you think, it would have been interesting if we tried that to fine-tune our own game?

I was lucky because I did get to play for Thomas when I was with (WWHL's Calgary) Oval X-treme back in the day. What it was that I was drawn to in that style was just the absolute puck possession, the calmness with the puck, the willingness to be, 'hey, don't panic, just make a play or turn back.' They've got that element in their game. It's special. It's unique.

But there's going to be a lot they're going to teach me, right? Culturally, language — they've got a lot of work to do there, I can promise you that. There's going to be so much I can learn from them. That's why coaching is rewarding. You're not going in to tell them how much you know, you're going in to settle in to figure out what do we know as a group and where do we want to go.

How special is it to be making your debut with Czechia here in Wisconsin where you played college hockey?

I was reflecting last night about it. I was just like, "wow!" To be in such a comfortable place with this team, joining the staff here for Czechia has been unbelievable. They are helping me, making me feel comfortable, part of the team and a valued member. I'm so grateful for that. It's just been so easy. And then to be able to do it in Madison, Wisconsin...

When I reflect on my playing days and my career, there was no better time. I absolutely loved being a Badger I loved it. For me to have the two colliding at the same time, you can't wipe the smile off my face. I'm just so thrilled to be here in the role I'm in and in the community I'm in, and I look forward to seeing so many of my friends from when I played and maybe crossing paths with (Badgers Coach Mark Johnson) and the coaching staff.

There's just so much fondness for this area and this community that it's a privilege to be here for for both — Czechia and as a Badger.