On this week’s episode of New England Hockey Journal’s RinkWise podcast, Kirk Luedeke is joined by Paul Mara, the head coach of the Premier Hockey Federation’s Boston Pride.
Mara, a native of Belmont, Mass., played 12 seasons in the NHL with six different franchises before getting into coaching in 2017.
As a youth, Mara, a 1997 first-rounder of the Tampa Bay Lightning, played for the South Shore Kings, as well as two seasons at Belmont Hill, before opting to play in the OHL, where he played four seasons with two teams before matriculating to the NHL.
With years of experience as both a player and a coach, Mara joined the podcast to discuss his time as a professional D-man, coaching the Pride and more.
Unlike most high school players in New England that dream of continuing their careers in college, Mara went to the OHL as a 16-year-old. He had talks with some of the Boston-area colleges but decided that the Ontario league was the right spot for him.
A year later, he was selected in a stacked NHL draft class, in which Joe Thornton was the first-overall pick to the Boston Bruins.
“Going into that draft year there was so much talk about the players that were in that draft. I was so young, I sort of just tuned it out I guess, but the media back in 1997 is nothing that it is compared to today,” Mara, 42, said.
“I just remember the Bruins had the first overall pick and the eighth overall pick that year and I was like, ‘OK, maybe I’ll get selected by the hometown Bruins.’”
The Lightning came calling at No. 7 overall, however, and the rest is history. After four seasons in the OHL, Mara played his first game with Tampa Bay during the 1998-99 season. Two years later, he was traded to Phoenix during the 2000-01 season.
There, he learned how to become a pro under (then assistant) Rick Bowness, who is now the head coach of the Dallas Stars.
“He really taught me a lot about being a professional. Showing up the rink every single day with a positive attitude, willing to learn, willing to improve, willing to get better. He instilled that in me,” Mara said of Bowness.
“There would be days when you’d come in, you’re tired and he’s like, ‘Hey, you’re in the NHL. You’re 22, 23 years old. Come here, get better, enjoy yourself and improve.’
“As a professional athlete, you need to improve every day because there’s always someone that wants to take your job. So, you better come here with a focus every day that you want to improve and get better.”
After playing with the Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens, and Anaheim Ducks — amassing 253 points in 734 NHL games — Mara ‘went out on his own terms’ and retired in 2013.
“My mind wasn’t into it. I really didn’t have the energy to focus on hockey anymore,” he said.
“I probably could have kept playing but I think the grind was over. The summers of skating. working out and eating healthy and all of that stuff, I just wasn’t there mentally anymore and decided to hang ‘em up.”
That just shows, Mara added, how much it takes to reach the highest level of the sport, let alone stay there and remain effective.
“It’s one of those things where you have to be 100 percent invested in your craft. To be the best at your sport, you have to give 100 percent effort all the time. And that’s not only in the gym, but eating healthy, practicing the right way, training the right way. It’s hard,” he said.
“A lot of people look at (being in the NHL) as such a glamorous life, but I don’t think a lot of people see the sacrifices that these players make on a day-to-day basis. You don’t just become a better hockey player by showing up at training camp and going on the ice, it’s the hard work put in from the end of May or June until training camp. That’s when these players work the hardest, which a lot of people don’t see.”
For more from Paul Mara on his playing career, being an assistant coach on the gold medal-winning 2018 U.S. Women’s Olympic team, his vision for the Boston Pride when he took over as coach and how that led them to a championship in 2021, and more, listen to the full podcast today.
RinkWise is brought to you by Sacred Heart University, University of Nebraska High School and Bruce Haas’ “Great Game!: D-1 College Hockey: People, Places, Perspectives.”
(Previously on NEHJ’s RinkWise: Mark Divver, Paul Cannata, Jeff Cox, Jordan Harris, Bobby Farnham, Steve Jacobs/Paul Pearl, Kent Hughes, Mark Dennehy, Ben Barr, Troy Thibodeau, Swaggy P/Torrey Mitchell/Kevin Sneddon of Elev802)