Alumni Spotlight: Alan May
[WashingtonCaps.com continues the summer series "Alumni Spotlight," where WashingtonCaps.com interviews former Washington Capitals players. Previous Alumni Spotlights include Joe Juneau, Ken Sabourin, Michal Pivonka, Kevin Kaminski, Dennis Maruk, Scott Walker, Brian Pothier, Chris Clark, Ken Klee, Matt Pettinger, Ben Clymer, Bryan Muir, Jamie Heward, Brendan Witt and Anson Carter.]
WashingtonCaps.com (WC.com): You were the first player from the ACHL, now called the ECHL, to play a game in the NHL. What do you attribute this feat to?
Alan May (AM): It was a lot of timing; I had a couple people look out for me more than anything. One was a player–actually it was three people now that I think about it. I was always kind of an undersized player for the style of hockey that I played, kind of geographically undesirable, and playing in that league, I just got lucky. I had people that knew people and things just started to happen. At the end of the season down there, one of the teams that I terrorized down there in that league, their coach was called by the New York Islanders for one of their players for the rest of the season in the American Hockey League. This guy said, “I wouldn’t recommend any of my players, but there’s a player in the league right now that can play in the NHL and you should call this guy right now.” So, I just got lucky. I was in the office picking up my last paycheck and this is pre cell phone, finding people and tracking them down. This guy called the office and the secretary said, “He’s actually standing right here. Why don’t you ask him for himself?” I took that phone call and the guy started talking numbers and I just said, “I’ll come. I’m ready. I’ll play.” So it was just that. I went and played four games in that league (AHL) and I got three NHL offers out of those four games. Ultimately I signed with the Boston Bruins because of Mike Milbury. He took a liking to me; Terry O’Reilly took a liking to me. And actually when I was skating with those guys in camp, there was a coach from my league I didn’t get along with very well at the time, John Tortorella, the coach of the Rangers now, said, “This guy can play in the NHL. He’s just got a little bit of an anger management issues.” It was just good hockey people looking out for someone that looked like he wanted to play. I was fortunate that I had people that liked the way I played and felt I could do something if given the opportunity.
WC.com: What were you thinking when you were traded to the Capitals in 1989 (the third time you were traded at that point in time)?
AM: I was actually at a teammate’s wedding and stopped at home before going to the reception; I stopped at my parent’s house in my hometown and I got a call that I had been traded. I was actually pretty upset that I got traded because I was with the Kings and I knew I was good enough. I think the biggest thing with all players is that once you know that you belong and can play everyday is when you’re ready. You’re physically, emotionally ready. I was pretty upset because I wanted to play with [Wayne] Gretzky and I wanted to play in LA because it was the most exciting team in the league. But after I talked with the Capitals, not the first phone call but the next one, I had talked to Terry Murray and it was everything he said to me. I just thought this was the place for me, if he sees that in me, and if they see that in me as a player. Again I was pretty angry at first, but after I talked to Terry Murray this was going to be a good fit for me.
WC.com: What can you recall about the team’s atmosphere when you came in at that time?
AM: What I liked is that it was very organized and structured, as far as everything off the ice especially. The management, training staff, the way I was greeted when I was picked up at the airport by the assistant coach for the team, everything at practice. Everything at our practices and practice facility, wasn’t the greatest at the time, but the way it was organized and everything was set up with our training staff I just thought these guys were all business and I liked that. There was a lot of communication between the coaches and players. There was just so much structure and a guy like me, I’ve always thrived on that structure. So I just kept getting a good vibe from the team, even the way the itineraries were printed I just thought it was going to be a really good thing for me.
WC.com: You were a part of the Caps first trip to the semifinals. What was going through your head during those playoff games?
AM: Well the coaching staff and the players, we were all one at that time. You’ll always hear this from teams that win championships, is that your team is close. I just remember that we believed we would win games. When we beat the New York Rangers I really felt it was the younger guys that really made the difference. You know I kind of had a big mouth and was always joking that we were going to show those older guys how to win and talking trash to our guys. We just didn’t believe that because those teams before us couldn’t get out of our division. I hadn’t played there, John Druce hadn’t played there, and Nick Kypreos hadn’t played there. We all felt that we could do things, even though it hadn’t happened in the past. I thought the attitude of the team became contagious and then our bigger players started coming up big for us. I realize now though that you can’t have injuries. If you’re going to win the Cup, you can’t have injuries to your best players. We had two injuries that took two players out of the lineup and one major injury that took Scott Stevens, who was our best defenseman. He was playing injured every single game and we lost Dino Ciccarelli and Kevin Hatcher. It was just “man if we could stay healthy we could go all the way.” I really felt that if we could get to the finals, the style of hockey that we were playing, with everyone in the lineup, we could stretch out any series and win it.
WC.com: Do you still keep in touch with any of your former teammates?
AM: I still talk to Dino Ciccarelli every now and again. Neil Sheehy is my best friend from then. Johnny Druce, I talk to him all the time. People make fun of us, it’s like every time we’re together it’s like we hadn’t spent a day apart. We get along very well. Nick Kypreos I talk to all the time. Those are the big four. Mostly I’m in contact with Neil Sheehy all the time. The other guys you bump into. Rod Langway I see all the time and you’re happy to see those guys whenever you can because it was a lot of great moments back then.
WC.com: It’s like you said, you were a very close-knit group back then.
AM: That’s the hard part for every athlete when they’re done playing. You have these incredible relationships and you have everything in common. All of the sudden you’re out on your own. It’s like, wow, you had those special bonds with those guys and you’re allowed to continue to be a kid, or to have the enthusiasm of a kid while you’re playing the game; even though it’s a business, you’re happy. I always joke around, “A bad day in the NHL is better than a day anywhere else.”
WC.com: You’re an analyst for Comcast SportsNet. What has that been like for you?
AM: I love my job, I’m very happy with everyone I work with, to be back around the NHL, the Caps, it’s been amazing. I’m a huge hockey fan, that’s why we all play. We love the game of hockey and to be around the best league and you’ve got an exciting team. There have been a lot of ups and downs, for the team, not for myself, but for the team. There’s been injuries, there’s been coaches fired, but you’ve got an exciting hockey team, you’ve got the most charismatic player in game in [Alex] Ovechkin, so many good young players, solid goaltending; it’s been fun to watch. The experience has been amazing. I’ve been fortunate. I always wanted to go into television when I was done, coaching and television, and to be around the team that I really want to be around the most, the Washington Capitals. I considered that my team when I played in the National Hockey League and I want them to do well. I get a great seat and I get to watch them play and I get insider access. It’s been amazing. It’s been a really good run.
WC.com: Can you tell me about anything else you’ve been up to, both on and off the ice?
AM: The biggest thing is I’ve been training hockey players and I’ve been a skating coach since I got out of it. Now I’m seeing my players get drafted and go to college, things like that. That’s how I stay busy during the off-season; I used to do it year round, but the biggest thing is just focusing on getting better television and being around the Caps.