Carla MacLeod’s love of hockey helped her evolve from player to coach.
Former UW hockey defenseman Carla MacLeod ’06 is heading back to the Olympics in February for a third time — but this trip will be a little different from her first two gold medal–winning journeys. Instead of skating as a player for Team Canada, she will now stand behind the bench, serving as an assistant coach for the Sochi-bound Japan National Team.
“Just the way that I played the game — the way I loved to learn about the game — I think it was somewhat inevitable that I would transition from playing to coaching,” MacLeod says.
Her Wisconsin career extended from 2001 to 2005, during which she served as team captain, received a Big Ten Medal of Honor, and was named national Defensive Player of the Year by U.S. College Hockey Online. MacLeod returned to Madison after the Turin 2006 Olympics to finish her legal studies degree. At the same time, she jumped at the chance to work as an undergraduate assistant for her previous team — an experience that provided a glimpse into the world of coaching.
MacLeod hung up her skates for good after the Vancouver 2010 Olympics and immediately moved into coaching, assisting with Mount Royal University’s program in Calgary, where she now resides. She began an additional opportunity with the Japan National Team in 2012, and she has commuted once a month over the Pacific Ocean ever since.
“I’ll be honest with you,” she says, reflecting on the past three years. “I enjoy coaching more [than playing]. And I loved to play, but I absolutely, completely love coaching.”
MacLeod credits part of her success as both a player and a coach to Mark Johnson ’94, UW’s head coach, whom she played under during her final three collegiate seasons.
“The great thing Mark taught me was simply balance,” she says. “He is such an even-keeled guy, he has his priorities right, and he understands my opinions on what is important in life.”
Johnson, who is familiar with the Olympics himself (he played for the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” team and coached the 2010 U.S. Women’s National Team), always saw MacLeod as a natural leader on the ice, likening her awareness to that of a quarterback in football or a point guard in basketball.
“She was one of those players who was a coach on the ice — one of your players who understood the game, how it was supposed to be played, and could break it down,” Johnson says. “I always felt that if she decided to go into coaching, she would be very good at it.”
MacLeod met head-to-head with her former coach and mentor in September, when the Japanese National Team made a stop at the UW on its five-game North American exhibition tour. Team Japan fell 3-0 (although it won an added shootout, 2-0), but MacLeod and Johnson viewed the game as a win-win experience for the teams.
The match also served as a homecoming of sorts for MacLeod, who still cherishes her time in Madison. Despite not experiencing a national championship while at the UW — a feat the program achieved in four of the six seasons that followed — MacLeod is proud to have been part of the building effort.
“When I do some public speaking now,” she says, “I always tell people, ‘If I could relive four years of my career, it would be the four years at Wisconsin — not the four years with two Olympics in them.’ ”