In his first two seasons as Head Coach of the NWHL’s Boston Pride, Paul Mara has guided his squad to an impressive record of 34-6-0. Before he was hired to coach the Pride on May 30, 2018, Mara was an assistant coach for the USWNT that won a gold medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics. That’s a pretty solid start to his second hockey career after being drafted 7th overall in the 1997 NHL Draft, a 12-year playing career in the NHL that spanned 734 games and six teams.
Born in Ridgewood, New Jersey, the 40-year-old Mara is making quite the name for himself in the coaching ranks these days. Especially with the way he has altered the culture for the better around a Pride franchise that went through a major facelift and has just completed its fifth season.
I spoke with Boston’s bench boss following their final regular-season game that capped off an impressive 23-1-0 season which has the Pride on the verge of capturing the second Isobel Cup in franchise history. Mara tells us about his transition from assistant to head coach, his NHL Draft Day memories, and more.
Team USA – NWHL
The Hockey Writers: What do you like best about being a head coach?
Paul Mara: Especially this year, I love the team that I have, and the staff we have. I think everyone has bought into the team system and as a whole everyone contributes in different ways, on and off the ice. It has been a phenomenal team effort and I can’t say enough about the team that we have.
THW: Prior to becoming head coach of the Pride you were an assistant for Team USA, what has been the biggest difference from assistant to head coach?
PM: It’s a bit different. With the USWNT I was running the defense and handled some other things. Here it’s a little different trying to manage everything. But with this team, with our leadership, the captains that we have with Demps (Jillian Dempsey), Fratty (Kaleigh Fratkin), and Lexi (Bender), it’s pretty easy to do when you have a room being taken care of by the players that we have.
THW: You played for a bunch of coaches during your NHL career is there any one main influence on your style or do you take pieces from each one?
PM: It’s funny that you ask that, I have tried to take a little piece of every single coach that I played for. But looking back one that stands out is Rick Bowness, I think he had the most influence on my career. He was an assistant coach when I was in Phoenix and then became the head coach for a little bit. He’s someone that I admired as a coach – the way he communicated, the way he treated his players, the professionalism that he brought to the rink each and every day. I try to emulate some of the things that he did.
12-Year NHL Veteran
THW: You played in a bunch of places during your NHL career, but you were a high first-round pick back in 1997 (7th overall). How big of a deal was it for you and what do you remember about your draft day?
PM: I remember my draft day like it was yesterday (smiles); 1997 and it was in Pittsburgh, my whole family was there. It was an exciting time, you don’t really know where you’re going to get drafted and everyone is speculating different things. When Tampa called my name in the first round it was pretty exciting. My brother (Rob) had been drafted in 1994 (Round 11 by Chicago), three years before I was so following in his footsteps was pretty cool.
THW: As someone from the Northeast it had to be pretty unique playing hockey in Tampa as the sport was gaining success in the sunbelt states, right?
PM: It was great, I was so young at the time. Looking back at it now maybe I didn’t take as much advantage of the great weather. But playing there was a great experience for me and I played a lot there as a young player before I was traded to Phoenix and my career took off from there.
THW: You played for a bunch of teams, was there one that you enjoyed more than the rest?
PM: Not really, I had the luxury of playing in six awesome spots. My heart has always been with New York though, I played for three years. Three playoff years there with New York and I loved it. But each and every city I played in has a piece of my heart.
THW: Growing up in New Jersey were you a Rangers fan?
PM: Ironically yeah. Growing up as a kid I had a bulletin board with John Vanbiesbrouck, Mike Richter, and Brian Leetch on it. It was funny when I got traded there and playing at Madison Square Garden was a pretty big deal for me and exciting.
THW: During the 2005 NHL Lockout you played 35 games in Germany. What was that like?
PM: Yeah I played in Hannover for the Scorpions. It was a lot of fun. I waited until mid-November to go over there but living in Germany and playing there was great. I loved the experience of playing in Europe on the bigger rinks and seeing a different culture up close and personal. It’s great hockey over there. A lot of people in North America don’t realize how good hockey is over there. It was great quality and I had a good time there.