McFarland returns home as Maple Leafs Assistant Coach

Acadia alumnus named Toronto assistant coach

Photo credit Nick Brancaccio

The Toronto Maples Leafs announced the hiring of Acadia Axemen alumnus Paul McFarland as their new assistant coach this week. McFarland, who played for the Axemen from 2006-2010, will join Mike Babcock’s coaching staff in Leafs country, replacing D.J. Smith who moved on from Toronto to take on the head coaching role with the Ottawa Senators.

McFarland was last year’s special guest speaker at the 20th Acadia Hockey Celebrity Dinner, after he had finished his first season behind the bench with the NHL’s Florida Panthers. A season that saw the Panthers miss the NHL playoffs by just one point. After a second season, alongside head coach Bob Boughner, Panthers management decided to take a different direction and brought in Joel Quenneville as the new head coach, making McFarland a coveted free agent to join the coaching staff of many professional hockey teams.

McFarland grew up in Richmond Hill, a part of the Greater Toronto Area, and went on to play four seasons of major junior hockey, with the Kitchener Rangers and the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL. In his first season with Kitchener in 02-03, the Rangers won the OHL championship and the Memorial Cup. Paul has always been known for his leadership skills and work ethic, serving as the captain of the Windsor Spitfires in the final year of his OHL career.

Paul brought that strong leadership and work ethic to Acadia, after being recruited by long time Axemen head coach Darren Burns. While at Acadia, he played 112 games and did not miss a game over his four seasons, serving as captain of the team for three years. While at Acadia, McFarland was an Academic All-Canadian three times, and was Acadia’s Male Citizen Award winner in both 2008 and 2009. The Paul McFarland Award was established in his honour, recognizing the combination of athletics, academics and community involvement.

Coach Burns expressed his enthusiasm saying “The whole Acadia Hockey Community is so excited to see Paul’s new appointment with the Leafs. As we’ve always said, the sky is the limit for him. After watching him play and having a one hour lunch together, I knew that we needed him to be the leader of our program, and he quickly became that. His impact in the community in the Valley was incredible. There was never a day he didn’t give everything he had. Paul spent everyday of his four years here trying to make our program better. Now he is coaching one of the most prestigious sports franchises of all times. There is no question they will have instant success because Paul is now with them. It’s just great to see.”

In an interview with local Valley writer John DeCoste last year, McFarland acknowledged, “my passion for teaching and coaching, for trying to help young players become better players, started here at Acadia, working with players from Acadia Minor Hockey, then serving three years as captain.

Paul’s former teammate at Acadia, now assistant coach of the Axemen, Kris MacDonald was elated with the news saying, “As a former teammate and a close friend of Paul’s, I couldn’t be happier for him. He was a fantastic captain, and leader during our time at Acadia. His work ethic is contagious to those around him. I look forward to watching him continue to grow as a coach in Toronto.”

Following his time at Acadia & after two years outside of hockey, Paul went on to join the Oshawa Generals as an assistant coach for two seasons, before being named the youngest head coach in the major junior ranks, when GM Doug Gilmour named McFarland to the helm of the Kingston Frontenacs. In 2017, it was time for McFarland to make the big step, to the NHL, joining Boughner’s staff with the Florida Panthers.

Now returning back to his childhood city of Toronto, Paul joins a team with high expectations and a market that is a mecca of hockey. With the Leafs having not won the Stanley Cup since 1967, and a team that has taken great strides after a rebuilding process, the pressure has never been greater to win. McFarland will have the opportunity to work with some of the brightest and most talented stars in the game in Toronto, with Mitch Marner, Austin Matthews, John Tavares, William Nylander, & Morgan Reilly to name a few of the many talents.

Leaf’s fan or not, one thing is for sure, we’ll be watching and cheering on Paul every step of the way this year from Wolfville!