Following an All-America playing career at Holy Cross that resulted in a single game with the Boston Bruins and more than 20 years mentoring college goaltenders, 2006 was going to be Jim Stewart's farewell to hockey.
Stewart earned a 1985 national championship coaching Darren Puppa and Adam Oates at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute before spending five years as a volunteer assistant at the University of Massachusetts. He was leaving the game to focus more on his family. But all of a sudden, a young goaltending prospect named Jonathan Quick compelled Stewart to stick around for one final season.
Yes, the same Jonathan Quick that just finished re-writing the Stanley Cup Playoffs record book with his campaign for the ages and the same Jonathan Quick that is one of three finalists for the Vezina Award at Wednesday's 2012 NHL Awards in Las Vegas.
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"My wife gave me the blessing for one more year and I said, 'You know what? Jon's going to be a sophomore, he's going to play a lot. We'll certainly be better,'" said Stewart, who simultaneously worked for the state's Department of Recreation and Conservation managing Massachusetts' hockey rinks and swimming pools. "It was hard to juggle all these things. We managed to do it for some time, but I was getting run down. I basically said I would do one more year because I thought Jon was going to have a pretty good year, and he did. Then I wrapped it up."
Under Stewart and UMass head coach Don "Toot" Cahoon, Quick didn't just have a pretty good year in 2006-07. He had a historic season for a program that was shelved in 1979 before returning to Division I in 1993. As a sophomore, the star goaltender from Milford, Conn., took the team to the NCAA tournament for the first time, earning All-America honors and setting single-season records for wins, appearances, saves and minutes, as well as career marks for save percentage, goals-against average and saves per game.
Stewart's final season became one of his most memorable.
"[Quick] was a great skater, great competitor, but young. We taught him about watching video and practicing hard all the time. Stuff like that," Stewart told NHL.com. "His sophomore year, he put it all together and had a tremendous year."
After the breakout 2006-07 season, Stewart and Quick embarked on new lives. Stewart left hockey to focus on his family and full-time job in Boston, and Quick reported to the Manchester Monarchs, the minor-league affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings, who drafted him the summer before his freshman year at UMass.
With Stewart occasionally itching for some hockey, and his star goaltender barely two hours away in Manchester, N.H., it wasn't long before the retired coach and NHL prospect began meeting. Working more as a guide than as a coach, Stewart drew from his pro experience, offering the kind of wisdom that could be invaluable to a 21-year-old.
"The stay-at-home defensemen are key to everything. I told Jon, 'Take those guys out for dinner as much as you can. Those guys are going to save your bacon.' We ended up talking about a lot of things like that," Stewart said. "I told him, 'If you can just dedicate yourself for about 300 days in a row here, you will be a millionaire.' I knew he would understand that."
Around the time Stewart began sending his daughters off to college, Quick started a family of his own while becoming one of the world's top goaltenders. Through the years, the former coach was asked about his one game with the Bruins, but as the hockey world witnessed Quick turn in a postseason performance for the ages this spring, people began approaching Stewart with questions about his former player.
When Quick was given the Conn Smythe trophy following the Kings' Cup-clinching Game 6 win over New Jersey, he made sure to mention the coaches who got him to that point. That list included his old goaltending coach from UMass, who was beaming back in Spencer, Mass..
"We were watching a game in the Phoenix series and I looked at my wife and said, 'You know what's unbelievable? They can win the Cup.' I never thought that until then," Stewart said. "[When] it was time to wrap [up my career], I could tell. You miss some of it, but there's got to be a priority. I just wanted to finish up strong with one last push. And Quick was the goalie. A pretty good goalie to finish up with, as it turns out."