Retired defenseman Steve Duchesne sometimes focuses on making sure his 17-year-old daughter doesn’t meet a hockey player.
It’s not that hockey players are bad guys. Quite the contrary, actually. But Duchesne, a 16-year NHL veteran with 1,113 games of regular season experience, knows first-hand how much the game can demand: the physical and mental challenges, the frequent moves and most importantly, the extended time away from family.
“As a player, I was very selfish as far as being a husband and a father. It was all about me,” Duchesne said recently. “But (retiring from hockey) made me realize that there’s more than that. I try to live life to the fullest, especially with my family. I’m blessed. I really am.”
For a guy that went undrafted, Duchesne carved out quite a career for himself. He played for six NHL teams, including two stints with the Blues (1993-95 and the 1997-98 season), appeared in three NHL All-Star Games and won a Stanley Cup with Detroit in 2002. He reflects on his time in St. Louis fondly; he had three solid seasons playing alongside players like Brett Hull, Wayne Gretzky, Al MacInnis, Chris Pronger, and Dale Hawerchuk, to name a few. He played in 163 games with the Blues, recording 38 goals, 87 assists and a plus-39 rating.
He even considered making St. Louis a permanent home for his wife, Tracee, and their two kids.
“I’ll tell you what, St. Louis was an emotional time and it was a roller coaster,” he said. “I really loved St. Louis and we actually had a great time. I think back on the players we had and think ‘wow.’ We had some good years, we were winning and you always want to be in a place where you have a chance to win a Cup. St. Louis was definitely close at the time. It’s such a great sports town and having a parade there would have been unbelievable.
“It’s real close to my heart.”
Making St. Louis a permanent home, like so many Blues Alumni tend to do, didn’t work out for the Duchesnes. After the 1998 season, Steve returned to the Los Angeles Kings, where his career originally began in 1986. He eventually would finish his career with the Red Wings in 2002. Now, he makes his home in Westlake, Texas so he can be closer to his in-laws. “I wanted the kids to be closer to grandma and grandpa,” he said.
Although his primary focus is now on being a good husband and father, his passion for hockey has never waned. He began coaching a midget AAA team in Dallas and eventually met Texas businessman Doug Miller, who along with Duchesne, purchased the Central Hockey League's Allen Americans three years ago. Since then, former Stars Mike Modano, Ed Belfour, Craig Ludwig and Richard Matvichuk have joined the ownership group.
It’s been quite a transition for Duchesne, who went from an on-ice role to being a member of front office management.
“As a player, I never really knew what the (front office) staff was doing. But being in this position right now, I tell our players that every time you see one of the guys upstairs, I want you to thank them,” he said. “They work hard, a lot of them are underpaid and they have to work a lot of hours to sell seats. As a player, you have to perform, but what they’re doing on the second floor is a lot of work. It’s rewarding but it’s not that easy.”
Perhaps most rewarding is that the Allen Americans serve as a stepping stone to the American Hockey League. Last season, Duchesne helped 14 players reach the AHL and one, Jordie Benn, made his debut in the NHL.
Outside of hockey, Duchesne also recently got involved with SocialRain, an analytics and social media management company.
Like most players, he realizes he owes everything to the game. Sure, being on the road a lot kept him from being much help to his wife, who raised both of their children. But hanging up his skates made him realize just how important family was.
“(Hockey) taught me a lot. As a player, at first in my career, I wanted to do a lot of things on my own. But I realized the only way to shine out there was to be a teammate and treat my teammates special,” he said.
The same could be said for family.
“I’m grateful for everything that happened to me, and I don’t take anything for granted,” he said.