On Monday, John Stevens joined former blueliner and coach Joe Crozier, Cleveland Barons standout Jack Gordon, and Providence Reds star right wing Zellio Toppazzini as the newest members of the American Hockey League (AHL) Hall of Fame. Each member was recognized for their success and contributions to the AHL during their playing, coaching and management careers.
“It was really a great honor,” Stevens said at STAPLES Center last night prior to the Kings’ 3-2 win against Blue Jackets. “I spent 20 years in the American Hockey League and there are some great players and some people that I know in the Hall of Fame and to be joining that class of players, coaches and management that are in there, already meant a lot to me.”
Although being inducted into the Hall of Fame was a celebration of Stevens’ personal accomplishments, the Cambellton, N.B., native was very humbled by the event. There he took the time to acknowledge those who had been there with him during his tenure in the AHL.
“I’m kind of a humble guy, and to be honest it was kind of an individual award but it’s really a reflection of the teams and the players that I played with,” Stevens said.
“Getting ready for the event, you couldn’t help but think of all the great players and coaches that you’ve played with and how great the fans were through my time there. I got the honor as an individual but it really was a celebration of all the teams that I’ve played with.”
During his time in the AHL, Stevens won three Calder Cups as a player and one as a head coach -- a feat accomplished by only 16 men in the 76-year history of the AHL. Coupled with the championships, Stevens has also cherished his time raising his family and sons in a hockey environment.
“Hockey is a game of honor and respect and I was able to raise my kids in that culture and I think it’s really helped mold them into fine young men as a result of that,” Stevens said. “I really have enjoyed being able to have my kids grow up in that environment.”
Stevens began his professional playing career with the Hershey Bears after being selected in the third round, 47th overall, of the 1984 NHL Entry Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers. With the Bears, Stevens accumulated 61 points (8-53=61) in 282 games.
During the 1986-87 and 1987-88 seasons, Stevens made his NHL debut with the Flyers, appearing in nine games.
Early into his playing career, Stevens took on a leadership role and captained a number of teams including the Springfield Indians, Springfield Falcons and the Philadelphia Phantoms.
“I always felt that it was an honor to be asked [to be captain] on most of the teams I played with,” Stevens said. “I always felt that it was an honor to be asked and it was a responsibility I took seriously.
“As I got to be an older player in the American Hockey League it was one of those things where you’re more like a father figure and mentor some young players along but it’s a responsibility I took very seriously. I tried to play the game and be a good teammate and I was asked to be in a situation which was something I enjoyed doing.“
Stevens divided six seasons between the Hartford Whalers, Indians and Falcons between the 1990-91 and 1995-96 seasons. In 1991 he led the Indians to their seventh and final Calder Cup title before heading to the Falcons for their inaugural season in 1994-95.
After the 1995-96 season, Stevens spent three seasons with the Phantoms before retiring as a players due to an eye injury. Remaining with the club, he served as the assistant coach for two seasons before becoming head coach in 2000.
Stevens describes the initial transition from player to coach as “different.” A player focuses on the individual and what they personally need to do to contribute to the success of the team. In contrast, a coach prepares and focuses on the team as a whole and how each player is an essential piece of the puzzle.
“It’s certainly a lot different,” Stevens explained. “I think with playing, the time is intense but it’s a lot shorter in terms of getting ready to play. As a coach there’s a lot more time dedicated to preparation because you’re preparing for the whole group and you’ve got to think for the whole group all the time.
“For me, playing was the easy part but coaching is very enjoyable. I do enjoy the preparation and a lot of your time in coaching is spent in preparation with your team and for your opponent but that’s something I enjoy very much. I really enjoyed playing but coaching is probably the next best thing to it.”
Now in his second season with the Kings, Stevens continues to be an integral part of the club coaching staff, including play in their defensive zone. The team’s success as penalty killing unit ranks fifth overall at 86.7%.
To read a Q&A with Stevens prior to Hall of Fame night, click here: http://kings.nhl.com/club/news.htm?id=613849.