By Deborah Lew
This is the third feature of a special multi-part LAKings.com content series featuring various members of the Kings organization as the Stanley Cup makes its way around North America throughout the summer.
It’s easy to write about Stanley Cup fairy tales and Cinderella stories where players are concerned. They’re in the spotlight, easily the most recognizable faces of any organization – and this isn’t just relegated to hockey.
The truth of the matter is that it takes a team to win a championship, and a team is comprised of more than those on the playing surface. Los Angeles Kings assistant coach John Stevens, is one of those integral people.
Stevens, a defenseman during his playing career, spent parts of multiple seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers, by whom he was drafted in 1984, and the Hartford Whalers, currently the Carolina Hurricanes. As a player he never won a Stanley Cup, but he did win two Calder Cup Championships while playing in the Flyers’ minor league system.
Stevens finally reached hockey’s Holy Grail in his second season as an assistant coach with the Kings, which is perhaps fitting considering Stevens has always loved watching the game where the Cup is awarded.
“It’s a special time, you get to see the reaction of the players, especially the older players who have waited so long to get it, and see how much it means to them,” said Stevens, a native of Campbelton, New Brunswick.
As a coach, watching his own players reach the Promised Land was everything he imagined it would be.
“You demand so much of your players and you push them hard,” explained Stevens. “You’re trying to get them to a place that they’re not sure exists, and when they finally get there, you almost want to pull away and hide and just watch everybody else and enjoy and experience the smiles on their faces.”
The smiles came only after a turbulent season that included a coaching change that required Stevens to take over the head coaching responsibilities for a few days in mid-December.
With Stevens holding a steady helm and the addition of head coach Darryl Sutter, the Kings managed to grab a playoff spot during the last week of the regular season…and the rest, as they say, is history.
“Going into the playoffs we weren’t really scared of anybody, to be honest with you, and I think once we beat Vancouver we realized that we just beat a good team and we were as good as anybody left,” said Stevens. “The tipping point was beating Vancouver. We had a long way to go yet, but I think everybody realized at that point that we had the opportunity to do something special.”
Do something special they did, and Stevens got his reward in a day with Lord Stanley himself, which he spent in the town of Simcoe, Ontario.
“There were three things we wanted to do, we wanted to have a gathering with family and friends, we wanted to get some quiet, intimate time with it, and we wanted to try and make it available to the community, and I think we did all of those things,” said Stevens proudly.
The Stanley Cup, the Conn Smyth trophy, and the Campbell Cup all arrived in Simcoe the evening of July. Stevens planned a party for 125 family members and friends at a winery in southern Ontario where he grew up.
The Stevens family spent the night at Stevens’ brother’s cottage on Lake Eerie, and rose at sunrise to take photos with the Cup on the lake.
“It was an absolutely beautiful day – the lake was flat, the sky was clear and we got some great pictures with the Cup in the morning,” Stevens noted.
The next stop for the Cup was Stevens’ parents’ house, which is about two miles from the lake cottage. The family took more photos at the home before heading to the rink for an annual family hockey game which, this year, included former Kings defenseman Rob Blake and the Kings’ current director of player development, Nelson Emerson, as well as their families.
“That was probably the highlight of the whole day,” recounted Stevens. “It was a closed event, so there weren’t a lot of people around, it was a small intimate group, so it was a pretty neat experience.”
The Cup was then taken to a local police station where a friend of the Stevens family is the Captain. Families of the officers got the chance to take photos with the Cup, after which Stevens took the trophies and participated in a community rally where banners were unveiled to commemorate all of the hometown Cup champions, including Stevens, Blake and Emerson, who began his time with the Cup immediately following.
Throughout the entire experience, one thing that stood out for Stevens is the gratification he received from being able to share the Stanley Cup with those around him.
“It was pretty fulfilling when you call people up to ask them if they want to get together to see the Stanley Cup,” said Stevens, who invited his billet family from his junior hockey days nearly 30 years ago, as well as a farmer he used to work for whom he hadn’t seen in 10 years. “Their reactions were far beyond what I thought they would be and it was a pretty special experience.”
The greatest trophy in sports will do that to people.
Join the conversation on Twitter with the NHL, LA Kings and the Cup Keepers for their summer with Stanley by using the hashtag #StanleyCup
LA Kings: @LAKings
Cup Keepers: @KeeperOfTheCup
Deborah Lew: @by_DeborahLew
For photos of the Kings’ summer with Stanley, view the Hockey Hall of Fame’s ‘Stanley Cup Journal’ CLICK HERE
You can also check out the Stanley Cup on Facebook at Facebook.com/StanleyCup and Facebook.com/TravelsWithStanley
To read about Colin Frasers' ‘MY STANLEY CUP STORY,’ CLICK HERE
To read about Simon Gagne’s ‘MY STANLEY CUP STORY,’ CLICK HERE