Kevin Stevens Pens

KINGSTON, Mass. -- Kevin Stevens knows he was lucky.

When the former NHL forward, who won the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and 1992, battled through a drug addiction that lasted for years and years, he still had family and friends who stood by him. He still had hope.

He knows not everyone does.

That's part of why Stevens, along with his sister, Kelli Wilson, started Power Forward, a foundation which helps fight addiction through education, empowerment and innovation and is working to remove the stigma of addiction.

It was a way to help others through what he had gone through. What he's still going through.

"When I went to treatment and when I was struggling with addiction, the hardest time was when you get out of treatment, like where do you go?" Stevens said. "I always had a place to go because I had family, but there's a lot of people who don't have any place to go."

That's where Power Forward steps in to help. The foundation is able to give out sober living scholarships, which provide up to six weeks of sober housing for people in recovery.

"Some people have nothing. They're living in a car, they're homeless," said Wilson, Power Forward's president. "We're getting them in a safe environment in a sober home."

To that end, the foundation held its first annual Kevin Stevens Power Forward Celebrity Golf Tournament, presented by Walsh Brothers, at the Indian Pond Country Club on Monday. It was a star-studded event that drew a number of former NHL players, including Mark Recchi, Chris Nilan, Derek Sanderson, Randy Hillier and Ted Donato. NHLPA executive director Marty Walsh and former New England Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson were also in attendance.

"I think it helps me too," said Stevens, who had 726 points (329 goals, 397 assists) in 874 games over 15 NHL seasons for the Penguins, Boston Bruins, Los Angeles Kings, New York Rangers, and Philadelphia Flyers. "It's all the same. Everybody's the same. My brain works like the brain of the guy sitting on the street over there. It's no different. We're all addicts. If we don't do something about it, it's going to ruin your life or kill you. It's going to kill you. That's what's going to happen."

Stevens has felt the support from so many in the hockey community in this endeavor. Wayne Gretzky donated a foursome with him and Stevens at Michael Jordan's private golf course in Florida, and there were signed jerseys from Recchi, Mario Lemieux, Mike Eruzione, and Ray Bourque.

It was clear that the relationships that started during his hockey career endure to this day.

In addition to the sober living scholarships, Power Forward is pioneering the use of therapy dogs in sober homes, a project called D.O.E.R. (Dog Ownership Enhancing Recovery). One year ago, a golden retriever named Sawyer went to live at a sober home in Taunton, Massachusetts, called Barracks 22.

It's something they intend to expand to 25, in honor of Stevens' number.

"We're definitely going to make sure that everybody gets an opportunity to really learn about the healing power of dogs," said Wilson, who helped start the foundation after a career in biotech. "Everybody believes it, but nobody ever puts a therapy dog in a sober home."

Wilson added that the dogs go through the same training as those in police work or schools.

"When we put Sawyer, the first one, in Barracks 22 in Taunton, one of the dads called me immediately and said, 'Kelli, I have my son back,'" she said. "He said: 'He never came out of his room. Then Sawyer came. Now he walks him five miles a day, he knows the neighbors, he's become social again, he's not depressed. He has responsibility, accountability and unconditional love.'"

Partnering with Dr. John Gabrieli, a neuroscientist at MIT, Wilson said they will be imaging the brains of residents at the sober homes before their arrival and 30 days after to document the response to the therapy dogs. They are also working with Dr. Eden Evins, who is the director at the center for addiction medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital.

"One person at a time," Wilson said. "If we can save their life, it's worth it."

That's how Stevens feels.

The power forward developed his drug addiction after a collision with New York Islanders defenseman Rich Pilon on May 14, 1993, left his face crushed and brain damaged. Stevens would be arrested twice, but he emerged and has been sober for seven years since his arrest in 2016 for dealing oxycodone.

Today, Stevens still works in hockey as a special assignment scout for the Penguins. And although he's enthusiastic about the new regime under Kyle Dubas, who was hired as president of hockey operations on June 1 and will assume the role of general manager this season, his top job remains the same: his sobriety.

"Treatment is hard. It's hard to get sober. It's the hardest thing I had to do in my life," Stevens said. "I had a lot of good things happen. I won Stanley Cups. But getting sober? I wouldn't be here. That's it. It has to be the No. 1 thing in my life, and it is. Staying sober is the top priority in my life, and that's what I have to do every day. If I don't do that, I don't have any of this."

Or, as Wilson said, "You see what he's done on the ice, it pales in comparison to what he's doing now. And he was a tremendous hockey player."