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History lessons: Montgomery, Stevens share unique bond

The Stars head coach and new assistant have built a special friendship over the past 20-plus years in hockey

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

The relationship between Jim Montgomery and John Stevens goes back 20-plus years, so when the opportunity presented itself that the duo could finally work together, it was sort of a no-brainer.

The Stars on Monday announced that Stevens will join Montgomery's coaching staff with fellow assistants Rick Bowness and Todd Nelson. In addition to now having four people with NHL head coaching experience on the same staff, Dallas gets a person who has a tremendous relationship with Montgomery.

The two first became friends as players on the 1997-98 Philadelphia Phantoms, and then continued that relationship throughout their coaching careers, including Montgomery coaching Stevens' son John Jr. in the USHL. They can pretty much go back and tell stories every season of an important conversation they had.

 

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"I consider him a mentor/friend," Montgomery said. "The first time I got a head coaching job (with Dubuque of the USHL in 2010), I drove to his house. I was in Albany at the time and he had his place down at the shore in Jersey. I spent three days with him and he took me through A-to-Z how he ran his team from training camp right through playoffs. How much that helped me was incredible."

Stevens, 53, had already been a head coach in the AHL for six seasons and for four more in the NHL with the Flyers. Montgomery had been a college assistant coach for five seasons at that point, and he said the information from Stevens was instrumental in helping him get the head coaching gig at the University of Denver in 2013, and eventually with the Stars.

Montgomery talked with Stevens before he took the job with Dallas in 2018, and he said he talked with Stevens during the playoffs in the spring. Steven said the talks helped him after he was fired by the Los Angeles Kings last season. Stevens had worked with the Kings for nine seasons, and said he tried to keep current with the NHL.

Video: Stevens brings new perspective to Stars' staff

"I talked to Monty a lot throughout the year, especially at the end of the year when they're getting ready for the playoffs," Stevens said. "Conversations with him helped me dial back into the game and really get into the analytic part of it, as opposed to just watching as a fan."

Stevens said the dialogue was always easy and unforced, and that's one of the reasons he enjoyed it.

"I don't think, as coaches, we have enough opportunities to do that, but certainly with our relationship, we had no problem picking up the phone and talking hockey," Stevens said. "It was usually short and to the point and then 'Hey, I got to go,' because we're busy. But we talked a lot."

 

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Now, the two will get to have daily conversations in the pursuit of making the Stars better. Stevens, who was a defenseman when he played, will do a lot of pre-game scouting and preparation, while Bowness takes care of the defense and penalty killing, and Nelson helps with the forwards and power play.

That said, his experience as a head coach in both the NHL and AHL will make Stevens a huge part of everything the Stars do.

"I think with any good staff, you have overlap, and coaches are comfortable with overlap," Stevens said. "And I certainly think that will be the case here."


Stevens would have likely had his pick of jobs as an assistant coach and the Stars had to make the sacrifice of not re-signing Stu Barnes, whose contract had expired. But it was clear that Montgomery wanted to bring his friend in, and Stars general manager Jim Nill said he was impressed with Montgomery's determination for the move.

"I said, 'I like where you're heading. You want the best and that's what we want to get to.' " Nill said. "I think it's a great addition."

As for four coaches who each have head coaching experience (Stevens with the Flyers and Kings; Bowness with the Jets, the Bruins, the Senators, the Islanders and the Coyotes; Nelson with the Oilers; and Montgomery with the Stars). Montgomery said he's excited by that element.

 

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"It's something I like in my assistant coaches," Montgomery said when asked about Stevens' experience. "I like people who have been in my chair and aren't afraid to speak up and tell me if I'm doing things right or wrong. He's not. I was talking to him in the playoffs this year and he asked me: 'Why did you start that line in Game 6?' And, I was like, 'You have a good point, why did I start that line?'

"You reflect upon it, and that's what you want -- you want people to push you."

Especially people you trust.

Video: Montgomery discusses Stars adding Pavelski, Perry

"Last year, I remember calling him and we had a two-hour phone conversation about what would you do if you were me?" Montgomery said about his decision to leave the University of Denver. "Do you leave Denver for Dallas? And looking at other options as well when I went through it. He's the one that said 'Go to Dallas. It's time.' That really influenced my decision."

As fate would have it, Stevens is going to Dallas, too.

He said he's excited about working with his friend and working with a team that he believes is ready to win.

 

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"Really, the only thing I've ever wanted was to work with good people and have a chance to win," Stevens said. "Looking at Dallas, I've heard nothing but great things about Jim Nill and you get to meet him and you understand why. I think Monty is a winner. You've got Ricky Bowness, who I just have enormous respect for a long time. I love the way the team plays here. I think they've got some star players that are hungry to win."

Stevens has been a part of three AHL champions as a player, one AHL champion as a head coach and two Stanley Cup champions (2012 and 2014 with Los Angeles) as an assistant coach, so he knows what a winner looks like.

"Here's someone who has won at a high level for a long time," Montgomery said. "Someone who understands people and what it takes to win, and just adds another layer of leadership to our team. I know he's going to fit in."


 
Get to know new assistant coach John Stevens

Age: 53

Birthplace: Campbellton, New Brunswick

Position: Defenseman, drafted 47th overall in 1984 by the Philadelphia Flyers.

NHL playing career: Played 53 games with the Flyers and Hartford Whalers, tallying 10 assists.

AHL playing career: Played 834 games, totaling 188 points (21 goals, 167 assists); member of three AHL championship teams as a player (1988 with Hershey, 1991 with Springfield, and 1998 with Philadelphia).

Coaching career: Head coach with the Philadelphia Phantoms in the AHL, compiling a 230-181-33-25 record and winning 2005 AHL championship; assistant coach with Flyers and Kings, serving on Kings' Stanley Cup champion teams in 2012 and 2014; head coach with Flyers and Kings, compiling 120-109-34 record.

Did you know?: His sons both play in the AHL -- John Jr. with Bridgeport, and Nolan with San Antonio.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.

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