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Stevens Bestows Wisdom upon Next Generation

Top-100 NHL player relies on experience in guiding Wild defense

by Phil Ervin @mnwild /

Scott Stevens can't help himself.

The same forechecker keeps going to the same spot behind the same net. So Stevens steps down from the bench, leans forward and offers up a directive to the nearest defenseman: next time out, pinch in on the rogue forward and try to regain possession.

Never mind that this is a 12U girls Youth Hockey Spotlight Game in Stillwater at which Stevens is serving as an honorary head coach. Before the game, he gave the Ponies a two-minute lecture on stick position and other defensive tactics.

It's instinctive. It's in his blood. In his soul.

Friday night, the name synonymous with ruthless defense received the latest of many accolades -- a spot on the 100 Greatest NHL Players list, fully unveiled Friday night in Los Angeles as part of All-Star Weekend. The League honored him for a playing career that spanned more than two decades, included three Stanley Cups and saw him enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Expertise doesn't begin to describe the breadth of wisdom Stevens now imparts as a Wild assistant.

"You just feed off your experiences and what worked for you and what made you better and the things that really work," Stevens says. "You can pass those on to these guys."

Just like Stevens grew up in Kitchener, Ontario idolizing Maple Leafs blueliner (and fellow NHL 100 honoree) Borje Salming, an entire generation of defensemen remembers Stevens clogging up the ice and clocking New Jersey Devils opponents who entered his parameter.

"Him and guys like Chris Pronger, they're punishers," Wild defenseman Nate Prosser said. "They played a hard-nose style of game that opponents feared when they were up against him."

Said goalie Devan Dubnyk: "How do you not listen to somebody like that? If he's going to tell you a trick or a tip on what to do and how to play, if you're not going to listen to him, you might as well not play, because he knows what he's doing out there."

The game has changed, but Stevens has adapted. He doesn't necessarily preach the style he practiced; today's rules aren't conducive to such a bruising repertoire, and Minnesota's defensive corps isn't constructed that way, anyway.

"I grew up watching hockey when Scott Stevens was just dominating the game, so I always had a little nostalgic feeling about him," defenseman Marco Scandella said. "Having him as a coach is just amazing. But I think the biggest thing at this level in the NHL -- everyone's really good, obviously, to get to this point -- it's just little things and learning how to manage certain players."

Since Stevens joined Bruce Boudreau's first-year staff in St. Paul, those small tweaks have included things like different breakouts, better protection up and down the middle of the ice and net-front presence, all staples of Stevens' game during 22 seasons with Washington, St. Louis and New Jersey and 12 years as the Devils' captain. He oversees the League's fifth-best penalty kill (84.2 percent) and has free reign from Boudreau to change defensive pairings on the fly during games.

The Wild's 2.23 goals allowed per game ranks second in the NHL.

When he's not dissecting film for hours, Stevens is likely in the weight room. Sinewy with gigantic hands, he still looks like he could play. When he did, he collected 908 points, 2,785 penalty minutes and a plus-393 rating in 1,635 games. His games played are second most by a defenseman in NHL history and seventh all-time, and he's tied for 13th all-time in plus-minus and 14th all-time in penalty minutes. He added 118 points, 402 penalty minutes and a plus-46 rating in 233 career playoff games and ranks third all-time in NHL history in playoff games by a defenseman. His 20 years in the playoffs are tied for third all-time.

Stevens' personal trophy case includes the 2000 Conn Smythe, 13 All-Star appearances and roster spots with Canada at the 1998 Winter Olympics, 1996 World Cup, 1991 Canada Cup and four World Championships. But this latest recognition is one of the most meaningful to him, he said.

"To be in the Hall of Fame is one thing," said Stevens, who coached with New Jersey as an assistant and later co-coach from 2012-14. "Now this -- it's quite an honor."

But Stevens is almost as obliged to eat lunch with players after practice and let them pick his brain, as he did with Scandella, Erik Haula, Mikael Granlund and fellow assistant John Anderson earlier this week. 

Stevens and his wife, Donna, have settled into Minnesota, too. Their three children are all out of the house but have been back for every major holiday, including Christmas and Thanksgiving.

It's been a good fit for a legend who's overflowing with knowledge to the point where he virtually has no choice but share it.

"It's been unbelievable," Prosser said. "He's a guy that we all looked up to and kind of want to mirror our game after if we can."

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