The Los Angeles Kings did not skate on the final off-day of the road trip, but instead met in a ballroom at the hotel in Philadelphia, where they were active, played the soccer game that has become popular across junior, collegiate and professional dressing rooms, and took part in a structured and more dynamic activity that fired up their muscles, opened up their hips and led to a full-body warm-up. Along with the more physical portion of the meeting, John Stevens sat down with the group in an effort to “reroute” their performance after an 0-2-1 start to the road trip so that the staff could “get the team reset a little bit.” They watched video, and while some players ultimately moved on with their day, Stevens followed up with individuals and smaller groups, facilitating good discussions in which points could continue to get across.
Monday will mark John Stevens’ first game as a head coach at the Wells Fargo Center since his October, 2006 – December, 2009 tenure as the Flyers’ coach. Though he grew up in Ontario, he was a second round Philadelphia draft pick in 1984, played for both the Flyers and Phantoms, coached the Flyers and Phantoms, and moved to nearby Sea Isle City, New Jersey, where his sons, John and Nolan, were raised. He has entrenched relationships with figures of the Philadelphia and South Jersey hockey community, from pillars such as Bob Clarke and Paul Holmgren, and down to the grassroots level, where on Sunday morning he credited Guy Gaudreau – Johnny’s dad, and the Director of Ice Hockey Operations at Hollydell Arena in Sewell, N.J. – for influencing the surge of high-level players from the area.Philadelphia has left an indelible mark on Stevens’ professional and family life. He has photos from the Art Museum Steps – popularized as the “Rocky Steps” – from his Calder Cup championship as a Phantoms player in 1998, as the Phantoms’ coach in 2005, and as the Kings’ Associate Head Coach in 2014. (In 2012, he celebrated the Stanley Cup in Ontario.) In each photo, his children grow, inch-by-inch, towards adulthood. His younger son, Nolan, the captain of the Northeastern Huskies hockey team, will be in attendance Monday night.
On Sunday, Stevens spoke about what it meant to be a head coach in perhaps the country’s most sports-mad city and the passion of Los Angeles sports fandom before sharing memories of his 2014 Stanley Cup summer, which intertwined with the celebration held by Justin Williams, who lives in Ventnor, just a short trip up the New Jersey Intracoastal Waterway from Sea Isle City, where he built a home.
“It’s not so much coming back to Philadelphia, where I played and coached, it’s where I raised my family,” said Stevens, who moved to the area six weeks after Nolan was born and when John was two. “If you ask them where they’re from, this is where they’re from.”On what it meant to be the head coach in a city where sports are such an important part of daily life:
It’s a good analogy, and until you’ve lived here, people don’t quite understand what it’s like here because I think people on the outside think fans here are tough, but I always thought the fans here, they come from the passion that they have for sports. Some cities, sports are something that you do. In Philadelphia, sports are the fabric of the community. People don’t just go into an event. They plan their schedules around the schedule, and it’s interesting. The pendulum can swing quickly one way or the other, but it just comes from the deep passion that they have, and for all sports. It’s hockey, it’s football, it’s baseball, it’s basketball. They love sports in the city of Philadelphia, and it’s a huge part of the community, and the passion runs deep here – I think as deep as anywhere.
On passion for the Kings across Southern California:
What I have found going to Los Angeles, I’ve been blown away by the support in L.A. The thing with L.A., there are so many other interests in L.A. that when you’re not at the rink, I don’t think the exposure is what it is in some of the cities like Philadelphia, because if Jon Quick walked down the streets of Philadelphia, he couldn’t look very far because he’d be so recognizable. I just think in L.A., with the weather, the entertainment industry, the college presence out there, the different sports, when you’re not at the rink, I think you get a little bit maybe dispersed in the community, but when you go to the rink, I think the support there is loyal and is as strong as anywhere in the league. The building’s been full in there, the fans are terrific, they’re passionate, they know the game. I think it’s been terrific, but it’s just such a big community with so many other interests, including the weather. The weather is probably a huge interest out there with the ocean and the mountains and the desert and everything else there, but I’d say once you get to Staples Center, it’s as good as it gets anywhere. … I think there are a big group of fans that were the fans when Foxy was playing, right? I think the loyal fan in Los Angeles was terrific, and I think the fact that the team’s had success, they’ve had some long-standing members of the hockey team with Dustin Brown and Kopitar and Doughty and Quick, and the list goes on and on. They’ve really grown a real connection with the team, and I think they’ve had great fans forever, but certainly with the success of the team through the last 10, 12 years with the same players being here, I think it’s only added to that relationship.
On his Stanley Cup celebration memories, and whether he celebrated with Justin Williams in 2014:
We did. We had the Cup back-to-back. I took heat for it, but there was no intention. When I won the Calder Cup as a player in ’98 and as a coach in ’05, we have the picture at the top of the Art Museum Steps where it looks down Ben Franklin Boulevard – the Rocky Steps. So we had it when the kids were [smaller], when I was playing, and then we had it when the kids were [slightly bigger], when I was playing, and then we had the Cup when they were full-grown, so we wanted to have the picture at the same spot, which we did, and Willie did too, because this is where he started. … We did it quietly. We never told anybody we were doing it, but as usual, somebody got a picture of it on social media. But that was the only reason we went there, and then we had it at the Shore, and we had a get-together that Justin and his wife came to, and then I actually took the Cup – I had a good buddy that’s a captain, so we drove it in the morning, early in the morning, right to his dock, through the Intracoastal. It was pretty cool. So, we actually delivered it to his dock and dropped it off to him.
It worked out well, because … we got it, they drove back from, I think Quickie’s place to Toronto. The Cup changes handlers. You can just imagine, everyone’s excited to get the Cup, but if you’re handling the Cup, and you’re exhausted and done with it, and he’s taking it to the next guy that’s excited to have it. So, at the end of seven days, those guys are done, right? They’re going hard. Like, they’re up long days, so they have four guys that rotate through it. They had two come with the Cup. They went to Toronto. Phil – the guy with the white guy with the gloves everybody knows – Phil Pritchard dropped it off, and then two other guys brought it down. So, we met them here, picked them up and came right to the art museum and had pictures on the way to the shore, and then we dropped it off for Willie, and Willie had it for two days. Willie, he’s from a little town called Ventnor, where he lives down here, and he also flew it – he had a plane ready the next day – and he took it back to Cobourg, so he actually took it to both places. But he got a lot done, and they had a parade back there in his home town in Cobourg, and I’m trying to remember where it went after that, but I cant. Everyone thinks, ‘just put in your date, and they’ll give you the Cup.’ But they tell you when you’re going to get it, because logistically it’s got to move its way around. It actually worked out well. He had it middle of July. Willie attended [our party], and then we dropped by his briefly, and we were on our way.
On whether he ever transferred the Stanley Cup in his car:
I had a truck, I had an F-150 that we picked it up, because it comes in a big trunk. But we took it on a boat. We had to go early in the morning. I shouldn’t be telling you this, because I wasn’t supposed to have it overnight, but I did. If you’re familiar with the Intracoastal, there’s a huge intracoastal [waterway] up along the Jersey Shore. You have the Barrier Islands and the ocean, and inside is the Intracoastal. The tides come in and out anywhere from four-to-six feet, so at high tide, it’s easy, right? Especially if you have a jet ski. But [my friend had] a good-sized boat. That morning was dead low tide, so at dead low tide, you’ve got to stay in the channel, so it takes a little bit longer and you’ve got to know what you’re doing. … Every single day, you go out there, people are bottomed out. I bottomed out with jet skis, not knowing where you’re going. … But the channels and marsh, as long as you stay in the channel, and it’s not easy to go from – I’m in Sea Isle. You have to go Sea Isle, Strathmere, Ocean City, Longport, Margate, Ventnor. You’ve got to go through all those towns and no-wake zones. This guy was unbelievable. He knew exactly where to go and he had the depth finders and the GPS and everything. There are these bays that you have to go through, and there’s a big dredge there, because the channels will fill in, so they were dredging the channel. So, these guys, it’s 6:00 in the morning, they’re going into work on the dredger, right? So, they’re walking up, they look over, and we’ve got the Stanley Cup sitting on the back of the boat, because you had to go slow. So, it was kind of funny to see them and how quickly they got their phones out and took pictures. We went and dropped it off, and then when we dropped it off, and then when we came back, they were waiting for us and they recognized the boat. They all came running out because they wanted to get a picture of the Cup, but we had just dropped it off. So, it ended up being a really good day. It was a crisp morning.
I have pictures of the Cup and the boat, and we obviously have hundreds of pictures from the day with the Cup. It was good. Ironically, that day – getting off topic here, but it’s kind of a fun day – but, if you’ve ever been to the Jersey Shore, you know those big rowboats they have on the shore the lifeguards have and are set there so they can do rescues, and it usually has the name of the town. So, Sea Isle City, Atlantic City, all those places. We had the Cup … and the Cup sat right in the middle of one of those boats, so people could get it on the side of the boat and have pictures with it. We weren’t sure how it’d be received, because it’s a South Jersey town. Friggin’, we couldn’t get through the line, there were so many people, right? But I looked over, and you know who was there with his family and who just happened to be there on vacation? Brad Watson, the referee who had reffed a game in the finals. He was there with his family, and he actually went in and had a picture with the Cup at the Jersey Shore, which I didn’t know, but I guess he vacations there every year for a week, and he happened to be there that day when we had the day with the Cup. It felt pretty good.
-Lead photo via Dave Sandford/NHLI