It’s become almost tradition for John Stevens and Paul Holmgren to get together here, an annual meeting of hockey lifers.
Every summer, Stevens and Holmgren have breakfast at the Jersey Shore. Only about four miles on the waterway separate them — Stevens in Sea Isle City and Holmgren in Avalon. They talk about anything other than hockey: their kids and fishing, among other topics. By the time they’re done, it’s no longer breakfast.
“It usually lasts four or five hours,” Holmgren said.
They couldn’t do it this summer because Stevens was preparing for his first season as head coach of the Kings and couldn’t meet with his former boss and mentor, Holmgren, president of the Philadelphia Flyers. Stevens instead will get a quick hello with Holmgren and the rest of the Flyers’ family Monday when he revisits the organization so responsible for his career path.
“I think everything I had in hockey I’m indebted to them for, both playing and [after],” Stevens said. “They brought me back as a player, and when I got injured, gave me the opportunity to coach before I was probably ready, knowing that I’d work hard at it.”
It was Flyers senior vice president Bob Clarke who first asked minor leaguer Stevens to attend a coaches’ clinic, and Stevens was on his way.
“I got an eye injury where he called my wife before he called me and told my wife I was going to coach,” Stevens said. “That’s the kind of guy he is, but if you know Clarkie and Holmgren and those people, they’re as good as it gets in the game, and my family owes them a lot.”
Stevens started his coaching career with the Philadelphia Phantoms. He coached the Flyers for more than three seasons and took them to the 2008 Eastern Conference finals before he was fired in 2009 by then general manager Holmgren, who also pegged Stevens to be a coach early on.
“He was such an intelligent player, even though he didn’t have a great career as an NHL player,” Holmgren said in a phone interview. “He was a studious, soak-it-all-in type of player. You factor in the integrity of the person and it [made sense for him to coach] … I’m surprised it took him as long as it did to get another opportunity. I’m happy for John.”
Stevens and the Kings are 0-2-1 on this trip but so far it’s been a successful transition from Darryl Sutter. Stevens is polite and measured, at least publicly.
“He hasn’t snapped yet,” Anze Kopitar said. “I think we’re all waiting for that at some point.”
Stevens credits Sutter for showing him how to read a team emotionally. He held an outdoor practice in New York, a day after a lifeless loss to the New Jersey Devils.
“Johnny knows how to have fun at certain times, and he knows how to be stern and kind of lose it on us every once in a while too,” Drew Doughty said. “He has a very good, happy medium with that, whereas there’s longer stretches and longer periods of time when Darryl was here, things weren’t very happy around here.”
Stevens was energized Sunday in his return to the area he called home for 18 years, and where he spent his day with the Stanley Cup. His youngest son, Nolan, a forward at Northeastern, was in town. Monday’s game doesn’t carry extra meaning, but the location does.
“It’s where I raised my family,” Stevens said. “It’s home for my kids. If you ask them where they’re from, this is where they’re from.”
KINGS UP NEXT
When: 4 p.m. PST, Monday.
On the air: TV: FS West; Radio: 790.
Update: The Flyers on Saturday became the third team in NHL history to win six straight games or more immediately after a winless stretch of at least 10 games (0-5-5). They did it on Shayne Gostisbehere’s fifth career regular-season overtime goal. Only John Moore and Brent Burns have scored more such goals among defensemen since Gostisbehere’s NHL debut in 2014.