Once when John Stevens was the Flyers coach, I wrote a feature about him and his journey. I interviewed his wife, Stacy, in a cold rink in Pennsauken, where she was watching a bunch of snot-nosed kids, including her own, play peewee hockey.
That snot-nosed kid scored the Islanders’ first goal at the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday night.
Which is cool.
“Yeah, it was pretty special,” John Stevens Jr. said after the Islanders rookies rallied to a 4-3 overtime win over the Flyers with three late goals. “I grew up going to games here my whole life pretty much. A lot of people in the building are the same people that are here when I was growing up. So it is a pretty cool experience.”
Left unsaid is that the Stevens family never moved out. Home is still Sea Isle, where Los Angeles scribes found John Sr. this summer for their stories about his ascension from loyal assistant to head coach. He replaced Darryl Sutter, who had won two Stanley Cups in his first three years in L.A.
Hmm, that too sounds familiar. Didn’t that happen here as well … never mind.
His son and namesake signed as a free agent with the Islanders in March after a four-year stint at Northeastern, where he served as their captain last season. The elder Stevens’ other son Nolan — named after one of his two hockey-playing brothers — is entering his senior season at Northeastern. He was selected by St. Louis in the fifth round of the 2016 draft.
Both, like their father, are considered fringe players with an outside chance of playing in an actual NHL game. But if they did, and the opponent was, say, the Kings?
“I’d definitely love for it to happen, but it would be harder for him than for us,” Nolan told reporters several months ago. “He’d have to coach and watch us at the same time, and those would be some tough emotions to handle.”
“But,” John Jr. said, “it would be pretty fun.”
Around the world
Playing their first four games on the road this season will garner the Flyers no sympathy from Stevens Sr. or the Kings, one of the teams they visit on that swing. Los Angeles will literally have been to China and back by the time the two teams meet in the Staples Center on Oct. 5. The Kings and Canucks will play two games as part of the 2017 NHL China Games, a first-ever dabble by the league into that country.
The first game will be held Sept. 21 at Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai. The second is scheduled for Beijing’s Wukeson Arena on Sept. 23.
That’s a grind for any team facing an 82-game schedule. But for a veteran team with a new coach, new GM and a change in overall philosophy, it seems particularly challenging. Not surprisingly, 35-year-old Kings forward Marian Gaborik, who had what was described by the club as an “off-season procedure” on his left knee, will not be making the trip.
Gaborik had 10 goals and 11 assists in 56 games with the Kings last season.
Will Hartnell be Lavvy’s new Nashville captain?
Remember back when Peter Laviolette was the Flyers coach and touting his “leadership group” more than the captain he purportedly was often at odds with? Well, with the retirement of longtime Nashville captain Mike Fisher and with Ryan Ellis out of the lineup until 2018, Laviolette once again has a little leadership crisis to deal with, at least in the short run.
The Preds should be fine over time once Ellis returns and Nick Bonino, their veteran free-agent acquisition from Pittsburgh, rejoins the lineup.
One wild card: Thirty-five-year-old Scott Hartnell, who was part of Lavvy’s leadership group when they both were in Philadelphia, but fell out of favor after Laviolette was fired. Nashville signed Hartnell, whom they drafted in the first round in 2000, to a $1 million contract after he was bought out of the remaining year of his contract by Columbus at the start of free agency.
“Just in my time with Scott, there’s more to him than what you see on the ice,” Laviolette said recently. “I think he’s one of the best teammates inside that room, and he’s one of the guys for me who really cares about all of his teammates and goes out of the way to help young players. Everyone likes Scott, so it’s a really welcome addition, not only on the ice, but in the room.”
This story was corrected to reflect that Scott Hartnell was drafted in 2000.