EL SEGUNDO, CA — While fans of the Los Angeles Kings are up in arms over their team’s inability to improve themselves to this point in the 2010 off-season, venting their frustrations in no uncertain terms on virtually every Kings-related forum on the World Wide Web, life does indeed go on.
With the departure of assistant coach Mark Hardy, who resigned on June 11 (see LA Kings Assistant Coach Mark Hardy Resigns), the Kings strengthened their reputation as “Flyers West” when they hired John Stevens as an assistant coach on June 24, 2010 (see Los Angeles Kings Name John Stevens As Assistant Coach).
Stevens, 44, earned a 120-109-34 record as head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers, a position he accepted on October 22, 2006, after the Flyers got off to a 1-6-1 start that season.
The native of Campbellton, New Brunswick began that season as an assistant coach and wound up leading the Flyers to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2007-08, before being fired on December 5, 2009, after the team was shutout in two consecutive games.
Coming from the Flyers, Stevens was familiar to Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi and Vice President/Assistant General Manager Ron Hextall, who both worked for the Flyers before joining the Kings.
Stevens should be able to mesh well with Kings head coach Terry Murray, who was a Flyers assistant coach under Stevens.
“Terry and I worked together for a couple of years,” said Stevens. “When you work with another coach for that length of time, you’re pretty comfortable with the way things are run.”
“It’s a great organization,” added Stevens. “Development Camp has been pretty neat for me to be involved with, to see how things are run. It’s only been a few days, but it’s been great.”
Although Stevens has only had a couple of months to get his feet wet with the Kings, so far, so good.
“It’s going to work out really good,” said Murray. “He’s a real intelligent guy. He’s very confident with the group in his presentations. He’s been a head coach in the NHL [National Hockey League], he’s been in the AHL [American Hockey League] for a lot of years and was very successful there. Fitting in is seamless.”
“To get on the ice and know exactly what it is we’re doing with our structure, our system—he’s been through this process with the development side of it with the Flyers,” added Murray. “It’s a great add to our team.”
With Murray having been an assistant coach under Stevens, having the roles reversed might be more than awkward. But don’t expect it to become an issue.
“We had a great staff in Philadelphia,” Stevens explained. “It was great when Terry was there. We leaned on each other heavily. There’s a lot of responsibilities and you have to divvy them up, delegate and let other people do things. You cover more ground that way, so I don’t see it a whole lot differently.”
“Terry is going to steer the ship,” Stevens added. “He’s going to decide the path we’re going to take and it’s up to people like me to support him as best we can. That’s a role I’m very comfortable with.”
“I’ve always been a team first guy. I was when I played and it’s no different now. I’ll try to help in any way I can. I think I’ve been involved in the game in a lot of different capacities and I think I have an ability to take on whatever tasks Terry and [assistant coach] Jamie [Kompon] and the staff deem necessary for this team to have success.”
At the time of his firing, the Flyers’ problems extended well beyond their head coach, even though he wound up taking the fall. But rather than react negatively to the situation, Stevens took a more positive tact.
“When you’re fired somewhere and you move on, you think negatively,” he said. “But when I look back at my time in Philadelphia, there’s an awful lot more good than bad.”
“I’m very thankful for the time I had in Philadelphia,” he added. “Great organization, great group of people and the players you work with there. But when you get removed from that situation, you need to learn from it. I certainly pulled back and looked at the success we had and looked at the situations and relationships in place there. I tried to evaluate myself on ways to get better and things to do differently.”
Stevens emphasized that the experience gained from his time as the Flyers head coach and his subsequent firing will be valuable down the road.
“It certainly made me better as a coach and I think now, getting back in and getting a chance to work with Terry again, I’ll be learning on the job, learning the Western Conference. That experience, along with this one, will only prepare me more as I move forward,” said Stevens.
Since Lombardi took over as general manager, he has stressed accountability and character, as has Murray, and, from the sound of it, Stevens is going to fit right in on both fronts.
“When I played the game, it was all about the team,” Stevens noted. “Whatever sacrifice and commitment I had to make for the team, I was going to make it. I think my teammates respected me for that and it’s no different for coaching. It’s a team first attitude and it’s hard work, you don’t care who gets the credit. It’s all about helping the team any way you can.”
“That’s the way I was as a player and I think the guys who know me as a coach, that’s the way I’ve always been,” Stevens added. “I’m a real team-oriented guy and the LA Kings are as well. That’s why it was an attractive situation for me.”
The Kings being a young team on the rise certainly helped Stevens make the decision to move out West.
“LA is really on the rise and has put together a good team of young players complemented with veteran players,” said Stevens. “Those opportunities don’t come along every day and I was excited that I was considered for this job.”
Two of those young players who are responsible for the Kings being on the rise, blue liners Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty, will be working closely with Stevens, who will handle the defensemen.
“[I’m] pretty impressed with both of them,” said Stevens. “Jack Johnson is a gritty, skilled guy who can skate and have a real impact on the game.”
“Doughty—the way he’s played at his age, coming into the league—the minutes he plays and the poise he plays with,” added Stevens. “The real impressive situation was how well he played in the [2010 Olympic Winter Games] with the guys around him who were veteran guys and probably one of the most intense stages you could play in, and he was terrific.”
“I haven’t gotten a chance to meet those guys yet, but I certainly admire them as players. I’m excited about the opportunity to help them in any way I can.”
Stevens was also itching to get back into the NHL.
“I’ve been out of the game for about six months or so, he explained. “It wasn’t a long time, but, looking back, it seems like a long time.”
“I love to coach,” he elaborated. “The whole winter, I helped out my kids’ teams and the local high school team. I loved it, I love to be involved. When this opportunity came along, it just seemed like it fit in so many ways. I just want to get back involved with hockey and I love to teach.”
Raw Audio Interview with John Stevens (unedited; 5:17 – questions by colleague Jonathan Moncrief of the Examiner, who covered everything I had lined up for Stevens)
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