From minor pee-wee hockey to the NHL, Hamiltonian Steve Staios takes us through his 18-year career and beyond.

Growing up around the area of Main Street West and Haddon Avenue South, former National Hockey League player Steve Staios began his hockey journey playing in a minor hockey league for the Hamilton Huskies at Wentworth Triple rink. It was not until Staios was seven years old when he began playing hockey; over the years, he managed both soccer and hockey as two main sports until he devoted his undivided attention year-long to the ice rink at 15 years old. 

Staios was drafted into the Ontario Hockey League by the Niagara Falls Thunder; a year later, he was drafted into the NHL. With that being said, the transition was definitely not an easy one to endure. 

“The transition from the OHL to professional hockey was a steep curve for me. I got injured in my first year. I tore my [anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament], so I got reconstruction knee surgery. So, it was off to a pretty tough start. I played in the minors for three seasons and then I found my way to pro hockey,” said Staios. 

“The transition from the OHL to professional hockey was a steep curve for me. I got injured in my first year. I tore my [anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament], so I got reconstruction knee surgery. So, it was off to a pretty tough start. I played in the minors for three seasons and then I found my way to pro hockey,” said Staios.

Despite Staios bouncing around several teams within the league during the beginning of his career, it was not until he ended up in Edmonton with the Oilers where he found his home, spending about 10 years of his life there. Staios also had an opportunity to play for two more Western Canadian teams, the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks. 

[/media-credit] Steve Staios on the ice as an Edmonton Oiler.

As an Oiler, Staios’ trip to the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals was arguably his greatest moment but also greatest disappointment. 

“In 2006, the team we had was a close-knit team. We qualified for the playoffs as an 8th seed. We weren’t expected to do a lot, but then we went on a magical run into the Stanley Cup Finals,” said Staios. 

“In 2006, the team we had was a close-knit team. We qualified for the playoffs as an 8th seed. We weren’t expected to do a lot, but then we went on a magical run into the Stanley Cup Finals,” said Staios. 

Losing their starting goalie Dwayne Roloson in game one to a series-ending injury created a massive challenge for the team. Despite that, the Oilers were able to force a game seven, where they unfortunately came short of being a Stanley Cup Champion. 

To put it short, the emotions during their run were “machine-like”.

“When you go on a run like with a team, as an individual, you become sort of a product of your routine and environment. These emotions become consistent. You have butterflies before the game, you have the vigour and energy of competing, and then you have the rest before the next game. The emotions afterwards were incredible. Whether you win or lose, all these athletes and teams go through it,” explained Staios.

Staios exclaimed such emotions are also of similar nature on the international level, to which he won two gold medals playing for the national team at the World Champions in 2003 and 2004

“One of the greatest memories is holding my two kids on the blue line singing the national anthem after winning a gold medal in Prague wearing a Team Canada jersey. It is the most incredible joy and feeling that I will never forget,” said Staios. 

“One of the greatest memories is holding my two kids on the blue line singing the national anthem after winning a gold medal in Prague wearing a team Canada jersey. It is the most incredible joy and feeling that I will never forget,” said Staios. 

[/media-credit] Steve Staios (second from right) with his family after winning the gold medal at the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.

After Staios’ playing career ended with the New York Islanders, he was provided with an opportunity by then-General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs Brian Burke to take on a managerial role for the team. Staios was eventually hired as a player development advisor

During his three seasons with the Leafs, Staios transitioned from advisor to manager and then eventually to the director. But Staios’ managerial career took a turn when head coach Randy Carlyle was fired and Staios was placed behind the bench as an assistant coach. 

“It was incredible. Working for the Toronto Maple Leafs is something I didn’t set a goal to do, but it was unbelievable and a learning experience. Credit to the entire staff and leadership, getting to work with some incredible people,” said Staios. 

“It was incredible. Working for the Toronto Maple Leafs is something I didn’t set a goal to do, but it was unbelievable and a learning experience. Credit to the entire staff and leadership, getting to work with some incredible people,” said Staios. 

Staios’ time with the Maple Leafs allowed him to explore the different aspects of the organization from bottom to top, which helped him currently run the Hamilton Bulldogs. 

[/media-credit] Toronto Maple Leafs interim head coach Peter Horachek (left) and assistant coach Steve Staios (right) on the bench with forward James van Riemsdyk (21) and forward Mike Santorelli (25) and forward Richard Panik (18) against the Washington Capitals during the second period at the Air Canada Centre (Jan 7, 2015 - Toronto, Ontario, CAN).

When Staios left the Maple Leafs to become the president of the Bulldogs, he received some mixed reaction from individuals attempting to persuade him to stay with the NHL team. Yet, being from Hamilton and persuasion from Bulldogs team owner, Michael Andlauer, he was convinced to put junior hockey “back on the map”. 

“We just haven't had great success in junior hockey in Hamilton. I felt sort of an underdog and wanted to put junior hockey back on the map in my hometown,” said Staios

“We just haven't had great success in junior hockey in Hamilton. I felt sort of an underdog and wanted to put junior hockey back on the map in my hometown,” said Staios

As Staios mainly had a background in playing as opposed to the business operations of the team, there was still a lot to learn as president and general manager of the team. 

[/media-credit] President Steve Staios (left) with Hockey Night in Canada's Ron MacLean (right).

Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, there is still some uncertainty regarding the 2020-2021 OHL season, as with the new provincial lockdown, the season has been delayed even further. Staios still hopes that with the rollout of vaccines and return-to-pay protocol, a season can be salvaged this year. With that being said, there is still great optimism within the team.

Fraser Caldwell

Sports Editor

 

Somewhere in that adolescent transition between The Land Before Time and Trainspotting, I discovered the Rock’em Sock’em series.

It was the summer of ‘98 and I was at the peak of my interest in Canada’s national game, and my Dad – eager to feed the puck frenzy – had picked up a used copy of Don Cherry’s 1996 effort at a local firesale.

The jacket was frayed and scarred from use, but Cherry’s grinning mug and his trusty pooch were still visible. The tape itself was a wreck. One particular Mario Lemieux scoring play was so obscured by grain and tracking bands that it took a TSN special years later to make me realize its brilliance.

But despite the despicable quality of the thing, I was struck. Cherry’s compilation had everything that a young sports fan needed. The dekes, the hits, the saves and even the friendly health and safety advice handed out with that trademark gruff paternalism. It all resonated with me.

And for many years that early identification was enough to keep my faith with Grapes. When I met him at the age of 15 – at a meaningless midseason Hamilton Kilty-B’s game – I stammered through an autograph request like any other pubescent Canuck. Cherry was still an immortal for me.

But there’s only so long that one can ignore the man’s flaws, so loudly blared as they are on national television. Eventually the continuous bigotry and old-guard stubbornness contaminate even the most high-minded of messages.

My personal process of disillusionment with Cherry had been ongoing for several years, and I’ve long since stopped reading Coach’s Corner as gospel. But on Saturday night, Grapes embarked on a rant that truly put the final nail in a coffin I’d been steadily sealing.

That night, Cherry took his customary seat beside Canada’s favourite yes-man with his verbal guns fully cocked. In his teleprompter sights was Leafs General Manager Brian Burke and a supposedly insidious recruiting policy that neglected Toronto’s teeming local talent pool in favour of the hated Yank.

And for nearly five minutes he fired away, spewing a perversely patriotic and unnecessarily aggressive rant devoid of logic and held up by only a single meaningless number: Zero. The number of Ontario-born players currently lacing up their skates for the Blue and White.

You see, Don has found the source of the Buds’ longstanding and well-documented struggles. It’s not the green goaltending tandem that shies away from a puck as if it bore leprosy. It’s not the defensive unit with the attention span of a seven year-old at Halloween.

In fact, the cancerous element at the heart of Toronto’s continual struggles is their lack of talent from their home province. Why does this inherently matter? Well, because as Don loudly points out, everyone else has someone around who calls Ontario home.

After all, even the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins – located dead in the centre of the United States’ blue-blooded hockey belt – had seven Ontarians on their active roster while they raced to the title.

Cherry goes further, and leans on the staid tenets of the tried-and-true “Home Cooking Theory.” Because as Grapes and a legion of fellow amateur psychiatrists the world over argue, players are more driven to perform in their home markets.

With Granny and the rest of the tribe in the stands, an athlete supposedly feels more obligated to perform and his or her efforts are bolstered by the increased pressure and scrutiny.

Lastly, Cherry postulates that the Maple Leafs under Burke are cruelly robbing Ontario’s hoard of aspiring hockey players of crucial local role models. How are the province’s young puck-herders supposed to strain toward greatness when their beloved Buds are conspiring to keep them from donning the Blue and White?

Let me address all three of these grievances with a little more argumentation than I offered upon first witnessing Cherry’s diatribe (when my only recourse was a broken-record chorus of the term ‘horsesh**t’).

In rebuttal of the first, numerically derived complaint let me offer a few figures of my own. Yahoo’s Greg Wyshynski, in a Puck Daddy blog post regarding the rant on Monday provided a plus/minus rating for each NHL team in which an Ontario-born player was an addition and an American one was a subtraction.

The most successful teams in the NHL at the time of writing were the New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks, the leaders of the Eastern and Western Conference standings respectively. Both squads find themselves in the minus column, with the Rangers boasting a minus two (six Ontarians versus eight Americans) and the Canucks a minus one (five Ontarians versus six Americans).

How about a team actually located in the province? The Ottawa Senators, the Leafs perennial opponents in the “Battle of Ontario” are also a minus squad (five Ontarians versus six Americans).

Wonder why? Because general managers are aware of a very basic biological fact: talent on the rink is not the sole genetic property of residents of Ontario. Some very promising hockey players hail from across a large body of water known as the Atlantic Ocean. Others even call the United States (gasp!) home.

What about the assertion that I’ve derisively billed as the “Home Cooking Theory?” I find this whole concept a little confusing on a basic psychological level. One’s friends and family are – by any conventional definition – the people most likely to be supportive of one’s endeavours.

Excluding those players with lingering Daddy issues, why should an athlete be particularly motivated to perform by the presence of those who already adore him or her for earning millions of dollars to play a game for a living?

Doesn’t it make somewhat more sense that playing in a place where members of the national media practically outnumber the sell-out crowd might provide a more propulsive source of pressure? How can a person plying their trade in a place that bills itself as hockey’s Mecca require more motivation?

Now to Cherry’s last complaint, the idea that Burke and his organization are somehow failing their community by virtue of not parading an Ontario resident around the ice. This concept makes a fundamental assumption that I cannot accept.

That basic tenet is that a person in Burke’s position has an inherent obligation to the area in which he serves to provide inspiration for its residents in the form of locally bred role models. Being a lifelong fan of the Blue and White (and incidentally, masochist) and longtime hockey player, I have to argue otherwise.

I had two primary hockey idols as a young and aspiring goalkeeper, only one of whom was a Maple Leaf and neither of whom was Ontarian by birth. The first was the acrobatic Felix Potvin, who, while he donned the Blue and White for several seasons, was as French by extraction as the road signs in his native Chicoutimi.

The second was an American (gasp!) who had the good sense to never cross the border and quite naturally won a Stanley Cup. That man was Mike Richter, whose inspirational force in my case derived from his Yale education and the dogged playing style that saw him succeed despite his size.

Never did it cross my mind to idolize a player simply because I could walk down the block and shake his father’s hand, or play shinny on a Sunday with his younger brother. Because that’s not how idols are chosen.

We look up to those we choose to on the basis of individualized criteria, ones that aren’t geographically or ethnically driven. We do so because something in them resonates with us.

That’s why I simply cannot idolize Don Cherry any longer.

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