Steve Sullivan on the Coyotes and the Rock

Steve Sullivan on the Coyotes and the Rock
Returns to the NHL’s Coyotes for his second season as the team’s player development coach

BY: Benjamin Aubé – The Daily Press

TIMMINS – Hopefully former NHLer Steve Sullivan didn’t think he was done with travelling after he hung up his skates.

The Timmins native is set to enter his second season as player development coach for the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes, the franchise he spent part of his final season as a player with in 2012-2013.

Sullivan was back in his hometown for the past few weeks, co-ordinating his arrival with the 25th anniversary of the Lever-Sullivan Classic, the golf tournament and fundraiser co-named for Sullivan and fellow former NHLer Don Lever.

But after a few weeks spent reconnecting with family and friends, the reality of the NHL’s short off-season is about to set back in for Sullivan.

On Thursday, he’ll be returning to Arizona, only to be shipped back up to Calgary next Monday in time for Team Canada’s World Junior Championship summer camp. Three of the Coyotes’ recent draft picks — Dylan Strome, Brendan Perlini and Nick Merkley — will be vying for a spot on the prestigious WJC roster next Christmas.

“It’s right back at it,” said Sullivan about the prospect of trading in his golf clubs for a pencil and notepad in the coming weeks. “But I enjoy it. It’s really fun.”

Sullivan explained what the job of player development coach entails.

“Once we draft players, it’s my job for the next two years to make sure they’re developing the way we want them to, keep tabs on them, go watch their games, watch their games on video.

“It’s kind of just to keep the interaction up between them and the club so that they know Big Brother’s watching,” he added with a laugh. “It’s kind of like that.”

Of course, for many who’ve been following the NHL for the past decade, the Coyotes franchise has become synonymous with an uncertain future.

A long stretch of on-ice futility combined with shaky ownership and a Glendale city council hesitant to see its taxpayers footed with a multi-million dollar arena lease has seen the Coyotes become the subject of relocation rumours.

In June, Glendale council voted down a 15-year lease deal to keep the Coyotes at Gila River Arena that was agreed upon by the previous council. After a month of simmering tension between the City of Glendale and the Coyotes’ current ownership group, an amended two-year lease was agreed upon last week.

Two years may not seem like much, but for the Coyotes and those working in the organization, it’s more than they’ve had to bank on for a long time. It may just be long enough for fans in the desert to see one of the NHL’s good young teams flourish.

“It’s good to just get that over with now that the two-year lease is in place,” said Sullivan. “We’ve got young guys — you named (Anthony) Duclair coming up, we’ve got Max Domi, we’ve got (Henrik) Samuelsson who might make the club, we’ve got (Christian) Dvorak.

“Then we have this year’s draft with Merkley and Strome, so we’ve got a lot of key components coming in the next two or three years. The future looks really bright. We need a couple more years of good drafts, but the core players coming in here over the next few years are going to be a lot of fun to watch.”

During an NHL career that ranged from 1995 to 2013, Sullivan scored 747 points in 1,011 games with the New Jersey Devils, Toronto Maple Leafs, Chicago Blackhawks, Nashville Predators, Pittsburgh Penguins and Coyotes.

It was in his hometown with the NOJHL’s Timmins Golden Bears, however, that Sullivan’s hockey career took off. He still remembers being on the ice for the team’s inaugural season in 1991-92.

“Being able to be a part of that inaugural team, and just the excitement the city had,” recalled Sullivan. “We were able to fill the Sportsplex arena up with people who came to watch us play and it was such an experience and a stepping stone for a few players to go to the OHL or go to school.”

It didn’t take long — one season, to be precise — for Sullivan to graduate to the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. In 1993-94, he scored 51 goals and 113 points in the Soo and was selected in the ninth round of the NHL draft by the Devils. After splitting time with the Devils and the AHL’s Albany River Rats in 1995-96, Sullivan would never play another game in the minors. He was a big-leaguer for life.

Back home, the story didn’t end so well for the Golden Bears. Though they won a league championship in 1995, they eventually moved to Iroquois Falls to become the Eskimos in 1999, leaving Timmins without junior hockey for 16 years.

But fittingly enough, both junior hockey in Timmins and Sullivan’s career have each come full circle, meeting again this past April when the NOJHL announced the return of Jr. ‘A’ hockey to the city. The Timmins Rock will drop the puck this coming September for the league’s 2015-2016 campaign, and Sullivan is on board as a senior advisor for the team.

“For (junior hockey) to be back in the city, it was lost for a little while, so we’re grateful to be getting a second opportunity to have that team here,” said Sullivan. “I’m just looking forward to dropping the puck and seeing what kind of season we can have, and what kind of support the city can put behind them.

“Wherever I can help, I will. Scott Marshall and I have had some discussions throughout the spring and into summer, from the logos to the jersey to how we can help different aspects of the team. I’m around to help whenever I can. I’m thankful they thought of me to help them out, I really look forward to it.”

The Rock’s home opener at the McIntyre Arena (Sept. 12, 7:30 p.m.) falls around the same dates as the Coyotes’ rookie camp, where Sullivan will be front and centre working with the NHL team’s youngsters.

Still, he figures he’ll be able to make it back home for a Rock game or two.

“I’m hoping so, for sure,” said Sullivan. “I do a lot of trips to Southern Ontario to work with (the Coyotes players), so I’ll make sure I drop in.”