By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – Steven Sullivan found the back of the net 290 times during an illustrious NHL career that spanned 1,011 games, but the goal he is helping achieve off the ice might be the most important of all.
“I am hoping to help some kids fall in love with the game,” said the most famous Timmins Rock alumni, as he explained what motivated him to purchase season tickets for the NOJHL squad’s home games that will be used by clients of North Eastern Ontario Family and Children’s Services this season.
“Not everyone gets an opportunity, or can afford to come out and see the games and support our hockey team, so if I am able to help out in some small way, I am happy to do it.”
Now retired, in addition to being employed as director of player development for the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes, Sullivan also serves as a senior advisor for the Rock.
“It is great to be able to see kids at hockey games and if this can help out some kids who are going through some tough times and maybe can’t afford tickets, this will be a great opportunity for them,” he said.
Sullivan and his wife, Kristen, have four children — Aidyn, Garner, Drake and Karlisle — and family has always been important part of one this community’s greatest overachievers.
Kevin Peever, vice-president of the Rock’s board of directors, is a firm believer in what Sullivan is attempting to accomplish with the tickets.
“We are happy to have Steve partner up with us on this initiative to be able to help children who might not otherwise be able to attend Rock games come out to the rink,” he said.
“Hopefully, they will be able to come out and see what our sport is all about. As Canadians, we take great pride in this game.”
From a long-term perspective, the initiative may well help the hockey team expand its fan base down the road.
“Hopefully, when they come out to a game, they will become truly hooked and come out to other games,” Peever said.
Brooke Ballantyne, communication co-ordinator with North Eastern Ontario Family and Children’s Services, expects the donation will help put smiles on the faces of a number of youngsters.
“The donation makes it possible for children to experience fantastic hockey games at the McIntyre Arena,” she said.
“Our offices are located from North Cobalt to Hearst and we have many families who are hockey enthusiasts and this donation makes it possible for some of them to attend games. It is such a wonderful experience and the kids are so grateful and we are grateful to be able to pass this gift on to them.”
Donations of tickets were also made during the 2015-16 campaign, the Rock’s first back in Timmins.
Sullivan’s professional hockey career took him to Albany, New Jersey, Toronto, Chicago, Nashville, Pittsburgh and Phoenix — where he currently resides, but he still considers Timmins to be home.
“I don’t think you really understand how important it (your home town) is while you are going through the process,” he said.
“It is only when you move away you realize how many people had an impact on your life in one way or another and helped mold me as a person and as a hockey player.”
When Sullivan played for the NOJHL franchise currently known as the Rock, it was the Golden Bears and it played out of the Archie Dillon Sportsplex.
“I am really happy to see the team move back to Timmins so that other kids can have the same opportunity I had,” he said.
“I really understand how important it was to me and I want other kids to have that chance.”
Sullivan’s duties with the Coyotes keep him pretty busy, but he finally got an opportunity to see the Rock in person when the team retired his No. 26 jersey during a game at the McIntyre Arena on Dec. 6.
“It was really thrilling to see hockey back in Timmins and thriving,” he said.
“I go around the country now, watching major junior hockey games and I got to see this game with players who potentially have the opportunity to continue to move on in their careers.”
Unlike most retirees, Sullivan is likely even busier with his new off-ice duties than he was when he was gliding across NHL rinks as the Timmins Tornado.
“It’s a great busy, though,” he said.
“My schedule is lot more flexible than it was as a player with an 82-game NHL schedule and seven or eight months where you are all in and you don’t have time to turn your mind off. You have to be prepared every night and be at your best.
“I have a little bit more of a travelling schedule, but I am still able to control the elements and I understand if I have family obligations and need to be around my kids for some big events I can always change my schedule.
“It has been a great transition and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I enjoy what I do.”
Despite his busy schedule, Sullivan always finds time to return home to Timmins for at least part of the summer.
“We look forward to it every single year,” he said.
“I am glad that my kids have the same enthusiasm coming back even though they have only spent one winter here during the 2004-05 lockout.
“There is so much to be able to come and see in Timmins, with all the friends and family. My parents (Kenn and Louise) and my brother (Gary) still live here and coming home is important for me.
“This is my home town. I still call it home and I still have a home here, so I really cherish the opportunities I get to come back. I have so many memories that I have made and hopefully will continue to make.”