Hockey’s Future sat down with the father & son Steve & Scott Stirling. Steve is the head coach of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and took the team to the AHL Calder Cup finals last year, the teams first year. Scott is a goaltender, in 2001 he was the ECHL goaltender of the year, this season he was the ECHL All Star MVP, and has posted a 7-2 record and a 2.58 goals against average in two stints with the Sound Tigers. The Stirlings’ are the fourth father/son coach/player combo on the same team in the AH, along with the Boudreaus’, Cunniffs’, and the Dineens’.
Hockey’s Future: This is the first time you two have been on the same team as coach & player how does it feel?
STEVE: For me it’s no different.
SCOTT: I am at the point now where I am with my fourth team in the AHL and I need to prove I belong here.
HF: You have joined an elite fraternity in the AHL as father/son coach/player team (Paulin &Sebastian Bordeleau are the other one), how does this make you feel?
STEVE: I am surprised. I know there have been brothers with the Sutter’s. For me it’s my job and Scott happened to be the best goalie available to us. It would be a little different if he was a forward or defenseman because the contact would be far greater. I guess the nature of the position helps take a little bit of the pressure off, for me anyway.
SCOTT: It’s good, most of the coaches are honest and don’t know a whole lot about the position. We had to do something to get this far and they let us be.
HF: When Scott first started playing professional hockey did you ever think you would end up being his coach?
STEVE: No, because we both started at the bottom. When Scott started in Trenton (Titans, ECHL) I was in Lowell (Lock Monsters, AHL) as an assistant coach and didn’t have a lot of personnel say. I just went about my business which was to help the young kids along. It didn’t dawn on me until a year ago when I got to Bridgeport in the head coaching position, and I knew at some point we would have goaltending issues with call ups, send downs, and injuries that I should have a list of goalies from the coast (ECHL) that I thought could get the job done. From that point last summer it didn’t take long to put Scott’s name on the list based on the year he had in Trenton & Atlantic City. Beyond the fact that he is my son & I know what he can do, I have to be sensitive to the real world and his numbers speak for themselves. This is the first opportunity in a year and half to bring a goalie in besides (David) St. Germain who is under contract.
HF: How do you think the feelings will be if you have to face-off against each other, with Scott staring in goal and Steve coaching?
STEVE: I did it once when I was coaching in college against my older son. I have a job to do and that’s to win. If Scott came in with another team, I want to win and I want Scott to play well.
SCOTT: Same thing, especially the position I am in I need to play well to show everyone that I can play here.
HF: How about a 0-0 tie.
STEVE & SCOTT: (laughter)
HF: When Scott was growing up where you a parent that pushed him or did you let him develop on his own as a player?
STEVE: I never coached him, purposely. I was always in the very, very, very background and went to as many games as I could, with the busy schedule. When I wasn’t at the games, my wife was. I always stood back and let him be his own person. I wanted him to establish himself as a person both on & off the ice, and that he has been able to do. Did I being a hockey professional help him along the way, pointing out stuff that could help him? Yes, I did do that. Bu I like to think that I didn’t coach him.
HF: Scott how big an influence was your father in you becoming a hockey player?
SCOTT: When you are an eight year old little kid and you go in the locker room with all these men that are really nice to you it makes you love the sport even more.
STEVE: In 1978 I started coaching in the collegiate level; along the way when Scott was growing up we were on some pretty nice campuses. He was able to spend some time on the campuses, and a lot of time in the rinks. From the time he was three or four years old he was going to college hockey games, spending time in the locker room, or as the stick boy. The family has been fortunate enough to be at work together more than most families, and the work happens to be fun. I am not surprised that he stayed in the game, as you are a product of your environment. He had a chance to hang around the locker room and fall in love with the game even more.
HF: Scott how did you decide to become a goaltender?
SCOTT: I don’t know what happened. I enjoyed it right from the start, in my first year of organized hockey I started playing goalie.
HF: What was your reaction when Scott said he wanted to be a goalie?
STEVE: I wasn’t surprised. It’s very typical because of the equipment; it looks like it is fun. I guess the real key was when he was nine or ten, I put him on the side and told him you are either a goalie now and for the rest of your life, however long that maybe. Or you move to forward or defense where you are a couple of years behind in development with the skating and stick handling. He said no dad I want to be a goalie. So I never asked that question again, and he was old enough to understand it.
HF: Scott how is the team treating you? More as a player, more as the coach’s son, or a little of both?
SCOTT: I am at a level now where it doesn’t make a difference. If this was college or junior hockey I think it might be more of the coach’s son. The guy’s are professional and they don’t care who I am as long as I go out there work hard & show them the respect they deserve.
HF: When you needed to find a goalie to back up St. Germain with (Rick) DiPietro being called up and (Stephen) Valiquette injured, how did you decide to call Scott?
STEVE: It’s the nature of society that made it difficult. His name came up last summer from Mike (Milbury) when we were going over depth at goal. There were enough scouts and enough people that saw him play and knew what he was doing. There was enough support that point on. When I knew Ricky was going up and I knew that we needed a goaltender I called Kevin (Maxwell) the head pro scout and it took a little pressure off of me, when he said that we should bring Scotty up. Then I called up Mike and I said I talked with Kevin and said that Scott is as good as anyone out there that we would bring in, but I wouldn’t do that without your approval.
HF: Scott what do you think you have to do to stay in the AHL this time?
SCOTT: If I get an opportunity to perform than that is what I have to do. In Hershey this year, I backed up one game and I was the healthy scratch for two games. But I worked hard at practice so maybe that’s what they liked. Each place I go I try impress them. When I was in Worcester I played one game, maybe it wasn’t the game that they liked but the fact that I was early or that I practiced hard, things like that. It is about showing the coaching staff or the GM that you want to be there by working hard.
STEVE: Any time we bring someone in at this position it is tough. At forward or defense they will more than likely get a chance to play. Anytime we bring a goaltender in he may or may not play. At some point the coach is going to call his number and Scott can’t take a day off. He has to practice every day like that is his game, because that might be his game for the week.
HF: Scott how was this years ECHL All Star Game?
SCOTT: It was different than the first one I was in, this time I was one of the older guys, and the younger guys were looking up to me. It was a little more serious this year than usual, but I enjoyed that. The game meant a little more, the guys were trying a little harder. It wasn’t that much of an offensive game.
HF NOTE: Scott was the MVP this year at the ECHL All Star Game, stopping all 11 shots he faced.
HF: Steve you are Canadian born, Scott you are American born. When the two countries face-off against each other any bragging going on over who wins?
STEVE: No, we never really talked about it. When Canada plays USA at this point in my life I am looking for something different. I really don’t care who wins. I have been gone from home since ’67 and consider myself a Bostonian and an American, even though I am not one on paper. I watch it for a different value, like I do most sporting events.
HF: If you could change one rule in hockey what would it be?
STEVE: (long pause) I am not happy with the new rule for Defensemen & Forwards for Delay of Game when they shoot the puck into the stands. I go back to the Gordie (Howe) & Rocket (Maurice) Richard era, so I have seen the game at its purest, and I am an old school kind of guy, so I don’t like to see a lot of changes. I do like some of the changes that have helped make the game become more finesse, it’s a lot more fun to play & watch, and there are more goals. I wouldn’t change much, maybe if anything I might take out the red line. I saw it in the Olympics and certainly with the skill the NHL game is heading to that might make it even more. I played that way in college so I know that way.
SCOTT: the only thing I can think of is to eliminate touch icing. The defensemen can’t win, they are working hard to get back, and then they are hit pretty hard into the boards. If his defense partner can’t hold the forward up he is going to get run. Especially if you eliminate the red line or someone will get hurt seriously.
HF: How do you feel hockey can broaden its fan base?
STEVE: I think the Coast (ECHL), American (AHL), and some of the National (NHL) teams are heading in the right direction with their marketing and sales, but the entertainment value with things going on around the arena. If you go to a minor league baseball game they are always doing something between innings. You need to interact with the fans, giveaway gifts; it’s become a family entertainment value. At the NHL level its entertainment, not necessarily family because of the prices. More & more NHL teams are starting to do the entertainment so I think they are going in the right direction. The more you can get a 6 or 7 year old to a hockey game, the more they will fall in love with it. When they turn twenty they will go to a game if they are in or around a city that has a hockey team. I think that is a step in the right direction.
SCOTT: I haven’t been to a NHL game in a while. But the ticket prices at every major league (sport) level are high. Obviously it has to do with salaries. It’s hard to take my family out for $300 when I can easily spend that money somewhere else on something we need.
HF: Thank you for your time.
SCOTT STEVE: Your welcome.