Charlie Stephens sent to UHL

By Ailyn Diaz

At twenty-two years of age, Charlie Stephens, American Hockey League All-Star, is no longer a rookie. He knows that a hockey player’s career is full of slumps. Certainly, Stephens expects a couple of scoreless games and perhaps a few good hits, but he never expected to step down to the to the Quad City Mallards of the United Hockey League this year almost one year after his first National Hockey League appearance on the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center.

Center Charlie Stephens is scoreless in his last nine contests with the Hershey Bears. According to his left wingman, Brad Larsen, Stephens is reminded daily of his lack of offensive productivity. Most recently, during a game against the Worcester Ice Cats, Bears coach Paul Fixter attempted the “sit and learn” method. He pointed out that perhaps Stephens should emulate left winger’s Sheldon Keefe’s (Tampa Bay Lightning) level of rugged play and gritty in-your-face hockey. Fixter then decided to test Stephens’ commitment during a contest against the Philadelphia Phantoms. To his dismay, Charlie Stephens failed to improve his skills facing his critics once again.

The native of Nilestown, Ontario was drafted in 1999 as Washington Capitals’ second round choice, 31st overall, in the NHL Entry Draft. At that time, the public and the Ontario press thought that perhaps he was just another overrated draft pick filling the Capitals future roster. With his 6’3″ stature and 225 lb frame towering over most players in the Ontario Hockey League, Charlie Stephens took instruction from head coach of the Guelph Storm at that time, Paul Gillis. He influenced his style of play emphasizing to the young player to use his strong frame in checking opponents. Stephens attempted to prove his critics wrong only to turn around to bitter life experience, his father’s battle with cancer.

Given his unfortunate family situation, Stephens opted for a trade to the London Knights. His father who strongly supported his career died in 2001. Now under the tutelage of head coach Dale Hunter with the Knights, a more mature Stephens decided to re-enter the NHL draft becoming the Colorado Avalanche’s ninth choice and 196th overall.
In his 2002-2003 rookie year in the Hershey Bears, Charlie Stephens gained chemistry with right winger Cail Maclean and left winger Jordan Krestanovich earning fifty points in seventy-four games. Soon he became an AHL All-Star scoring two goals in Portland, Maine for Team Canada. But adversity struck again after legal trouble almost blemished his hockey career after an off-ice police incident. Somehow Charlie Stephens managed to find ways to turn things around leading the Bears to the AHL playoffs successfully.

But now, Stephens faces a new challenge — finding his hockey game. Despite call-ups in three different occasions to the Colorado Avalanche given a plague of injuries, Stephens play tends to vacillate from spectacular to poor in the American Hockey League. Coach Paul Fixter has frequently changed wingmen in an attempt to create scoring opportunities. Stephens played at times with both left wing veteran Brad Larsen and right wing veteran Steve Brule. On numerous times, Paul Fixter pointed out that Stephens must work on all aspects of the game including discipline, effort and consistency. He believes that sending young Stephens down to the United Hockey League to work under his old mentor, now Quad City head coach, Paul Gillis, might provide him with the necessary guidance to spark his confidence and offensive skills. By sending Stephens down from the American Hockey League to the lesser minors of the United Hockey League, Bears coach Paul Fixter sets a precedent for the rest of the young Hershey Bear roster, that effort allows you to have success for a period of time, but consistency allows you to have success over a greater period of time.