Cross Checks: Quebec Major Junior Hockey League
April, 24, 2013
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com
Back in the day, when Bob Hartley was a young, aspiring coach not long departed from the windshield factory he worked at on the assembly line, his young son Steve insisted on dressing like his dad before departing the house to take in a game.
By the end of the game the toddler, decked out in a suit and tie not unlike that worn by his father behind the bench, would be fast asleep on his mother's lap but happy as a clam in his coach's suit.
"Now he's a coach," Bob Hartley said, not a little bit of wonderment in the voice of the Calgary Flames coach.
Steve Hartley only vaguely recalls the mini-me suit -- "very vaguely," he said -- but nonetheless it is interesting to chart the sometimes intersecting, circular paths fathers and sons choose, as father and son find themselves dressing in their own coaching garb on a daily basis, following similar routines and chasing similar dreams.
Steve Hartley, 27, is an assistant coach with the Halifax Mooseheads, the most dominant major junior team in North America, a team that as of this writing had won 11 straight in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs and boasted two of the top junior players in North America in Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin.
"It's an honor just being able to work with some of the best young players in the world," Steve Hartley told ESPN.com recently. "Every day getting a chance to see how great they are," he added, referencing the entire team and not just MacKinnon and Drouin.
Steve Hartley recalls his younger days in Colorado, when his father was coaching a Colorado Avalanche team blessed with some of the greatest talent of all time. The younger Hartley has enjoyed a long friendship with defenseman Ray Bourque's son Chris, and sometimes after the Avs were done with their workouts, Steve, a young goaltender, would be peppered by shots from the future Hall of Fame defenseman. Steve also was given a gift of equipment by Patrick Roy after Roy's final season in the NHL.
Next, the Mooseheads will play the team in which Roy has an ownership stake and whom he coaches, the Quebec Remparts.
Earlier this season, Steve Hartley heard a knock on the door to the coaches' office and looked up to see Roy standing there, dropping by for a visit. As if we need reminding that hockey is a small town spread out over vast distances, when Roy was nearing the end of his playing career he would press the senior Hartley about coaching philosophies, the ideas behind various drills, banking knowledge that he would use in the future.
Dale Zanine/US PresswireLongtime NHL coach Bob Hartley (shown in 2006 with the Atlanta Thrashers; he's now with the Flames) won the Stanley Cup while with Colorado.
And then there is Halifax GM Cam Russell.
The former NHL defenseman hails from nearby Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia. He jokes that he was Cole Harbour's first star, before a kid named Sidney Crosby. He's been involved with the Mooseheads since 2000, when he was an assistant coach. He took over as head coach in 2006-07 and is now the GM of the team.
Russell's final NHL season was spent playing for the Avalanche. His coach? Bob Hartley.
He said Steve Hartley has the ability to connect with players and isn't afraid of the grunt work that comes with high-level coaching -- tasks like breaking down video and studying opponents' tendencies.
"He's a guy that puts in lots of hours," Russell told ESPN.com. "He has a good knowledge of the game and a really good rapport with the players."
Having played for the elder Hartley and watched the younger Hartley work the Mooseheads' bench, Russell said the two have distinct personalities.
"Steve is a little more animated a little more vocal," Russell said.
As a former player and coach, Russell conceded that he had no idea of the transition from playing to coaching teenage boys.
"It was the biggest eye-opener for me," he said. "I thought it would be an easy next step. But you've got to maintain that even keel. You have to be the hardest-working person in the room."
Steve Hartley has that work ethic. That his father is an NHL head coach whose name is on the Stanley Cup isn't a bad thing, either.
"You don't see that every day," Russell acknowledged. "It's kind of cool."
Steve Hartley spent many summers working with youngsters at the hockey school his father has run for years in Hershey, Pa., where he coached in the American Hockey League. After abandoning playing as a career -- he spent two years with NCAA Division I Miami University and then closed out his career playing Junior A hockey in Joliette, Quebec -- Steve returned to Atlanta, where he was born during his father's tenure as coach of the Atlanta Thrashers.
There, he started helping out J.A. Schneider, younger brother of longtime NHLer Mathieu Schneider, who was trying to grow a local junior hockey program, the Atlanta Knights. At one point Steve Hartley took over as coach of the team and had success in his first coaching experience.
"I really enjoyed it," he said. "I kind of got the bug."
After a couple of years working with young players in the Atlanta area, Steve Hartley returned to Joliette to take the head coaching job there. Last season, he got the call to join the Mooseheads in Halifax, where Dominique Ducharme, Hartley's former coach in Joliette, was the head coach.
As Steve Hartley has charted a career as a coach, he's relied on his father's advice, including turning down at least one offer of a head coaching job in the QMJHL.
"When you start, you think you know a lot," Steve Hartley said. "The more you work at it, though, the more you find out how little you know.
"It's unreal how much you can learn in a couple of years or a couple of seasons. I consider myself very fortunate to have been around some really good hockey people."
That list would include his father, of course. The two still talk almost every day.
"I'm happy to have the dialogue. Sometimes he'll tell me about mistakes that he might have made that he doesn't want me to repeat," Steve Hartley said.
Sometimes Steve will send along a clip of something that happened in a Mooseheads game, "and I'll ask him some questions," Steve said.
"He's always available. I think that's the biggest thing."
That is no small thing, given how demanding the life of an NHL coach can be.
"He wants to do it. I'm just supporting him like many people supported me," Bob Hartley said in a recent interview. "Everyone says it's a crazy life, but if you're passionate and you like it, why not?"