Steve Spott: A Chat With Kitchener Rangers GM & Head Coach

Steve Spott was born on May 18, 1968 in Toronto, Ontario. He played for Colgate University from 1986 until 1990 where he had 148 points in 121 games. He then played for the Richmond Renegades of the ECHL for 27 games in the 1990-91 campaign where he had 28 points. For the rest of the season he played for the Newmarket Saints of the AHL where he garnered 7 points in 20 games. His final season was the 1991-92 campaign. He played for the Friesland Flyers in the Eredivise hockey league in the Netherlands. He scored 22 goals and had 25 assists in 30 games.

Steve Spott – Multiple Hats

Spott is currently the head coach and general manager of the Kitchener Rangers in the OHL. His first job in the OHL was with the Plymouth Whalers where he served as the Steve Spott hockey coachteams assistant coach to Peter DeBoer from 1997-2001. Despite 5 very successful seasons and two appearances in the OHL finals the Whalers never won a J. Ross Robertson Cup under DeBoer and Spott. After their tenure with Plymouth, Spott and DeBoer joined the Kitchener Rangers for the 2001-02 season. During their second season with Kitchener the team finished with the league best 100 points. In the first round of the playoffs, they swept the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. They then won the second round over the Guelph Storm in five games. In the Western Conference final, DeBoer and Spott went up against their former team, the Plymouth Whalers. They won the seven game series 4-3 after being down 3-2. In the final round of the OHL playoffs they defeated the Ottawa 67’s in five games to win the J. Ross Robertson Cup, their first OHL title together. With that the Rangers earned a berth in the Memorial Cup. After going a perfect 3-0 in round robin play the Rangers went on to win the Memorial Cup final 6-3 over the Hull Olympiques, Kitchener’s first Memorial Cup victory since 1982. Their best year together was the 2007-08 season, DeBoer’s last season as head coach. After being named the 2008 Memorial Cup hosts, the Rangers put together one of the best season’s in OHL history by finishing with a 53-11-4 record for 106 points. In the first two rounds of the playoffs they swept the Sarnia Sting and Plymouth Whalers before defeating the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the Western Conference Final. They went on to defeat the Belleville Bulls in seven games to win their second J. Ross Robertson Cup with the Rangers. Kitchener started the Memorial Cup with a 2-1 record in round robin play which set up a J. Ross Robertson Cup rematch against the Belleville Bulls. They defeated the Bulls 9-0 to advance to the Memorial Cup final where they were defeated 4-1 by the Spokane Chiefs. After the 2007-08 season, DeBoer went on to become the head coach of the Florida Panthers, handing The Rangers’ head coaching duties to Spott. He was also named the general manager. In his four years as head coach, Spott has made the playoffs three times. The Rangers have already clinched a playoff spot for the 2013 OHL playoffs.

Spott has also coached for Team Canada’s world junior squad. During the 2011 World Junior Hockey Championships he was named the assistant coach. They captured the silver medal that year. He was also the head coach of the U-18 team which went on to win the gold medal at the 2011 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament. He was also named as head coach for the 2013 World Junior Hockey Championships where Canada finished 4th.


A Chat With Mr. Spott

On February 22nd I had the chance to sit down with Spott where we discussed the Leafs, his coaching career and a few other things.

CT: Was hockey always a dream of yours?

SS: You know, it was, but I come from a soccer background.  I have a father that emigrated from Germany so I grew up in a soccer family. There are a lot of parallels between soccer and hockey with regards to being a team sport. I started skating probably later than most Canadian kids. I was probably 7 when I first hit the ice which, in today’s world is probably too late, but in saying that I was very pleased in the fact that my parents let me play at a young age.

CT: Who was your favourite team growing up?

SS: I’m a Leaf fan, even to this day. I don’t know where my career will take me but I’ll always be part of Leafs Nation and I’m a Leaf fan born and raised. My dad’s passed away but my mom is as big of a Leaf fan as they come and I was raised in that culture.

CT: When did you realize you wanted to become a coach?

SS: Like most players I got to the end of my rope. I had played in Europe, I played in the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL), a little bit in the American League (AHL), and I had a degree in education at Colgate University. My goal was to go back and become a schoolteacher in Scarborough. I did that and then I got a call from one of the superintendents asking me to volunteer to coach his son for the Toronto Young Nat’s, so I did and that was the bug. I enjoyed coaching youngsters and I just grew with the game. I have a real appreciation for minor hockey coaches. We’ve got (Kitchener Rangers) Troy Smith and Mike McKenzie, guys that work for me now, and they came out of pro hockey and walked in to the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and I was never given that opportunity, so I have a deep appreciation for guys that really started out in the grassroots level.

CT: What is your relationship with Peter DeBoer and what was it like coaching with him?

SS: We’re best friends and we talk daily. I’m godfather to his children and he’s godfather to my children. Our relationship is probably better than it’s ever been because we don’t work together every day. We’re two opposite people, sort of like Felix and Oscar. I’m a detailed, clean freak and he’s more off the cuff and uses his instincts. It worked very, very well for a long time and we had a lot of success together, two different styles that really merged together and made the program successful.

CT: What was it like being named the coach of Team Canada’s U20 World Junior team?

SS: It was good. The result was obviously disappointing but ultimately it was the experience of a lifetime. It’s hard right now because it’s still raw and I haven’t gotten an opportunity to deal with it yet. The level of hockey, the expectation and the media pressure is something that is really a challenge but having gone through it I’m a lot better coach and I think a lot better person having gone through it. The magnitude is something that is really, really big in our Country and the pressure that goes with it but I feel like I’m a lot better coach than I was before I went in to it so I’m really trying to take the positives from it.

CT: What was it like coaching against John Gibson?

SS: I liked him the night we beat them 2-1, I didn’t like him the night they beat us 5-1. He was fantastic. Obviously there’s respect. Radek Faksa was there and Tobias Reider was there and I understand and they understand that we have a job to do when we represent our countries. If someone had to win a gold medal I was pleased it was one of our players. I was pleased that Kitchener was well represented.

CT: As a coach what message do you send to your players?

SS: For this level here it’s compete every night. We have a real strong line of communication with our players. Ultimately, my job, while they play hockey is to get them to the National Hockey League and they can’t take a night off. We’re very demanding of our players but ultimately we give them every resource to be successful. The payback is to come every night and play hard and that’s really the mandate of the program.

CT: Over the years, who has been the best player on your team?

SS: In Plymouth, probably David Legwand. He scored 54 goals as a 17-year-old in this league. In Kitchener we’ve been fortunate enough to have so many. I’d probably have to say Mike Richards is the guy that stands out just because of the way he plays the game. I think he exudes everything that a Canadian hockey player is.

David Legwand

CT: How do you balance between being the head coach and general manager of the Rangers?

SS: You have to surround yourself with good people because you can’t do everything yourself. Fortunately in this organization they give you the financial resources to hire good Kitchener Rangers Logopeople. Ultimately my mornings are pretty much taken up as a general manager and then at noon I become a coach. The other staff is dealing with video and technical issues in the morning and I deal with more of the general manager stuff during the morning, but at noon we get practice prepared in the video room and prepare for our next opponent.

CT: If you could coach any team in the NHL whom would you choose?

SS: Not Toronto. I think any team I could coach would be the New York Rangers. I’ve said if there’s one job I’d want to be a part of, I like New York City. I like the energy down there because I’m a city boy. I think walking in to Madison Square Gardens behind that bench would be a real thrill.

CT: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

SS: I have a long term contract here so I hope it’s still here. If an opportunity should come at the NHL level at some point it would be great. I had the opportunity to leave with (DeBoer) but ultimately I wanted to stay here and try to make my own way. If that door should ever come about again, maybe there’d be a chance to pursue it. When you have a 12-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter you have to understand your priorities and right now my priorities are my children and making sure they grow up in a safe and stable environment. I just don’t want to get on that treadmill of coaching yet because once you get on it it’s three years in and three years out. I don’t know if I want to put my kids through that.

CT: What is your view on headshots and what do you think should be handed out as a penalty?

SS: We had the Ben Fanelli incident here and I think that’s well documented. I think Don Cherry said it best. The kids now are over protected in a lot of ways with their equipment. I just think that the responsibility factor has to become a lot greater from player to player. I think it’s our challenge as coaches to make sure that we’re teaching the right ways. The equipment manufacturers have to make sure that the kids are protected but not to the point where they can use their equipment as weapons.

CT: What would you change about hockey if you could?

SS: I don’t like the shootout. I don’t think you should decide hockey with a shootout or basketball with a free throw competition. I understand the entertainment side of the sport but I think after 4 on 4 for 5 minutes you should move on. I do believe hockey should have a 3-point regulation win and come down from there. I think if anything changed it would be the point system.