Patrik Stefan stands on the bench, watching the ultimate seconds tick down on the sport clock. The scoreboard above a sea of blue seats damaged up by splotches of buddies, household and the odd scout reads, “House Four, Visitor Zero.” Because the buzzer sounds, a flurry of orange, white and powder blue particles goes flying in a whirlwind of youthful exuberance because the 15-year-olds clad in white jerseys pile over the boards, grabbing anybody they’ll discover. They’re USA Hockey nationwide champions.
Among the many blur of our bodies tumbling throughout the ice is a jersey with “Stefan” throughout the highest and a well-known No. 13 under. After the canine piles subside, Patrik wraps his arms round his 15-year-old son, James, and tells him he had a superb recreation and that he’s happy with him.
Patrik Stefan spent the previous 4 years with this group of children on the Detroit-based Little Caesars hockey membership, teaching and creating them. However his life had a a lot totally different trajectory 20 years in the past, when he was known as to the stage as the primary general — and first-ever — choose of the Atlanta Thrashers on the 1999 NHL draft.
Stefan, now 38, knew his life had modified that day, however he did not understand how issues would play out. He did not know that infamy is less complicated to return by than fame, that YouTube was going to be a factor, and one in every of his worst on-ice moments could be replayed in perpetuity. Or that he’d undergo a life-altering harm, forcing retirement earlier than he even hit his 30s.
» Remaining mock draft | Greatest-case mock
» High 100 prospects | Greatest by talent
» High goalies | Late-round steals
» Draft picks for all 31 NHL groups
» Extra protection of the NHL draft
Because the 2019 NHL draft in Vancouver, British Columbia, approaches, it is easy to suppose again to that ’99 draft, which outlined the previous 20 years for the host metropolis’s crew, because of the picks that occurred instantly after Stefan was taken at No. 1. Canucks normal supervisor Brian Burke swung what is likely to be his best transfer as an NHL govt — rearranging picks and shifting out gamers over three separate trades to pick out twin brothers Daniel and Henrik Sedin second and third general, respectively. The Sedins went on to Corridor of Fame-worthy careers, full with Hart Trophies, scoring titles, a visit to the Stanley Cup Remaining and a mixed 2,111 factors, all with Vancouver.
If not for Burke’s wheeling and dealing, Stefan seemingly wouldn’t have been the highest choose. In his third commerce of a 24-hour interval, Burke acquired the Thrashers to conform to swap picks with the Canucks so he might choose the Sedins on the similar time with choose Nos. 2 and three.
“I knew I used to be going to Atlanta,” Stefan mentioned in a cellphone dialog with ESPN. “That they had the second choose, then proper earlier than the draft, they introduced [the trade] and all the sudden Atlanta was making the primary choose. And I am like, ‘OK, I believe which may be me.’ Then you definitely’re like, ‘Holy s—.'”
Stefan had been the No. 1-rated participant by NHL Central Scouting. He had spent the earlier season and a half with the Lengthy Seashore Ice Canines within the previous Worldwide Hockey League, then thought of the second-best league on the planet. And though concussion points in his draft yr restricted Stefan to 35 video games, he was nonetheless an all-star and produced over some extent per recreation in a big-time professional league at simply 17 years previous. The Thrashers took on that threat, and a wild journey commenced.
A skipping puck
As a rookie, Stefan performed in 72 video games and registered 25 factors, the sixth most on a crew that gained simply 14 video games all season. In complete, Stefan performed 414 video games for the Thrashers. His greatest season was a 40-point run in 2003-04, which was adopted by the lockout-canceled 2004-05 season. Stefan completed his Atlanta profession with 177 factors and was traded to the Dallas Stars in 2006.
Throughout his lone season with Dallas, harm restricted him to 41 video games, through which he garnered 11 factors. However his Texas days might be remembered extra for what gave the impression to be a simple empty-net purpose to present the Stars a street victory over the Edmonton Oilers. As a substitute, the puck left out his stick and he missed, earlier than shedding his footing whereas attempting to gather the unsettled puck and permitting the Oilers to go all the way in which down and rating the tying purpose with 2 seconds left on the clock. The preferred YouTube video of the incident has been considered almost 1.5 million instances. Historical past tends to overlook that the Stars ended up successful that recreation in a shootout.
Historical past tends to overlook so much, however as Stefan notes, nobody goes to really feel sorry for you in hockey. The primary general designation is a particular one, in case you can stay as much as the billing. If not, it is a boat anchor that drags you down, and everybody will get to take their photographs as you sink.
Patrik Stefan had simply 5 objectives throughout his one season with the Stars, and is remembered extra for a purpose he did not rating. Ronald Martinez/Getty Photos
Nuance does not are likely to journey over time, both. Just like the 1999 draft not being significantly robust, with solely 37 % of the gamers chosen within the first three rounds showing in at the very least 100 NHL video games, placing it among the many least efficient at putting NHL regulars of the previous 20 years. Or the truth that had Atlanta taken Stefan with the second general choose it initially had, somewhat than within the highlight of that prime spot, the glare might need softened over time. Or that Stefan’s harm luck was nil, having managed to look in all 82 regular-season video games simply as soon as over a seven-year profession.
There have been concussions, however the closing straw was his hip. He wished to play, however bodily couldn’t. His profession quietly ended after three video games with SC Bern in Switzerland when ache and an absence of mobility robbed Stefan of something that was left of his hockey skills.
After years of gritting by the ache, not eager to endure the prolonged restoration course of and limiting aftermath as a youthful man, Stefan is because of lastly have his hip changed later this summer season.
“I am about eight years too late,” Stefan mentioned. “I attempted to carry on so long as I might. There aren’t many guys at 38 that want a hip substitute. I keep in mind going to the hospital, after I was 30 or 29. I am sitting there with my unhealthy hip and the next-youngest individual is 65 or 70. ‘What am I doing right here?’ It has been a wrestle. With teaching, being on the ice a lot, it is a wrestle.”
Life after the NHL
Regardless of the way in which the skin world may understand how Stefan’s profession went or how he ought to really feel about it, the struggles and mock he endured made him no much less passionate concerning the recreation. He could not keep away.
“I take a look at my profession and what I have been by, I have been by so much,” Stefan mentioned. “I grew up enjoying in Czech. Moved to the U.S. after I was 16 to play within the IHL. Obtained drafted first general and did not have the profession that I wished to. All these items, you may take a look at it as a failure, however I used to be taking a look at as, ‘What can I do about it?’ I can sit at dwelling and really feel sorry for myself or I might switch that have and get into this enterprise.”
Stefan averaged greater than some extent per recreation throughout his draft season with the Lengthy Seashore Ice Canines. Jon Ferrey/Allsport
The enterprise Stefan acquired into was forming his personal participant company, which he nonetheless operates. His first NHL-drafted and -signed consumer was Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Michal Neuvirth, who stays with Stefan. New Jersey Devils ahead Pavel Zacha and a number of prospects are amongst these Stefan advises. He retains his consumer checklist tight so he might be hands-on.
His distinctive and attempting expertise within the NHL provides him perspective when talking with purchasers and the gravitas essential for them to hear.
“This can be a robust enterprise to be in, there isn’t any query about it,” he mentioned. “However once you begin working with gamers and also you information them by their ups and downs — as a result of I have been by that — it has been very rewarding. I want that I might nonetheless play — after I was working with younger youngsters, it was like I used to be residing by it. It is type of such as you’re enjoying. You take a look at the video games, you begin taking a look at video and clearly, I perceive the sport so much higher and I take a look at the sport in another way now than after I was enjoying.”
Past the busy lifetime of being an agent, the teaching bug bit Stefan exhausting when he was requested to assist run a observe for his nephew’s crew within the place of an absent coach. Quickly, he was on the bench for the 2 groups sons James and Wyatt play on.
“I assumed journey was busy after I was enjoying, however it’s nothing in comparison with now,” mentioned Stefan, who moved his household to Michigan to make journey to purchasers simpler, whereas additionally giving his boys an opportunity to play at a excessive stage amongst their friends.
Stefan went No. 1 within the 1999 draft, proper earlier than the Canucks chosen Daniel Sedin, left, at No. 2. Bruce Bennett Studios through Getty Photos Studios/Getty Photos
Household is clearly on the coronary heart of a lot of what the Stefans do. Carolyn Stefan, a self-described surfer woman from Southern California who met Patrik whereas he was enjoying in Lengthy Seashore, makes all of it go. She has seen her husband by all of it, from having his face on billboards in Atlanta to needing her assist tying his personal sneakers on days when his hip made it unimaginable to bend.
“She holds the home collectively,” Stefan mentioned of his spouse of 18 years. “I am robust. I am strict and he or she’s the enjoyable one, so there’s good stability to the family.”
Postgame evaluation and spotlight present airing every evening all through the season from Barry Melrose and Linda Cohn. Watch on ESPN+
Patrik has preached by no means being too excessive or too low in hockey or in life to his boys and his purchasers. That was put to the check for the Stefan household not lengthy after Patrik retired, when Carolyn was recognized with a uncommon, aggressive type of breast most cancers. She went by two grueling years of therapy, together with quite a few operations.
“That rattled us. We are able to get by something, however that was a troublesome one,” Carolyn mentioned. “You look again on the issues the place you missed the web and all that stuff, after which your spouse’s acquired most cancers. Perspective occurs actual fast. Now I am wholesome and grateful. It adjustments you perpetually and I am simply grateful for on daily basis.”
Carolyn went into remission after a few yr and a half. Had Patrik’s enjoying profession not ended when it did, he won’t have been in a position to be there as a lot as he in the end was. However Patrik and their sons have been by Carolyn’s aspect as she tackled the combat of her life.
“I really feel like I am in good arms,” she mentioned. “We acquired an ideal little group right here on this household. All of us acquired one another.”
One other technology
Standing among the many scattered gloves, sticks and helmets on the ice after Little Caesars’ Four-Zero championship win, a long time after his title was known as because the Thrashers’ prime choose, there isn’t any higher place to be at the moment for Stefan. However amid the celebration, one other roller-coaster chapter commences for the household.
Subsequent season, for the primary time in a while, James Stefan will play for somebody aside from his father. Crammed with NHL desires of his personal, the 15-year-old is sure for the Western Hockey League’s Portland Winterhawks after signing as a free agent in November.
James had what one junior hockey scout described as a “breakout season,” posting 95 factors to guide Little Caesars in scoring. The scout famous that the youthful Stefan had grown a bit because the earlier season and began to enhance his skating, resulting in extra success.
“My decision-making, my hockey IQ, the talent … I believe took lots of that from him,” James mentioned when taking a look at his father’s enjoying type. Patrik agreed: “I believe I used to be fast, had good hockey sense, good passer. That is what you see within the recreation now. It is quick.”
Stefan’s greatest season got here in 2003-04, with 40 factors over 82 video games. Bruce Bennett Studios through Getty Photos Studios/Getty Photos
It is too quickly to say the place James’ profession will go subsequent, however Patrik might be there guiding him. He moved to Oregon to be with James by his journey. The Stefans know the subsequent steps are exhausting. It is one thing Carolyn thinks about, having seen the meat grinder that this profession might be for anybody, even a No. 1 choose.
“I simply hope he has a little bit of what his father has in that he can let [pressure or criticism] simply go proper off his shoulders,” she mentioned. “He trusts his dad a lot so I am tremendous grateful for that. Nevertheless it’s a unique factor, watching your husband versus watching your youngsters.”
“I had my profession and I used to be solely 27 years previous [when I retired],” Patrik mentioned. “However this gave me a chance to be round my youngsters, to assist them out, to be round their hockey careers. That goes shortly. That age, 7 or eight to 15, it is gone and also you’re by no means going to get it again. This harm occurred and I want I used to be nonetheless enjoying for certain, however I can do all these items right here that make me actually completely happy.”
No, Patrik Stefan did not go the place he was purported to. However he ended up precisely the place he wanted to be.