Spott looking to lead Canada to gold
When hot water hits Steve Spott in the face, the hockey side of his brain kicks into high gear.
“I do my best thinking in the shower,” says the coach of the Canadian men’s junior hockey team.
“My wife says I waste more hot water than anybody. I shower before practice.”
All the soap in the world can’t scrub away a frustrating memory for Spott.
He was an assistant coach to Willie Desjardins when Canada lost the gold medal 6-5 in overtime to the U.S. in 2010.
Jordan Eberle scored two late goals in regulation to tie the game in Saskatoon. The host country anticipated a record sixth straight gold in the tournament, until John Carlson ended it for the Americans at 4:21.
“I see the John Carlson goal still to this day, daily,” Spott says. “To have an opportunity to erase that memory is something I’m really looking forward to.”
Spott was informed on his 44th birthday (May 18th) that he would coach Canada at the 2013 world junior hockey championship.
“That was a real special present,” Spott recalls. “It was something I always aspired to be a part of.”
Growing up in Toronto, he’d watched his childhood friend Adam Graves play in the tournament in 1988. His nephew, Florida Panthers forward Stephen Weiss, played in it in 2002.
The former college and minor pro player was promoted from assistant to head coach of the Ontario Hockey League’s Kitchener Rangers in 2008 when Pete DeBoer left for the NHL.
The slow and steady trajectory of Spott’s coaching career indicates he’s a patient man in a profession where everyone is in a rush to get to the NHL.
He spent 12 seasons as DeBoer’s assistant with both Kitchener and the Plymouth Whalers.
“I’m a believer in loyalty,” Spott explains. “I wouldn’t be in this situation if it wasn’t for Peter DeBoer.
“He gave me an opportunity to work full time at this job. He was a guy who never treated me like an assistant.”
The Rangers won a Memorial Cup in 2003 and reached the final in 2008 with DeBoer and Spott.
Spott took on greater coaching responsibility in Kitchener when DeBoer was away as an assistant coach of Canada’s junior team in 1998 and 2005.
DeBoer, now head coach of the NHL’s New Jersey Devils, says he felt lucky that Spott stuck with him.
“He had a lot of opportunities to leave and go be a head guy,” DeBoer says. “A lot of people knocked on the door during those 12 years to take him away and rightfully so.
“I think (there was) loyalty, we worked well together, there was a real comfort level and I’d like to think the two of us pushed each other.”
The two men are still in regular contact.
“He’s usually the first guy I call to bounce things off of and I think it’s reciprocal,” DeBoer says.
Spott says he has NHL aspirations like any coach, player or trainer involved in the game.
But he’s taken time to sample as many coaching experiences as he can before taking the next step.
He bided his time in Kitchener because Spott knew the NHL would hire DeBoer eventually.
There was also his wife Lisa, son Tyler and daughter Emma to consider.
“My kids were getting to that point where they were involved in programs in the community and school and had friendships,” Spott explains.
“I realized that Kitchener-Waterloo is a wonderful place to work, raise a family and I was hoping if Pete moved on one day I’d have the opportunity to stay there.
“No disrespect to anyone else, but I won’t move somewhere and leave my family at home. It’s not worth it to me. Family is the most important.”
Spott’s appointment to head coach of the junior team was a natural progression.
In addition to his stint as an assistant in 2010, Spott has also been a head coach and twice an assistant coach of Canada’s under-18 team.
He’s coached Ontario at both the world under-17 challenge and at the Canada Games.
“This guy has paid his dues,” DeBoer says. “He’s done this the right way at all the different levels and taken all the right steps on the way up.
“There’s nothing he’s going to see here that he hasn’t seen before. When you have that type of experience, you’re composed, you’re prepared and you make the right decisions.”
The Rangers posted winning seasons in three of the four since Spott became head coach, including a pair of years of 40-plus victories. Spott’s playoff record with the Rangers is 22-12.
“He’s not one to come in and pat you on the back in front of everyone,” says Rangers defenceman Ryan Murphy, who made the Canadian junior team on his third try.
“He’ll let you know how you’re playing by the amount of ice you get or the amount of power play you get.
“You’ll know when he’s displeased, but he’s pretty good. He knows the times to call you out and the times when he should be easy on you.”
The NHL lockout provided Canada with the best 19-year-old talent in the country, including Edmonton Oiler centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
That sounds great, but Spott still needs to get the players pulling on the same rope.
“You’ve got 23 different personalities,” he said. “Really checking your ego at the door, we do it as coaches, they have to do it as players and give up a little ice time for the common good of winning a gold medal.”
In addition to being a shower-thinker, another trait in Spott’s personality is his utter lack of adventure when it comes to food.
“He’s not the best dinner date because if it’s not meat and mashed potatoes, he’s not interested,” DeBoer says.
Spott refuses to give Indian, Chinese or Thai a try.
“No disrespect to any culture, but it’s not going to happen,” he says with a shake of his head. “Soup or salad, meat and potatoes for main course and some sort of sweet for dessert . . . in that order.”