This week I interviewed Cam Stewart. Cam is a veteran of over 200 NHL games and is the current Director of Player Development for KO sports. He was kind enough to share his views on his career, the expansion draft and advice for young players.
Josh Wahler: Is there any particular game or special moment from your career that stands out to you the most?
Cam Stewart: You know what, it wasn’t even the NHL. I got sent to the minors and kind of had to work my way back up to the NHL. I played for the Houston Aeros in the IHL and Dave Tippett was my coach who’s now with Phoenix. I was on a team with a bunch of guys that are coaching now and we won the Turner Cup. I really remember that as being one of the games that stands out because you don’t win too many championships in hockey and no matter at what level it is you really remember those games. And then the second one would be game 7, my first year, I was 22 years old and we played The Montreal Canadiens when I was playing for Boston. We were down 3-2 going back to the Forum and then we won there and then we won in game 7 in the old Boston Gardens.
JW: You played college hockey, what would say was the biggest change you noticed when you made the jump to the NHL?
CS: Number one, the strength of the players and number two the length in schedule. It was a big jump from college where you’re playing 35 to 45 games if you go all the way, to now all of the sudden you’re playing 70, 80 games. I felt after training camp my first year I had been through almost a college season because I played in nine exhibition games.
JW: You were taken by Minnesota in the 2000 expansion draft. What was going through your head when you got taken and what advice would you give to a current player that would be taken in the 2017 expansion draft?
CS: You know what, you can only protect so many players and if you’re one of the guys that’s not being protected there’s always a chance that you can get taken. It means because there’s a lot of guys that aren’t protected somebody really wants you or somebody likes what they saw or thinks you can be very good for a team they’re putting together from a character standpoint. It was almost a bit of an honour to be selected to be honest because there were a lot of people that were exposed for the draft. It was probably one of the best things for my career. That’s when I went into Minnesota and you never know what happens with an opportunity like that. In Minnesota I got some of the best coaching I got my whole career, although it was late with Jacques Lemaire, he taught me a lot. You don’t always look at the negative. You have to try to take the positive in those situations.
JW: How does an expansion team overcome the challenge of not having the benefit of spending years together and building chemistry and a system and coming together as a group of new players on a new team?
CS: It was almost like you built your own identity. All of us were obviously exposed so the team you were with didn’t want you, but someone else really wanted you. We were all third and fourth line guys, which I don’t think will happen with Vegas, they’re going to have a pretty good team pretty quickly. For us, we all stuck together, we were all on the same page, we were all in the same kind of boat on our other team and we just went with the view, let’s try to not get outworked, ever. That’s what Jacques Lemaire instilled in us and that’s how we went about it.
JW: How important was your education at Michigan in preparing you for life after pro hockey?
CS: I’m in the agency business and I think that education is a huge part of both preparing you for the NHL and then obviously after being a huge asset because you see all these different people not knowing what to do. They’re even talking about people in the Olympics coming back after two weeks and all these endorphins and being on such a high. Now some these kids are going back to high school, some of the kids are done their sport that they’ve trained for their whole life and you need from a mental standpoint an education because it matures you and prepares you for life after hockey. I’m not saying the courses you took in school did, but the fact that you went through the process, did it and have that on your resume I think is a huge asset. When I talk to the young kids now and I talk to the parents I tell them if you can use your sport that you love and you can do that to get an education, in my opinion you’ve won the cup and anything after that is gravy.
JW: Based on your current role as Director of Player Development at KO Sports, what advice would you give young prospects today based on your current role and your experience coming up as a young player?
CS: The biggest thing that I would tell everyone is don’t follow your neighbour. Everybody’s on a different path whether it be in life or in sport. Don’t think that you have to make a decision; don’t think that you have to do something because someone else did. This whole process, both in hockey and in life is a marathon not a sprint. I don’t like seeing when kids and parents try to make it a sprint because they kick themselves in the butt a little bit after. I tell them to just do your due diligence on every decision your going to make and every decision you have to go through, use your assets, talk to people, know everything about the OHL, know everything about NCAA hockey and make an educated family decision.
JW: That’s great advice for anyone I think.
CS: It’s funny because in the agency business, I relate it to life, my sister is a realtor, we talk all the time and it’s the exact same business. It’s relationships and selling yourself and telling them you’re the best person for them. There are a lot of the same lessons in life as there are in making a decision at a young age of where to play hockey.