STAIRS TO STEER BLACK KATS DYNASTY
By Bruce Hallihan; firstname.lastname@example.org; August 09, 2012
Matt Stairs spent 19 years in major league baseball, but hockey has always been his favourite sport.“I would have traded eight, nine, 10 years of my major league baseball career to play one game in the NHL,” Stairs said while lacing up his skates for the Boston Bruins Alumni team last winter.
Back in the mid-1980s, Stairs was a high-scoring forward for the Fredericton High School Black Kats, good enough to play for the inaugural Team Atlantic U17 team with future NHLers Everett Sanipass and Cam Russell. Knee injuries led Stairs to ripping fastballs instead of slapping pucks, but his passion for hockey has never waned.
So Stairs said “it was pretty much a no-brainer” when FHS athletic director Jeff Currie asked him if he’d like to take over as head coach of the Black Kats.
The position opened up July 17 when Tim Smith, who guided the Kats to four straight provincial AAA hockey titles, became an assistant to Troy Ryan’s St. Thomas University Tommies.
When Stairs caught wind of that, he emailed Currie, who was visiting family in Cape Breton. Currie, coincidentally, had planned to call Stairs when he returned home.“I called him the next morning and we had a really good conversation about it,” Currie said. “I told him, ‘Right now it’s yours to accept or decline.’”
Stairs, who lives in Bangor, Me, but will be moving back to Fredericton in the fall, spent four seasons as an assistant coach for John Bapst Memorial School and the last three seasons for Bangor High School.So he’s not a coaching neophyte.
“I think it will be a good thing for our program, for sure, to have someone like Matt step in,” Currie said. “He played there and to give back to the program at some point is something he always wanted to do. When I met with him (Tuesday), I got a real good vibe. He’s really keen.”
“You battle with the midget AAA program for players, but both levels are great and both have their benefits,” Stairs said. “If you want to represent your school, then FHS is the way to go. To represent your school is an honour. You wear the FHS crest with pride whether you’re playing against Leo Hayes or Oromocto — wherever.
“Whatever decision the kids make, they can’t go wrong,” Stairs said, then added with a chuckle, “Hopefully they make the decision to come out and play for the Black Kats.”
Regardless of who’s on the team, Stairs said his message will be the same.“I’ll tell them, ‘You act professional and you don’t get outworked.” If you’re going to work to be the first guy on the puck and you’re the hardest-working team, if you lose, you can accept it. But if you’re being lazy and half-assing it, well, that’s when the conditioning will kick in.”
With the Maine hockey programs, Stairs was the offensive coach and designed plays for the special teams.“I had a good relationship with the kids and it will be the same way with FHS,” he said. “I have fun. I’m a happy-go-lucky person in practice. I’ll scrimmage with them, I’ll take slapshots, I’ll do drills. I’ll do whatever.
“I don’t want kids to come to the rink and say, ‘Oh, god, we’ve got Sgt. Slaughter today.’ It’s high school. I understand there’s going to be mistakes and you’re going to have brain cramps once in a while, which is fine. I had them. I still do.”Currie has been a coach with the Kats for 14 seasons, so he’d like to stay involved with the program, which Stairs said is a given.
“I’ve got all those connections with coaches and doing scheduling and tournaments,” Currie said. “The first year is a transition year, so I’m going to take a lot of that stuff off his plate so the focus is more on the coaching aspect of it.”Currie has given Stairs free rein to seek more coaches.
“I’m not going to come in and move people out,” Stairs said. The more the merrier. If you have eight sets of eyes it’s better than having one or two coaches. I’m looking for experienced coaches to help out.”
While Stairs wants to continue the Kats’ winning tradition, he’ll be doing so out of a new home. The Kats move from the LBR to the Grant Harvey Centre this season.
“I’m stepping in to a tough era — with them being four-time provincial champions — but it’s also a new era with the new complex. It’s going to be awesome.”Stairs will be moving to Fredericton when the hockey season starts and commuting between here and Bangor at least until soccer season ends for youngest daughter Chandler.
“I’m committed to this,” Stairs said. “(Wife) Lisa said, ‘You’ve always wanted to do this’ and I’ve been given the opportunity to do it. I’m excited for what lies ahead.”