For Steve Staios, instilling character into teenage hockey players will be as important as building a winning team. That’s not to say hockey will take a back seat as the Hamilton Bulldogs hit the ice as an OHL team, but the NHL veteran of over 1000 games understands the role character plays in building a team. Staios was one of only 4 Maple Leaf executives left standing after last spring’s purge of the Leaf front office and he had every expectation that he would be part of the team. But then Mike Andlauer came calling and Staios heeded the call.” I was in a good situation (with the Leafs) and maybe moving up in one of the biggest organizations in the NHL .When I said I was coming to Hamilton, people said are you crazy? But it really all comes down to (team owner) Mike Andlauer. As much as I am passionate about hockey I am passionate about this city. I don’t know if there is another person in the world I would have said yes to. He’s on the NHL board of governors and every person I would talk to were respectful. As Brian Burke would say, “I would go into a foxhole with Andlauer any day. He’s got an impeccable reputation around the NHL.”
Steve’s roots are deep in Hamilton. He was raised above the family variety store in Westdale, went to George Allen and Dalewood public Schools and attended high school at Westdale where he met his wife Susannah. He started his serious hockey career playing for the Hamilton Huskies and the Kilty B’s before graduating into the Junior ranks with Niagara Falls Thunder. His father in law is Dr. John Cairns, now a professor of medicine at UBC, but formerly was Co-ordinator of the Hamilton Regional Cardiovascular Program and Chair of Medicine, at McMaster University.
It was Brian Burke who recognized Staios’ potential as a hockey executive when Steve was playing for him in Vancouver. Ironically his 3-year sojourn with the Canucks and Burke ended on a bit of a sour note. “He left me unprotected in the draft–basically he got rid of me,” recalls Steve, “ but he and I had had conversations over the years and he appreciated my approach, my work ethic and my commitment, being a team player—all those types of attributes”. It was Burke who later approached Steve as he was nearing the end of his 17-year, 6-team playing career, then with the Islanders and told him to call when he was ready to hang up his skates. As it turned out Steve ended up working for Burke’s successor Brendan Shanahan trying to improve the play of some of the Leaf’s younger defensemen.
With George Burnett in charge of hockey operations, Steve has been focusing on in-depth community relations. “Part of my job is to try to figure out what we mean to the community, how we interact with the community how we can give back to the city and how OHL hockey can bring some pride to our fans and to our citizens,” he said. That is why he places so much emphasis on making sure the players develop character. “The great thing about the OHL is that it affords the opportunity to have our players become solid members of the community. All of our players will be at Ancaster High and we have a high expectation of how they represent themselves, we will be asking for a lot of their free time to be out in the communities,–hospitals and schools and we want them to inspire the next generation of hockey players, but also people that they are going to school with as well.”
Steve sees it as his responsibility “to create an environment for these players to fulfil their dreams and play in the NHL.” But he acknowledges not all of them will achieve that goal. “ I am going to do my best to help the players understand … that the lessons they have learned and the way they’ve been able to handle themselves, to represent themselves throughout their hockey days will help them be able to transition into a leader in the community at some point.”
Things are progressing well on the hockey side. Season ticket sales have surpassed last year and the team looks pretty good says Steve, who provided this candid assessment “In (coach Burnett’s)
estimation we are a playoff team, and on the cusp of taking that next step but probably not as it shapes up now—a championship team.” He admits he is getting lots of feedback on things like team colours, especially discussion of yellow and black. “Ultimately we want our fans to be connected with this team,” he said, suggesting that there may be a formal survey of fans following the inaugural season. At present Steve says he intercepts fans as they come in to purchase tickets and spends hours trying to get their opinions. He agrees that one of the advantages of the OHL is that the players stay in the community for 3 to 5 years and that allows the fans to identify with them. This in contrast to the AHL with its steady parade of players shuffling back and forth to the NHL. “AHL is a grind– they play 3 games in 4 nights, and can’t do the community stuff. It’s very difficult for them to commit to the community when their goal is to get out of there as soon as possible.”
Steve’s love of Hamilton is evident. “I’m indebted to Hamilton for helping me become the person I am, “ he says, “Pat Quinn and I would be the only ones (at out of town functions) to say ‘ I’m from Hamilton’. Others would say I’m from Southern Ontario or just outside Toronto but Pat and I would say we’re from Hamilton.” The Bulldog home opener is Saturday, September 26th at 7 P.M.
Written by: John Best