EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Steve Sullivan never had any worry or doubt about his life after his NHL career.
The 41-year-old Sullivan, affectionately nicknamed ‘The Timmins Tornado,’ played 1,011 games in the league from 1995-96 through 2012-13, not just because of his speed and offensive skill, but also his smarts and ability to communicate the game.
The latter has helped with his transition as the Arizona Coyotes’ player development coach.
Sullivan joined the Coyotes last season after a year away from hockey. He retired following the 2012-13 season where he played 42 games between the Phoenix Coyotes and New Jersey Devils.
Since the Yotes are in a rebuild, Sullivan’s job is quite important. He oversees the prospects, works with them one-on-one and pushes them towards a smooth transition into the NHL.
But that’s not Sullivan’s only position. He’s a family man, and the lives of his wife and four kids are uber important for him.
When the 5-foot-9 Sullivan signed with the Coyotes before the lockout-shortened 2012-13 year, he took the group to the Phoenix area in advance of the unplanned work stoppage. Because of the lack of games during the fall and early winter, he had a ton of time on his hands. He and his family fell in love with the outdoorsy lifestyle in the area and state. This made the eventual offer by general manager Don Maloney to work with the team a no-brainer.
We caught up with Sullivan before the Coyotes rookie game against the Los Angeles Kings rooks at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo and talked about family life, his love of outdoor activity in Arizona, missed opportunities in his career and his trolling of a Colorado Avalanche fan in 2001.
Q: How is your transition into this role going?
SULLIVAN: I took the first year off and kind of just enjoyed it and I didn’t want to miss any of my kid’s activities. I had never been to a teacher/parent meeting, so I embraced all of that and put myself in their shoes and didn’t miss any of their activities. It was great. I was approached by Don Maloney who asked if I was interested because they didn’t have anybody doing player development. They were just going to dip their toe into it and see if I was interested. I was coaching my kids at the time and worked on a schedule that would work for both of us, so I’m glad it worked out.
When you took a year off, was it your plan to get back into hockey, or did you have any other interests you wanted to pursue post playing career?
It’s what I love. It’s what I know. After coaching my kids for the first year I really realized that I still really love it. I enjoy the teaching aspect of it, being able to help the younger kids and this job is kind of the same idea. It’s kind of a more one-on-one coaching thing than coaching a hockey team. It’s still the same thing. You’re trying to work on habits on just kind of get them ready for the next level so it has been a great transition.
A long time ago, you told me you wanted to retire in Nashville. But you’re now in Arizona. I know you’re a big golfer. Was it the courses in Phoenix area that kept you there or were there other reasons you wanted to stay in The Valley?
(Sullivan played six seasons with the Predators, his longest stint with any NHL team)
Nashville is near and dear to our hearts. We have a lot of friends there. We never say never. We still have our house in Tennessee and we always talk about how it’s still in the plans and going back some day. The weather in Arizona was just perfect for us. Being retired I wanted to be able to enjoy the weather and enjoy the outdoors and do something to keep me busy. You hear a lot of stories about guys going stir-crazy because they have nothing to do, and I really do enjoy golf a lot. So Arizona was kind of the perfect place to end. If I had never gone there to play, I don’t think we would have moved. Just one of those perfect storms that came up. We had that lockout, so we were able to do a lot of outdoor stuff with the family in Sedona and Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon. We did a lot of stuff before the season started because of the lockout. We really enjoyed the state and fell in love with it and stayed there for now. We’ll wait and see but for now it’s worked out really good.
Do you feel lucky that you found what you wanted to do so quickly after you retired?
I’m very fortunate. A lot of guys aren’t sure what they want to do and take a little bit of time, maybe too much time. For me it was kind of perfect. The one-year was what I needed to take a deep breath and relax and enjoy what had happened in my career and take a year off. I know some guys say that’s too hard for them and that’s when they get restless and need to do something. But for me it was perfect. This opportunity was outstanding. It was perfect for me. I’m very fortunate that I was able to find this and I enjoy it.
You hit 1,000 games right before you retired. After all you had been through (He missed the entire 2007-08 season with a back injury and won the Masterton Trophy after he came back) I’d imagine that milestone was more important for you than a lot of other players?
As a hockey player you always look for team success first. If you’re a Stanley Cup champion that would obviously be your biggest moment. I wasn’t fortunate enough to be on a winning hockey club. For myself, yeah. You set goals for yourself. Especially coming back from my back injury, that was a goal I set for myself. To achieve that … it’s funny, when I made it, it was OK, what’s next? That’s when I knew it was time to move onto something else. You’re getting a little older. Your game is starting to deteriorate a little bit, you’re not as effective. I knew I reached that goal and it was time to move on. But looking back on it now, not too many guys get to reach that. I was very, very lucky and fortunate – I had a couple of major injuries, but I was able to play a lot of games.
You never won a Stanley Cup. It seems your 2011-12 year in Pittsburgh was your biggest missed opportunity, no?
Yeah, a missed opportunity for sure. On paper, Pittsburgh is an outstanding hockey club. It just goes to show you that winning a Stanley Cup is not easy. If a player thinks he’s just going to sign somewhere that’s going to be a chance to win the Cup, it does give you a better chance to win, but you need the team to come together at the right time. You need the team to be playing its best at the right time, if you don’t have that you don’t have a chance to win. For us, it was a couple of injuries and not the best of play defensively. Not just the goaltender, the team as a whole – we gave up way too many chances. You can’t win playoff games 8-5 and 9-7 and expect to win the Stanley Cup. We just didn’t find a way to win. To do it over again, would I have picked that team? Probably. It had the talent and it still does. It has the talent to win the Stanley Cup going forward. Definitely a missed opportunity. I wish it could have been better than just a first-round exit. But there’s no regrets there. It was a fun year. I enjoyed my time there.
You’ve done a lot of noteworthy things on a hockey rink. But that 'payback' situation of that fan in Colorado seems like one of the biggest moments of your career. Looking back at age 41, do you have any regrets over the situation?
I don’t regret it. I don’t regret it happening or what I did.
It turned out to be really funny. I can’t believe the Colorado TV crew caught it all on tape and put it all together. It’s more than one event they catch on film. It’s a story that gets told throughout a period and a half. For them to catch it all was pretty amazing.
I wish I hadn’t gotten so mad, rambled on a little bit and hit the glass without getting off the ice. I am an emotional player. That was one of those emotional times. It’s great that it keeps playing and makes the top-10 list on a few TV shows, so that’s kind of neat.
Could you imagine if viral internet videos existed back then like they do now?
It could have gone viral pretty quick that night if it happened for sure. We went into Canada right after that, into Vancouver. And that’s where it made the headlines, only a couple of weeks later. It was a different time for sure.
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