Late in the winter of 1994, the promising career of Trevor Stienburg was over before his 28th birthday.
A decade earlier in the 1984 NHL draft, the Quebec Nordiques made Stienburg the 15th overall selection, 14 spots after Mario Lemieux went first and Stienburg’s good friend Kirk Muller was chosen second.
But even though Stienburg scored on the first shift of his first NHL game against Muller and the New Jersey Devils late in the 1985-86 season when called up from his junior team, the London Knights, the right wing’s pro career never got on track.
He suffered a debilitating back injury that affected his skating. Then his knees bothered him and finally, a severe shoulder ailment ended his career.
He never thought about coaching back then. Finding a way to continue his playing career was the only thing on his mind.
After his playing days ended the native of Moscow, Ont., (just north of Kingston) Stienburg settled in Halifax and entered the workforce. He had lived there for two seasons of his pro career when he was with AHL’s Halifax Citadels and fell in love with the community.
Sure enough, after a few years, he began helping out an old hockey friend, Darrell Young, who then was the head coach of Dalhousie University. Stienburg later took over his own team, the East Hants Penguins of the Maritime Junior A Hockey League.
All of a sudden, he found himself behind the bench of the 1997-98 Saint Mary’s Huskies.
I was so wrapped up in trying to keep my career going that I never thought about actually being a coach. After I was done and in the real world I certainly realized how much I actually did love the game and how much I missed it.
“I’m not sure at any point in my playing career I actually thought of coaching,” Stienburg says. “I was so wrapped up in trying to keep my career going that I never thought about actually being a coach. After I was done and in the real world I certainly realized how much I actually did love the game and how much I missed it.”
In two decades at the helm of Saint Mary’s, he has a U SPORTS University Cup in 2010, a runner-up showing in 2013, a bronze medal-winning effort in 2016, a Winter Universiade gold medal with Canada in 2007 and three Father George Kehoe Memorial Awards as U SPORTS men’s hockey Coach of the Year.
“There have been ups and downs and certainly challenges,” says Stienburg, part of the coaching staff for U SPORTS All-Stars in its two-game sweep of the Canadian World Junior Team hopefuls in St. Catharines, Ont.
When I look back to those first few years I was only concerned about wins and losses. Then you learn about fundraising and recruiting and you learn to embrace those aspects. But the best part of my job is giving young men an opportunity to continue to play hockey with the carrot of an education.
“It has been amazing to see guys come in and embrace the opportunity to get an education.”
In his junior and pro career, Stienburg played for plenty of respected coaches like Michel Bergeron, Andre Savard, Jean Perron, Clement Jodoin and Joel Quenneville. While each has influenced Stienburg, the one coach who had the biggest impact was his Tier II coach in Brockville, Ont., when he was just 16.
“When I think of all my coaches every one of them had something to offer in some way shape or form,” he says. “I think if I look back and think of the one person that was able to have the biggest impact might be Mac McLean. He was my first real coach outside of minor hockey. I really do think that he loved to teach and he always left me feeling like I had gotten better. He had the ability to be very strict and demanding but when walking away from the rink you knew that he cared.”
Stienburg is fiery and as intense as they come and he often has to remind his players that he’s only critiquing them as a hockey player, not as a person.
To win hockey games you have to get people to do what they don’t want to do. In pursuit of a common goal, you have to make sacrifices. I think it’s true in all walks of life. You often don’t realize who’s in your corner until you later reflect back on it.
“I can be hard on you and I’m not the most polished person by any means, and I’ve had to apologize to a few players for being hard on them,” Stienburg says. “But to win hockey games you have to get people to do what they don’t want to do. In pursuit of a common goal, you have to make sacrifices. I think it’s true in all walks of life. You often don’t realize who’s in your corner until you later reflect back on it.”
Certainly, the 2009-10 national championship team feels that way. The Huskies upset the top-ranked Alberta Golden Bears 3-2 in overtime.
Just like their tough coach, who lost 75 pounds after a pancreas infection that hospitalized Stienburg in the summer of 2008, the Huskies had a key player in Colby Pridham out with a separated shoulder at the University Cup and an injury limited Cam Fergus’ ice time to only power plays.
So with the depleted roster, first-year forward Brad Smith was promoted from the fourth line to the second line and he came through with the championship-clinching goal in overtime to give Stienburg and Saint Mary’s its first University Cup.
Yes, all these years later the once bright prospect has turned into quite the coach.