TORONTO- For a decade Steve Spott was the right-hand man to New Jersey Devils head coach Pete DeBoer. And at one point it seemed they’d always come as a pair.
“We are like brothers,” said Spott. “We are god parents to each other’s children.”
Spott first joined DeBoer as an assistant coach with the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers in 1997. They coached four seasons in Michigan and when DeBoer took the head coaching with for the Kitchener Rangers in 2001, Spott came as part of the package.
They reached their high at the junior level in 2003 with a Memorial Cup championship and in 2008 nearly did it again as they fell one game short, losing to the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs 4-1 in the final. However, the 2008 season was still successful as the Rangers set club records for wins (53) and points (110) and DeBoer was offered the head coaching job with the Florida Panthers.
But that’s when the two parted ways, even though DeBoer wanted Spott to come along with him as he had done so before.
“Pete had asked me to go to Florida with him,” said Spott. “(But), my nephew’s Stephen Weiss and I coached Stephen at Plymouth and it’s tough. You treat your nephew sometimes like your own son. It was ok in junior but when Pete went to Florida, two areas were hot topics. One, did I want to coach Stephen again and that was a negative. And two, the appeal to be the head coach of the Kitchener Rangers was hard to turn down.
“At some point you have to make your own move and be your own man. It was the right time for us to separate and create my own path.”
When DeBoer first approached Spott to join him with the Whalers, Spott had some minor hockey coaching experience under his belt as well as an OCAA championship with Seneca College from 1994. He also won coach of the year the only season he was with the Sting.
“Seneca College was a great way to cut my teeth,” said Spott.
At the time Spott was also running summer hockey camps with his childhood friend, and former NHLer, Adam Graves.
“Graves and I were best men at each other’s wedding, grew up in Toronto together,” said Spott. “Adam and Pete played junior together in Windsor and I got to know Pete and it was a relationship that built through Graves.”
To start the 2008 season, for the first time in 12 years of hockey, DeBoer and Spott were on separate benches, in separate leagues. While DeBoer made his NHL debut with the Panthers, Spott took over the Rangers and got his first opportunity to be in charge of a club since minor hockey with the Markham Waxers in 1996.
Spott’s first season as head coach of Kitchener the club dropped off 53 points from the previous year and failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2001. However, the Rangers qualified for the post season each of the next four years and the bench boss was noticed by Hockey Canada for his efforts in keeping the Rangers a prominent team in a tight Midwest Division.
Then this July, it was Spott’s turn to leave Kitchener after the Marlies offered him their vacant head coaching position.
“Toughest decision professionally I’ve ever made,” Spott said about leaving the Rangers. “It really is a special place to coach and be. I had to make sure it was the right decision for my family.”
Spott has never regretted his decision to not follow his mentor to the NHL as he’s been able to create his own identity as a head coach. But as he prepares to start his first season as a pro with the Toronto Marlies, he understands that his career will forever be linked to DeBoer.
“I owe everything to Pete,” said Spott. “He gave me the opportunity 17 years ago.”