LOS ANGELES - Sometime after watching the team he coached earlier in the year lose in the Stanley Cup finals last June, John Stevens was relaxing at his shore house in Sea Isle City when he received a call.
On the other line was Kings head coach Terry Murray, who was one of his assistants with the Flyers, asking him to come to Los Angeles to interview for a vacancy on his bench.
Stevens was torn.
From a hockey perspective, the decision was a no-brainer: good people, familiar faces, a franchise on the rise with top-talent players. Stevens was itching to get back into coaching after being fired by the Flyers less than 7 months earlier.
From a father's perspective, Los Angeles is 2,873 miles from his home base in Washington Township, N.J. For a tight-knit family man like Stevens, 44, who would be forced to leave his wife Stacy and hockey-loving sons John and Nolan behind, the decision wasn't an easy one.
It also meant officially cutting ties with the Flyers - pretty much the only organization Stevens had known in his 24 years in professional hockey, both as a player and as a coach.
Stevens racked up a 120-109-34 record as the Flyers' bench boss, which is impressive when you consider he was handed the reins nine games into the worst season in franchise history in 2006-07. He carried them to the Eastern Conference final the next year. The Flyers were 13-11-1 when he was fired on Dec. 3, 2009.
Ultimately, the man who pulled the trigger on Stevens, Paul Holmgren, ended up being the man recommending him to Kings general manager Dean Lombardi and Murray last summer. Holmgren gave Stevens the final permission needed to be released from his contract with the Flyers, which extended through 2011-12.
"The hockey part is very easy," Stevens said last night as he reconnected with many of his former players for the first time since his abrupt and unexpected exit. "It's been a very easy transition jumping on board. Terry and I have been together before. The big adjustment has been with my family."
Stevens' oldest son, John, 16, left St. Augustine Prep in South Jersey to head to Salisbury School in Salisbury, Conn. Stevens' wife and younger son, Nolan, remain in Washington Township. Stevens has set up shop near the Kings' practice facility in Hermosa Beach, Calif., where he hopes his family will join him next year.
"The biggest change is the time change and communicating back East," Stevens said. "They've been out three times already and we kind of worked it out so they get out here once a month. We talk a lot. We take advantage of Skype and we have a lot of video chats. And we do make trips back East where I get to see them.
"The way it all balances out, even though we're apart, we're still a pretty tight group."
At the rink, it has been a seamless transition.
Some look at the Kings - who now have two former Flyers head coaches on their bench, a former Flyers scout in Lombardi and Ron Hextall, one of the Flyers' all-time greats, as Lombardi's assistant - and call them "Philadelphia West" like it's a coincidence.
When Lombardi took over as the Kings' GM in 2006, he hired Murray and Hextall 2 years later to try and change the culture. In a lot of ways, the Kings model themselves after the Flyers.
"You'll always have a little piece of their logo tattooed on you somewhere," said Murray, who had his own raw dismissal after guiding the Flyers to the Cup finals in 1997. "When Mr. Snider bought the team, they put a culture in place and demanded a certain way of play.
"If we can push in that direction, we will be doing a great job."
Murray has handed Stevens a defensive unit that includes Drew Doughty, who was a Norris Trophy finalist at age 21, and 23-year-old Jack Johnson, who already has four seasons under his belt. It's just one reason many consider the Kings to be a serious Cup contender in the deep, talented Western Conference.
"He's a real pleasure to work with," Murray said. "He's a quality guy. He knows the game very well. He's a great teacher. He's really helped a lot of the young defensemen on this team. The players have a great deal of respect for how he approaches them and how he helps them develop in their game."
Last night, Stevens faced a Flyers team with a core of players that he largely developed himself, from the Phantoms up to the Flyers. He said he watched the Stanley Cup finals last year not as a bitter, former coach but as a fan and former father figure.
That didn't change last night - even from the other side of the ice.
"I've enjoyed watching these guys progress, and become stars in the league," Stevens said. "They've kind of come into the prime of their careers and have taken over the core of that team there. With all of the faces I'm familiar with over there, there is a little bit of emotions involved. But I'm happy for every one of them."
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