Spruce Kings add Euro­pean touch

The Prince George Citizen - - Sports - Ted CLARKE Cit­i­zen staff [email protected]­i­t­i­zen.ca

Mack Ste­wart speaks English with a Cana­dian ac­cent and you wouldn’t sus­pect he’s spent most of his life in Europe but his pass­port tells a dif­fer­ent story.

Born of Cana­dian par­ents in Vil­lach, Aus­tria, 17 years and nine months ago, Ste­wart moved to Canada last year to play in Al­berta Midget Hockey League for the Cal­gary Roy­als and that’s where he was when he landed on the Prince Ge­orge Spruce Kings’ re­cruit­ment radar.

The six-foot-one, 168-pound cen­tre hopes to make a ca­reer out of hockey, fol­low­ing the path set by his fa­ther Michael, a Cal­gary-born-and-raised de­fence­man picked 13th over­all by the New York Rangers in the 1990 NHL draft. When Mack went look­ing for a ju­nior hockey home the Spruce Kings just hap­pened to have a spot avail­able to play for them in the B.C. Hockey League.

“This is the place for de­vel­op­ment, we have a great coach­ing staff and this team’s had tons of suc­cess in the past and we’re hop­ing to con­tinue it,” said Mack Ste­wart, who car­ries a rep­u­ta­tion as a skilled for­ward with above-av­er­age skater skills and a strong work ethic who takes pride in his de­fen­sive play.

“I like to feed the puck and make plays and I’m strong in the cor­ners,” he said.

Hockey came nat­u­rally to the younger Ste­wart, who start­ing play­ing hockey when he was three and grew up around the rink sur­rounded by pro­fes­sional hockey play­ers. He spent the first 10 years of his life liv­ing in Vil­lach, a city of about 60,000 lo­cated about a two-hour drive south of Salzburg, where his dad played.

“We trav­eled a bunch around south­ern Aus­tria (play­ing mi­nor hockey) and it was awe­some,” he said. “The ice was big­ger, more skill de­vel­op­ment. We moved to North­ern Ger­many (Bre­mer­haven) for three years and that was al­right but the hockey wasn’t very good and I played with a cou­ple older age groups.”

Mack played one sea­son in Salzburg (2016-17) and left to at­tend the Red Bull Hockey Acad­emy in the Czech Repub­lic to play the fol­low­ing sea­son for the un­der-18 team.

“We trav­eled all the way to Fin­land, Swe­den, went to Min­nesota, so that was great ex­pe­ri­ence,” he said.

After 13 years play­ing on ice sur­faces that are 15 feet wider than most North Amer­i­can rinks, that’s re­quired a ma­jor ad­just­ment for Ste­wart.

“The speed took me time to get used to but I think I’m start­ing to get the hang of it,” he said. “There’s more phys­i­cal­ity here, more dump-and-chase. For my team, Red Bull, we weren’t al­lowed to dump the puck. We were a skilled team and hated it. Here it’s a to­tally dif­fer­ent game.”

In Cal­gary, he put up 13 goals and 31 points in 31 games with the Roy­als last sea­son and helped his midget team go 13 games deep into the play­offs, con­tribut­ing four goals and an as­sist.

Michael Ste­wart had just fin­ished his first sea­son in the NCAA at Michigan State when the Rangers drafted him. Now his son is with the Spruce Kings try­ing to to earn his own U.S. col­lege hockey schol­ar­ship.

“He was a de­fence­man, a tough guy,” said Mack. “He thinks it’s great that I’m here, I’ve been talk­ing to him ev­ery day and he’s lik­ing it, we’re ob­vi­ously get­ting good de­vel­op­ment, we’re on the ice a ton.”

Michael Ste­wart, now 47, never played in the NHL but his pro ca­reer spanned 18 sea­sons in the AHL, IHL, Cana­dian na­tional team, Aus­tria and Ger­many from 19892000. He got into coach­ing the year he re­tired and served two sea­sons in Aus­trian pro league with Vil­lacher SV be­fore he went back to Ger­many to coach the Fis­chtown Pin­guins. He moved up to the Ger­man Elite League in 2015 and spent seven sea­sons as head coach and gen­eral man­ager of the Aug­berger Pan­ther and is now head coach of the Elite League’s Kol­ner Haie.

The Spruce Kings are de­fend­ing BCHL cham­pi­ons and Ste­wart will see the fruits of their labour when the team raises its Fred Page Cup and Doyle Cup ban­ners to the rafters at Rolling Mix Con­crete Arena next Fri­day at their sea­son-opener against the Sur­rey Ea­gles.

“I’m look­ing for­ward to play­ing top-level hockey with top-level play­ers, our group’s look­ing great and it’s go­ing to be a fun year play­ing with these guys,” he said.

The Kings wrap up their brief pre­sea­son tonight in Mer­ritt, a re­match of Tues­day night, where the Kings beat the Cen­ten­ni­als 5-3 at Rolling Mix Con­crete Arena.



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