Before they were stars ...

RANDY SPORTAK

, Last Updated: 9:35 AM ET

Jon Calvano was 21 and coaching for the first time.

The standout player on his pre-teen team was phenom Gilbert Brule.

"I remember thinking, 'Wow, this guy's good,' " he said. "I've been lucky."

Calvano, head coach of the Vancouver NW Giants team at the Mac's tournament, has only been coaching for a dozen years, but the list of players he's guided -- both up and coming and already in the NHL -- is dizzying.

Thanks to coaching for the Burnaby Winter Club, the Vancouver Vipers summer team and now the Midget Giants, Calvano's list includes Colten Teubert from Canada's entry at this year's world juniors, as well Americans Drayson Bowman, Tyler Johnson and Flames' second-round draft choice Mitch Wahl.

A few of others he's coached over the years include Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, Kyle Turris of the Phoenix Coyotes, Minnesota Wild rookie Colton Gillies, Boston Bruins forward Milan Lucic and winger Kenndal McArdle of the Florida Panthers.

Another player dear to Calgary hockey fans is former Hitmen captain and current Washington Capitals rookie blueliner Karl Alzner.

Like Calvano said, he's been lucky.

"Good kids, too," he said.

Want an example? When Alzner returned home after he helped lead Canada to last year's world junior championship, Calvano called him and asked to talk to the Atom team in the association.

"He came in with his Team Canada jacket, his ring and both gold medals," he said. "The kids' jaws all dropped. We told them, 'In 10 years, this can be you. It was 10 years ago, and he was sitting right there in this dressing room.'

"Karl stayed there for three hours that night, signed autographs for every kid in our association. He took one-on-one pictures with every kid, the medal around their neck. He went to see the bantam kids, signed all kinds of autographs.

"We told the kids, that's why he was the captain of Team Canada. It's not because he's the highest scorer. Those attributes are why he's a captain."

Calvano may have been extremely busy this week with a Giants team that claimed Pool 3 of this year's tournament and faces the Tisdale Trojans today in a quarterfinal match (noon, Max Bell Centre), but he's kept a close watch on what's transpiring in Ottawa.

Hey, anybody who has coached four young men at that tournament would do the same.

"You learn to start cheering for the kids. You don't have a favourite team. You just want to see the kids do well," said Calvano.

Like Lucic.

The big left winger was never a highly touted standout growing up, but now he's on pace for a 20-goal season with the Eastern Conference-leading Boston Bruins.

"He was a tough kid, kind of unorthodox, same skater as he is today and played the same tough game as he does today, but nobody really recognized him," Calvano said.

"He just kept working hard, great family and great character, and here he is today -- a god in Boston.

"A god in Boston. That's Bobby Orr, Cam Neely, Phil Esposito. Those guys are known there by just their first name, and now there's also Milan.

"It's neat to see."


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