September 9, 2011
B-Sens' Stirling feels like a rookie
By BRUCE GARRIOCH, QMI Agency
OTTAWA - The most excited guy on the ice Friday at the Bell Sensplex was hardly a rookie.
While the 23 newcomers who wore Senators' practice jerseys may have been pleased about skating before boarding a bus to Oshawa for the club's rookie tournament, nobody was more thrilled to be there than Binghamton assistant coach Steve Stirling.
After having emergency quadruple bypass surgery before Game 6 of the Calder Cup final in June, Stirling returned to the ice for the first time and had to admit he felt like he was a rookie himself.
"I told the guys before, 'I was a little nervous.' Just like a little kid starting over again," Stirling, 61, said with a big smile. "After the layoff, I didn't know how I was going to feel and it just feels great to come back.
"I felt like I was a rookie at my first pro camp and it was my first time on the ice. I remember going to the Bruins camp back in 1971 and I felt the same way."
It hasn't been an easy road for Stirling, who had emergency bypass surgery. He is lucky to be alive let alone behind the bench with Binghamton coach Kurt Kleinendorst for Saturday's rookies game against the Penguins.
Kleinendorst was pleased to see his old sidekick blowing the whistles for a few of the drills.
"It really was, whether he wants to admit it or not, a close call. The stars lined up for us that on that particular day when we normally would have been travelling, we weren't travelling. It just happened that there was a (emergency medical team) across the street," said Kleinendorst.
"(Stirling) and I have obviously become very close having gone through what we went through last year. I know what it means to him. This is one of those things where he just absolutely loves what he's doing. He's such a big part of what we did, to see him out there really was a nice feeling."
The loss of Stirling before Game 6 was difficult for the Baby Sens. They were trying to focus on winning a championship while keeping their thoughts with someone who had stood beside them through thick and thin.
As he lay in the hospital bed, Stirling asked the doctors if it would be all right for him to watch Game 7. He got permission, but fell asleep midway through the second period because he was still in recovery.
"My wife was there with me, we had a male nurse who was a season-ticket holder in Binghamton," said Stirling. "At the start of the third, the nurse came in and said, 'You better come in and watch this, it's 2-2 in the third.'
"I watched the win and I was up all night because I was so excited."
The hearts and minds of the Binghamton players were with Stirling. That's why Ryan Keller held Stirling's nameplate up with the trophy after the victory and the players brought the Cup to his bedside the next day.
"My good friend Jackie Parker at (Boston University) who went through this last summer jokingly said, 'I always knew this business probably wasn't good for your health.' We had a good laugh about that," said Stirling.