Notorious Storm assistant Bill Stewart happy with second chance

Former Barrie Colts head coach Bill Stewart, now an assistant with the Guelph Storm, is appearing...

Former Barrie Colts head coach Bill Stewart, now an assistant with the Guelph Storm, is appearing in his second Memorial Cup this year. (QMI Agency/Files)

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:37 PM ET

LONDON, ONT. - Second chances are good only if you can make something of them.

Bill Stewart is doing whatever he can to make the most of his second chance.

He's made a pretty good start at it. The Guelph Storm assistant coach will be behind the bench at his second Memorial Cup. His first was 14 years ago at the helm of the Barrie Colts, one of the most notorious teams in Ontario Hockey League history and Stewart was one of the most notorious coaches.

But a lot of things can happen in 14 years, oceans of water under the bridge. People grow, learn and change not only to the betterment of the game but for their own betterment as well.

The 2000 season was one of the more bizarre, and ugly, in OHL history.

The Colts team included Sheldon Keefe, Ryan Barnes, Shawn Cation and Mike Jefferson (who later changed his name to Mike Danton); all involved in one way or another with infamous coach and sports agent David Frost.

Stewart himself ran into trouble when twice he smuggled Ukrainian defenceman Vladimir Chernenko across the Canada-U.S. border while packed in the cargo compartment of the team bus because the player didn't have proper documentation.

The result was that Stewart was not allowed to cross the border. He was constantly battling with OHL commissioner David Branch. In the ultimate moment of disrespect and protest his club left the Memorial Cup banquet before Branch spoke. Before a game, his club skated around their zone and failed to stand at attention during the opening ceremonies.

Stewart was persona non grata in the OHL spending 10 years in exile coaching in Europe.

In 2011 he got his second chance in the OHL when Storm coach Scott Walker brought him in as an assistant coach.

Stewart acknowledges what happened, takes responsibility for it as well as recognizing how things have changed for him as a coach.

“You have to put things behind you,” Stewart said. “You always regret mistakes. The key is always to learn from those mistakes. When you learn from those mistakes you become a better person. That's who I think I am today.

“Anywhere that you are a head coach and general manager you always have to take responsibility because you are the guy in charge. Certainly I do.”

No one can question Stewart's coaching ability. He knows how to win.

But Stewart says everything he's gone through has given him a better understanding of how life works and how it's made him a better coach and person.

“It sounds weird but I couldn't have done this job 15 years ago as a young coach as far as teaching people how to manage the media, manage the players, manage how the game is supposed to be played. You go through the coaching curve,” he said. “As a young coach, you don't get it. You think you can do anything. You have your wit with you at all times. You can't just do it with emotion . . . When you have your wit, you can convey things a heck of a lot easier without emotion and it gives people a better insight into what you can convey to them as a hockey club.”

Both head coach Scott Walker and assistant coach Todd Harvey have far less experience as coaches than Stewart does.

“I'm teaching them,” he said. “You learn from mistakes and try and steer people in the right direction.

“I enjoy what I am doing. I think I'm appreciated by the people I work for and with. You just take things as they come.”

Before Stewart returned to the OHL, the Storm asked commissioner Dave Branch if he would allow it. But Stewart said he'd made peace with Branch long before then. He had a long lunch with Branch in 2006. He said there were times when the lunch got heated but Stewart said some things Branch said “hit home.”

“I really respect the guy because I didn't respect him prior as much as I do now,” Stewart said. “Now that I've been through it, we've reconciled. I understand now that not every season you have to lift a trophy and young coaches think that. Sometimes success comes in minor leaps and bounds as opposed to winning the championship. I got it. But also at the end of the conversation at the end of the conversation he said to me ‘you're one of the best coaches I've ever seen.' Coming from Dave it meant a lot.”

This Memorial Cup is going to give Stewart a chance to enjoy the ride this time around rather than in 2000 when the ride was like an out-of-control roller coaster.

“It's neat being here,” he said. “Some guys go through it differently. For five years I was successful from championship point but you have to have more, you have to have the full compliment . . . media, hockey, people, life skills, fun skills and now I'm doing that.

“Could I have come on and mentored Scott or Todd 10 years ago like this . . . no, not in the appetite. Now it's on the menu and I enjoy what I'm doing.”


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