by David Brien
With a résumé that includes two Central Junior Hockey League championships, another in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, a Calder Cup title and a Stanley Cup, it’s fair to say Bob Hartley knows a thing or two about what it takes to win as a hockey coach.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that his son is finding success of his own behind the bench.
Just five years into his coaching career, Steve Hartley has a QMJHL title of his own and his name on the Memorial Cup as an assistant coach with the Halifax Mooseheads, and now has his Grenadiers de Châteauguay at the 2015 TELUS Cup in his first season as a head coach.
Both Hartleys have created something out of nothing this year, taking teams with low expectations to places very few expected them to be when the puck first dropped last fall.
Bob has the Calgary Flames – picked by many to be a part of the Connor McDavid sweepstakes, not a playoff race – into the NHL postseason for the first time since 2009, while Steve has taken the Grenadiers back to Canada’s National Midget Championship despite only three returnees and 10 1999-born players.
“We were reminded all year how young our group was and how hard it would be to win another championship,” says Steve. “I knew what I was getting myself into, but our players had a tremendous progression and were constantly improving each day. All the credit has to go to them for that.”
With the all-consuming life of a coach, and more than 3,500 kilometres between them, you would think father and son wouldn’t have much time to swap stories and pick each other’s brains.
“We speak every day, even when we’re in the playoffs,” Steve says. “We have an excellent relationship, and I have no hesitation to ask for his advice. I look at his path and I truly believe he’s a great role model to follow and an inspiration for me.”
“We both work the same job so we definitely talk a lot about it during the season,” adds Bob. “I think it’s normal for me to give him a helping hand. Whether it’d be my son or the coach that is asking me for advice, I think it’s only natural that I offer it to him.”
Although there is a fairly large gap between the levels at which the Hartleys coach, both admit that the fundamentals of the game never change, and what works for one just may work for the other.
Hockey is hockey, after all.
“Steve has always been a guy with plenty of questions, always looking to learn more,” Bob says. “He’s a student of the game and he sends me clips of his team for me to tell him what I think about them.
“You can always learn something new. I’ve watched practically every Grenadiers game this season whether I was on the road or at home. I not only learned from watching them, but enjoyed it as well.”
While Bob has a track record and experience that most hockey coaches could only dream of, he still acknowledges that Steve can help him develop in many ways.
“When you’re a hockey coach you need to be ahead of the game and keep looking for groundbreaking ways to improve your methods,” he says. “I know Steve has been to many coach clinics and conferences, he’s worked at the Major Junior level, he’s been at the (World Under-17 Hockey Challenge) with Quebec, so he’s learned a lot of new things that haven’t necessarily reached the NHL level just yet.”
So has the father ever turned to the son for advice?
“I’ve never had to offer him some advice,” Steve laughs. “He’s got so much experience that he’s pretty much seen all the stuff I have before. Although he has watched some video from my power play and loved what he saw. He said it wasn’t bad and he was thinking of using the same setup for his own players.”
The Hartley family trophy case already includes almost every major trophy in Canadian hockey (and the National League A championship Bob won in Switzerland in 2012). Could there be new additions this spring?
The Flames are still a longshot to host Lord Stanley’s mug, and the Grenadiers have to go through five of the top Midget teams in the country to win TELUS Cup gold. But with the way the 2014-15 season has gone for both, would anyone really be surprised?