The native New Yorker, Lee Stempniak, has played on four NHL teams, and was tutored by some of the best vets, back when he was on the Blues. Now a veteran himself, he is able to offer the acquired wisdom to his younger Flames teammates. Although a finance major in college, this guy could be a journalist himself! He loves to talk and interviewed me, asking where I’m from, where I went to school, etc. After I told him I was from Long Island, almost drowned up at Dartmouth because my sailboat capsized when the Tufts Sailing Team went up there to practice on their lake, and had to spend a night at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Hospital, he felt really badly. But, he was happy to know that I got to enjoy Green Key Weekend, a couple of times, since my college, Tufts, was only a couple of hours from his school.
RK: You celebrated your birthday recently, right?
LS: Yeah, two days ago!
RK: Happy birthday!
LS: Thanks so much!
RK: Your parents wanted you to go to college, but you wanted to keep playing hockey. You ended up getting an Ivy League education AND playing in the NHL. Which path would you take, if you had to do it all over again?
LS: I would take the same one. I’m lucky how it all worked out. School was always really important to me, and my parents encouraged me to go to school and to have a back-up plan. It worked out really well, and I got to play at Dartmouth. I played with some guys that are in the NHL right now. I grew as a player [in college], and I went from hockey being a dream to a reality in my sophomore year. I realized this was something I could work for and put my effort into. I’m lucky; I met my wife there and I was able to graduate, and was able to play in the NHL the next year. I wouldn’t change a thing.
RK: How did you develop your skills and prove yourself to the NHL scouts while at Dartmouth?
LS: We practiced a lot. One of the benefits of college hockey is that you only play two games a week, so you spend a lot of time in the gym, getting stronger. I really matured physically when I was in college, from being pretty scrawny to being someone that was strong and able to compete against men. We did a lot of skill work in practice and after practice, shot a lot of pucks, [rehearsed] a lot of different shooting situations, which helped me a lot in terms of scoring goals. The coaches put a lot of emphasis on skill development, which made a big difference over four years.
RK: Describe your responsibilities as a veteran of the team…which sounds strange, because I know you’re technically still so young…
LS: (Looks almost shocked that I’m calling him “old,” as Calgary is a fairly youthful team.) Haha, yes, it’s always strange to hear that: “veteran.” [It’s my job to be] keeping a positive mentality, and I try to lead by example. I learned a lot when I was a young guy by watching Doug Weight, Keith Tkachuk, Bill Guerin, and Barrett Jackman, and seeing the way they prepared: prepared for practice, prepared for games, and took care of themselves off of the ice. That’s something that I now try to do. Hopefully, young guys can look at [me] as an example.
The other thing: the NHL is a hard league to play in. It’s a job, and it was a big shock for me, coming from college. You’re paid for results and its cutthroat. A lot of the time, you gotta encourage the young guys and give them a pat on the back. They really get beat up. They are coached by the coaches, but people are emotional, and [as a veteran player], you encourage the young guys and give them a pat on the back. A pat on the back can go a long way by keeping them going and keeping them positive.
RK: Your contract is up at the end of this season, and you’ve experienced just about the four corners of the NHL map, with the various teams you’ve been on (St. Louis Blues, Toronto Maple Leafs, Phoenix Coyotes, and Calgary Flames). Where do you see yourself next season?
LS: I’m not sure, we (he and his wife) really like it in Calgary and I think we’re (the team) building towards something here. I really like living in Calgary and playing in Calgary, but at the same time you have to be realistic that we are near the bottom of the standings: that means there are going to be changes. Aside from that, I haven’t really thought too much about it and I don’t know what’s in store. Hopefully I’m in Calgary, but if not, then things will work themselves out. I’ve been through a lot in my career. Typically, the less you worry about it, the better because you’re really not in a position to change it.