By: Justin Dickie
01/15/2014 9:38 AM -
Stephan Lebeau has lived the common dream of the young Quebec-born hockey fan: to play for the Montreal Canadiens.
Born in Saint-Jerome, Quebec, Lebeau, 45, played parts of six seasons for the Habs, peaking in 1992-1993 when the speedy forward helped Montreal to a 24th Stanley Cup Championship in franchise history after a 31-goal, 80-point season.
But, oddly enough, he admits he wasn’t a Canadiens fan growing up.
“I was a Boston fan because of Bobby Orr,” says the Bulldogs’ Assistant Coach, who was just hired this past off-season. “I had the pleasure to go against the grain because everybody else went for Montreal.
“Until the Canadiens invited me to their training camp and they offered me a contract. Then I became a big Canadiens fan,” he adds with a chuckle.
Despite his childhood fandom being on the wrong side of the heated Montreal-Boston rivalry, Lebeau speaks very fondly of his time with the Habs.
“It was…incredible,” he says, pausing to find the right word to describe his experience. “Even though I was cheering a bit more for the Bruins (growing up), it’s the thing that I looked at through my entire childhood. I remember every night when the Stanley Cup was won, when they brought the Cup to the ice, I was watching because my parents were waking me up in order for me to see the action. When you get there and play for this organization, you see how big it is for everyone, then you just feel fortunate to be a part of it.”
It had been a long time since Lebeau was last a part of the Canadiens organization, but he now brings with him a wealth of international playing and coaching experience that he has imparted on the new generation of Habs hopefuls.
Before his time in the National Hockey League and a prolific six-year scoring tear in Switzerland, Lebeau was a sensation with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Shawinigan Cataractes. He ranks second all-time in the ‘Q’ in goals with 281 and points with 580.
The elite scoring prowess didn’t stop in junior. After signing with Montreal, Lebeau played a full season with the American Hockey League’s Sherbrooke Canadiens. In his only AHL season, he set records for goals and points in a single season, with 70 and 134, respectively. His 70 goals still stand as a record today, while his 134 points were edged out by Binghamton Ranger Don Biggs in 1992-1993 when he put up 138.
During that one dominant season in the AHL, Lebeau questioned to himself why he didn’t get a longer look with the big club, playing in just one game with Montreal. In hindsight, he sees the value in biding time in the AHL to learn and grow, wisdom that he can share with Hamilton’s current group as they work through the highs and lows of the hockey season.
“Sometimes I was wondering why I wasn’t getting called up with the success I had in the American Hockey League, but there was a reason for that, so I focused, I played hard every game and that’s what makes you a better hockey player,” Lebeau says. “If the direct path to the NHL is good for certain players, it’s not for everyone. I’m sure that the year I played in the American Hockey League was huge for my career. The transition was just perfect for me.”
Post-playing career, Lebeau took nearly two years away from the game to recoup mentally and physically. After two years away, though, he needed to get back into hockey.
“When you retire as a hockey player, it’s tough to replace the passion,” Lebeau says. “The closest place you can get it from is as a coach, I believe. This is why I knew I was eventually going to become a coach.”
He’s worked as a Head Coach at the midget, junior AAA, major junior and high school levels. This opportunity with the Bulldogs is his first venture as an assistant.
Lebeau’s most recent position was as Hockey Programme Coordinator and Head Coach for Bishop’s College School in his home of Sherbrooke, Quebec. He was also a hockey commentator in newspaper, television and radio for the past 10 years to stay connected with the pro game.
He had opportunities to move into the professional ranks previously, but with consideration to his common-law wife of 30 years, Chantal, and their son, Jeffrey, it was important that the transition to pro only be made for the right fit. When his former teammate and good friend, Sylvain Lefebvre, came calling with an offer to join Hamilton, Lebeau and his family knew the timing and opportunity were right.
“They knew it was big for me,” he says. “When Sly called me, they knew it was an opportunity where we had to make a sacrifice.”
The coaching responsibilities in Hamilton are generally shared, but with Lebeau’s natural scoring touch as a player, he has been counted on to work with the forwards and handle the power play. Just like any player who toils in the AHL, Lebeau has aspirations to coach at the next level. And just as he did when he broke into the pro ranks as a player, he’ll strive to prove he belongs in the NHL with the Canadiens organization.
“At this moment, I have a short term objective, which is to really help Sly and the coaching staff in Hamilton, to demonstrate my value as a hockey person,” Lebeau says. “After that, we’ll see. I think I’m a person that can do a lot of things in a hockey organization. It remains to be seen where I can fit the best, but so far, I’m very thrilled with my task and my job. I have enough experience to know that in hockey, things can change rapidly, so I’m ready and willing to adapt.”