Photo by Don Fennell
All Troy Stecher ever wanted was a chance.
Growing up in Richmond, his passion and talent for hockey was undeniable.
But from a young age, he was constantly told he was too small to advance to the next level. At every turn he proved them wrong, and even in the NHL the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Vancouver Canucks’ defenceman still conquers the stereotype.
Voted by Canucks’ fans as the team’s top blueliner last season (his rookie campaign), Stecher, 23, uses brains over brawn. It’s a skill he works at every day.
“Obviously I’m not going to be able physically to push guys over, so my quickness and speed has to be one of my strengths,” he said, while explaining the goal of eliminating opponent’s time and space.
Returning to his roots recently for a special recognition ceremony hosted by the Richmond Minor Hockey Association, Stecher enthusiastically reflected on his minor hockey career. His jersey along with those of fellow Richmond minor graduates and now NHL referees Kelly Sutherland and Trevor Hanson will be prominently displayed at Richmond Ice Centre.
“It’s special,” he said. “It’s an arena that many mornings I attended with my father and my mom. I have a lot of great memories, and there a lot of friends and special people who are still here. It’s tremendous to see the work they put in and continue to put in. I’m happy to show my face and show my support to the kids. Hopefully I can be a role model to them.”
Stecher started his hockey journey in what is now the Hockey 1-4 program. He says it’s where you learn the fundamentals of the game.
“It’s a great time, when you’re always encouraged to have fun,” he said. “I think when you’re having fun that’s when you’re going to learn more than if you’re not enjoying it.”
Another of his fondest minor hockey memories is playing on a Bantam rep team that made it all the way to the 2009 provincial final.
“There were a lot of great players on that team, and a really good coaching staff with Ron Popoff,” he said.
Stecher was drafted in the seventh round of that spring’s Western Hockey League Bantam Draft by the Portland Winterhawks, which ironically was his first introduction to new Canucks’ coach Travis Green who was then Portland’s assistant general manager and assistant coach. Stecher stayed home and played for the Greater Vancouver Canadians Major Midgets in 2009-10.
The following season he signed with the Penticton Vees of the BCHL, thus retaining his college eligibility.
Stecher prospered in Penticton. In three seasons with the Vees he scored 26 goals and 156 points in 211 regular-season games. He had another 21 points in 39 playoff games while playing in two Fred Page Cup (league) finals, winning in 2012. He also won the RBC Cup national junior A championship that season, while being named the tournament’s top defenceman.
He captained the Vees in his final season before earning a scholarship to the University of North Dakota where his stellar play continued.
As a Fighting Hawk from 2013 to 2016, Stecher made three consecutive trips to the NCAA Frozen Four finals culminating in a Division 1 championship during his junior season in 2016 when he had eight goals and 21 points in 29 games as an alternate captain.
In 119 NCAA games, Stecher scored 13 goals and 53 points, opting to forgo his senior season to sign with the Canucks.
Passed over in previous NHL Entry Drafts, Stecher finally realized his childhood dream last April 13 when he signed a two-year, entry-level contract with the hometown Canucks.
Following an impressive training camp and pre-season with the club, he began the 2016-17 campaign with their top minor-league affiliate Utica Comets but was recalled after only four games.
He played the balance of the year paired mostly on the right side of veteran Alex Edler. Stecher scored his first NHL goal, a memorable overtime winner, at home Nov. 13 versus the Dallas Stars. He finished the season with three goals and 21 assists in 71 games.
Never one to take anything for granted, Stecher acknowledges the long grind of an NHL season was an adjustment coming from college where NCAA rules stipulated a maximum 34 regular-season games. But he said his goal in the off-season wasn’t to get bigger, but rather continue to work on developing speed and quickness.
“I didn’t want to take away from that. I was definitely trying to get stronger, but didn’t want to add too much mass. I want to find that balance.”
Stecher said though going to Canucks’ camp this year was different from last, at the end of the day he approached it with the same mindset: “go to camp and make sure I deserve to be there and prove to a lot of people that I’ve put my time in (training) this summer and haven’t gotten complacent. I’m still trying to improve and help us win.”