After Stecher went undrafted, it seemed unlikely the Richmond, BC native would ever get a chance to represent Canada in official IIHF competition. However, this 178-cm, 84-kg defenceman has heart and determination that belie his small stature.
Stecher is beloved and infamous among Vancouver Canucks fans for his tendency to work out so hard that he throws up. After spending three years at the University of North Dakota, where he teamed up with now-fellow Canuck Brock Boeser to capture an NCAA title (2016), he parlayed his conditioning, on-ice vision and puck moving skills into an NHL job.
He’s never looked back, and after posting two goals and 21 assists with Vancouver last season, he beat the odds again by getting invited to play for Team Canada at the IIHF World Championship (Bratislava and Kosice). Stecher came home with a silver medal after a 3-1 final loss to the underdog Finns led by captain Marko “Morko” Anttila. Stecher chipped in a goal in a 6-5 win over Slovakia, and added an assist in the 8-0 win over Germany and another in the 5-1 semi-final win over the Czechs.
The 25-year-old could have a future in broadcasting when his playing days are done. He is as honest and articulate as he is hard-working and analytical.
IIHF.com caught up with Stecher recently to reflect on his stint in Slovakia.
On how he got the call to join Team Canada at the last hour
I kind of heard some rumblings earlier in the year that I was on their list of players they were watching, just through my agent. It was getting really, really late, and obviously the tournament was coming up quick. I didn’t think I was going to go, and then six days before I got a phone call from Hockey Canada. That day, I’d just finished skating and working out. I’d just pulled into the parking lot at the golf course. I turned around and went home and had a bunch of phone calls I had to make. I had to get some flights scheduled. Just a lot of excitement, obviously. To represent your country any time is an honour. To have my name in the conversations with the [Thomas] Chabots and the [Shea] Theodores, it was cool to rub shoulders with them.
On playing for Alain Vigneault, who famously coached the Canucks to the 2011 Stanley Cup final
That was cool. I didn’t really think about it too much. I think it was a little more different my first year in the league when I was with Hank [Henrik Sedin] and Danny [Daniel Sedin] and Eddie [Alexander Edler] and Burr [Alex Burrows]. I was really starstruck. But I’ve played three years in the NHL now. So when I met AV, obviously I thought it was a pretty cool opportunity to meet the coach of the ’11 team. But I’d gone through that process already with some players. I felt comfortable.
On how he felt about going from a peak ice time of 21:53 versus Slovakia to 6:36 against Finland in the gold medal game
I knew going in I wasn’t going to play much. The games where I did play a lot, it was just an added benefit. I always have to try to prove myself anywhere I go, and it was no different there. I just tried to make the most of it and gain some confidence from the tournament.
On his Worlds roommate
Dante Fabbro was good. He’s a Penticton Vees alum and I played there as well for three years. He’s a BC boy. We’ve hung out multiple times in the summer. We skate or train together every once in a while. So it wasn’t like someone I didn’t know. Knowing who my roommate was, it was kind of nice.
On what makes tournament MVP Mark Stone so special
He’s a good two-way threat. It’s hard to find all-around players that are good in the defensive zone and the offensive zone. Obviously, some offensive guys have some defensive skills, but it just seems like his attention to detail, his willingness to block shots, and his positioning in the D-zone are special. He always seemed like he was in the right place. When you do that, it’s kind of funny: it seems like the puck sticks to you as well. His offensive ability speaks for itself when he gets the puck. He’s a good player.
On how the underdog Finns took the gold medal
They were a good team. Honestly, I haven’t really reflected on that tournament at all. I came home and I got right to work and tried to prepare for the season. But obviously, it sucks when you lose in the gold medal game. You always want to win. It just seemed like they played a good team game. All five guys on the ice at the same time were always doing the same thing. It worked well for them. I don’t know what to say. It’s the game of hockey. Sometimes you score, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you control the play, sometimes you don’t. Your goalie steals a game. Every game’s different.
On how playing the Worlds affected his off-season conditioning plans
Just scheduling-wise, it changed a little bit. Obviously, I was there for 26 days. So it was almost an entire month. Coming home in the summer after the tournament, you obviously want to take some time off, but it’s almost mid-June right away. So you’ve got to kick it into gear. Panic mode starts to set in. At the end of the day, I know the work I put in this summer is going to pay off. I’m not a guy that doesn’t enjoy working out. I enjoy being in the gym. I’ve been with the same guys since high school that I work out with in the summer. So there was no issue getting back.
On what his opportunities to play with Jordie Benn have been like?
He doesn’t wear a visor. That sticks out! He’s very vocal and hard-nosed. He’s always going to tell me where to put pucks. At the same time, I think it might help me offensively to get up in the play a bit more, knowing that he’s back there and he’s reliable.
On the straightforward approach of Canucks coach Travis Green
You don’t really want a coach who is going to sugarcoat anything. They’re going to be pretty honest with you and, at the same time, hold you accountable. That’s what he’s doing out there on the ice. It’s not a surprise. He hasn’t changed from his word.
On whether he feels that his Worlds experience might benefit his career
Of course. When you play with Mark Stone, Thomas Chabot, Shea Theodore, and Jonathan Marchessault, all these high-end guys as your teammates, rubbing shoulders with them, it’s obviously going to give you confidence, the fact that you’re being talked about in the same category. At the same time, I still feel like I have a lot to prove. I still feel like I’m going to develop into a better player than I am now. I haven’t reached my limit yet.