At the age of 54, Kevin Stevens should have been in the Hockey Hall of Fame for more than a decade now. He should be in the top 20 goal scorers of all-time with more than 600 goals to his name. He should be living in a mansion and his most pressing decision today should be how much of the millions of dollars he made during his career he should lavish on his children.
Instead, Stevens is renting an apartment in Weymouth, Mass., making ends meet by working as a special assignment scout for the Pittsburgh Penguins. He lost his playing career, his family and much of his place in hockey history, but now he has something far more important, a gift that came after wrestling with addiction for almost a quarter of a century. “I have a purpose,” Stevens says in Shattered, a 23-minute documentary chronicling his story. “I didn’t know my purpose for a long time. I have a purpose and that’s to help people.”
And that will continue Tuesday night in the Boston suburb of Arlington, Mass., when Shattered is screened in New England for the first time for an audience that will include a whose-who of the hockey world. The documentary, produced by Rogers Sportsnet, aired first in Canada in January 2018. When those people watch the film Tuesday night, they’ll see the story of a man who had everything, the perfect life, and almost lost it all because of addiction. And here’s the most interesting thing. Most people in the game are of the notion that Stevens’ addiction problems started when he became addicted to opioids after reconstructive facial surgery in 1993, but it actually began two months prior to that when Stevens tried cocaine for the first time in his life in New York after a game against the Rangers. And like most addicts, he was hooked from the beginning.
“The cocaine set if off,” Stevens said. “The injury made it bigger, but I was definitely in trouble once I did the cocaine. I had no idea what addiction was, I had no idea what any of it was. I talk to people now and I remember when people would come and talk to me about this stuff and I’d say, ‘That’s never going to be me.’ I was a first-team all-star, I was winning Stanley Cups and I didn’t do a drug until I was 28 years old. You never know if it’s going to be you.”
It was a rapid spiral from there for Stevens, whose life and career changed forever the night of May, 14, 1993, when he collided with defenseman Rich Pilon in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final against the New York Islanders and struck his face on the ice. “It was like someone took a hammer and crushed his skull,” former Islanders goalie Glenn Healy says in the film. Stevens recovered and came back to score 41 goals for the Penguins the next season, but as his addiction issues magnified, his game suffered and he spent the next eight years bouncing from Boston to Los Angeles to the New York Rangers to Philadelphia and back to Pittsburgh, never scoring more than 23 goals in a season.
For so many years, people tried to help, Mario Lemieux in particular. Lemieux offered Stevens a job as a scout after he retired, then led an intervention and flew him to Florida on a private jet for rehab. Lemieux then hired his old friend back two years ago after Stevens got, and stayed, sober. But there was nothing anyone could do and in order to get well, Stevens had to hit rock bottom. Some thought that would have come in 2000 when he was arrested in East St. Louis, Ill., after being found in a seedy hotel with a prostitute and crack cocaine. Others thought he might straighten out after getting divorced and losing contact with his three children. Still others thought that he might see the light after being involved in a near-fatal car accident in 2015. It did not come, however, until May of 2016 when he was charged with the felony offense of conspiracy and possession with the intention to distribute oxycodone. He received three years’ probation a year later and has been sharing his story ever since.
Stevens said there are three places that many addicts end up – jail, dead or in an institution – and he has been to two of them. The third could have been his fate many, many times. Addiction does not play favorites, even with talented and rich athletes, as evidenced when Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs was found dead in a Texas hotel room in July with fentanyl, oxycodone and alcohol in his system. The fact that Stevens managed to avoid that end has inspired him to share his journey with others.
“No one wakes up saying, ‘I want to die today from doing drugs,’ ” Stevens said. “No one ever thinks, ‘It’s going to be me that day that overdoses.’ Nobody goes out and does heroin and says, ‘You know what, I want to overdose and die.’ Nobody thinks that way. I didn’t think that would ever happen to me, but it would have.”
Proceeds from the event Tuesday night in Arlington will go to Power Forward Inc., the non-profit charity Stevens has established to provide resources and education to battle opioid addiction. The stories and numbers are telling us a grim story about this disease, but Stevens is determined to do what he can to help. After all, that’s the purpose he’s found in his life. He has since become a father again with a young son and has reconnected with his three children, including Luke and Ryan, who will both be playing at Yale University this season, Luke as a senior and Ryan as a freshman. “It’ll be a nice night and everything, but the main reason I’m doing this is to help people,” Stevens said. “It’s terrible in Boston, it’s terrible in Canada, it’s terrible in Pittsburgh. It’s terrible everywhere.”
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