A low mist hangs over the ice, and the fog creeps up and clings to the glass as Colton Stephenson steps onto the ice at Schroh Arena on a balmy evening in mid-July.
He does a quick twirl on the ice before picking up a puck and zipping a snap shot -ping- off of the cross bar and in before wryly smiling, he has spent his life around the game of hockey.
“When I was little, I never imagined my life without playing in the NHL,” Stephenson later said.
After attending his first junior camp at 16 with the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings he was told to begin using a trainer. That’s when he linked up with Chad Martin, who would play an integral role in Stephenson’s life.
“I wanted to be like him, he was like a 30-year-old stud,” Stephenson said. “He would do things that I wanted to do, he was my idol.”
Although the NHL wasn’t meant to be for the 28-year-old kinesiology student, he played his heart out every time he touched the ice, until it was no longer an option. After suffering his fifth diagnosed concussion, Stephenson hung up his blades at just 19 years old.
“It was the hardest decision I’ve ever made,” he said. “I remember I drove home with my jeep packed, and I cried the whole way home, just imagining all of the stuff I wouldn’t get to do again.”
“It’s hard,” Colton’s mother Bev added. “As a mother, when they’re hurting, you’re hurting.”
“In hockey, when the highs are high, you enjoy it, because the lows are low,” she added. “It’s really crappy when the lows are low.”
However, Stephenson’s hardened work ethic and sheer determination had gotten him this far. He continued to rely upon those traits as he helped to push his younger brother Chandler to realize both of their childhood dreams, first making the NHL, then winning a Stanley Cup.
“(It’s the) brotherly inter-competition, you know,” Chandler said. “You always want to be better than him, and chase him, and be stronger. You always just want to kind of have the bragging rights at home.”
Following the success of his “first student,” Chandler, Colton is now using his lifelong experiences throughout the hockey world to help mold the next generation of Saskatchewan hockey talent as a trainer with Counter Move Hockey.
“I was building a blueprint on how to make and NHL player, I just didn’t know that,” Colton said. “It’s just cool to see the kids light up when you make them better.”
“I just know things (now) that I wish someone would’ve told me (when I was younger).” he said
Just like his experiences with former trainer Chad Martin, Stephenson’s hockey journey has now come full circle.