Former Hab Greg Stewart a Veteran at 26


By Wayne Hardman, Special to All Habs Hockey Magazine

BELFAST, Northern Ireland — It is hard to conceive the thought of calling any competing sports practitioner a veteran at the age of just twenty-six years of age. However that is the modern term for Stewart, the Kitchener born player who iced for Peterborough Petes and was then drafted by Montreal in the 8th round during the 2004 draft. Greg now fully enjoys his hockey in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

No, not a born again freedom fighter but a Masters Degree student at Ulster University, enhancing his post hockey future career by upgrading his scholastic skills. At the same time he exhibits his hockey attributes with the Elite League Champions the Stena Line Belfast Giants.

When signing for the Giants their head coach Doug Christiansen had this to say, “Adding a player in the prime of his career who played in the NHL only two seasons ago is a massive coup for the Giants. Greg is a hard nose player who can skate fast, hit hard, fight and score. That’s the whole nine yards in my books.”

“Greg will create space for players around him and his overall skill set should allow him to make an impact in every game. You don’t make it to the NHL as a eighth round draft pick if you don’t play the game with passion. I expect him to be a big part of our team and also expect our fans to love him,” concluded Christiansen.

Whilst talking with Greg, he represented what this writer remembers most about ice hockey. Stewart, the player, grasps the nettle of how exacting the sport can be. His reasoning and commitment to the game has matured to that of a seasoned campaigner. To that end he even astutely reorganized his NHL pension to better personal advantage and long-term use.

To have reached the top of his career, of playing in the NHL for a period of time including his 246 appearances in the American hockey league Greg now plays the game with renewed enjoyment and passion for himself plus his team-mates.

He is content in the knowledge that there is another life after the razzmatazz plus media attention within the ranks of professionalism in sport. Greg feels he played his most rewarding and memorable hockey in Hamilton with the Bulldogs and then the Canadiens where he is fondly remembered.

Using the social media channels he still is remembered by fans of the Bulldogs and Canadiens not forgetting Oklahoma City, Chicago Wolves and yes even the Peterborough Petes.

His first trade shocked him when he was traded from Hamilton to Chicago. Greg dreaded the move, perceiving that he would not know many of the players or management within the organization, although the coaches in place at the Wolves also came from the Montreal camp after they had made extensive changes to the organization.

After acclimatizing himself in the windy city and losing his distrust and negativity he started to turn things around and play the game he loved with that old feeling and zest again.

Past experience proved that when the season – AHL or NHL – and your team feels it is short of a certain type of player whilst driving to obtain a playoff spot. You can often get traded by your coach for a key player from an opposing team for the betterment of both squads.

Feelings and thought patterns do not enter the equation and the best or only thing to do is learn from the experience and grow from the trade. Greg was drafted twice into the Montréal organization. The first was in 2004 in the entry draft whilst he was icing for Peterborough in the OHL.

The second time in 2006 when he signed a three-year entry level contract with Montreal his favorite NHL team from birth. His first professional debut was with the Cincinnati Cyclones in the East Coast Hockey League during the 2006/7 season.

In the following campaign Stewart was assigned to their AHL affiliate in Hamilton for most of the season scoring ten goals in sixty-nine games. The following season he was again icing for the Bulldogs but played his first NHL game in Toronto against the Leafs in April 2008.

It was a roller coast ride after that being bounced between Montreal and Hamilton before being loaned to the Chicago Wolves in exchange for Michael Vernace in March 2010.

Greg then signed a free agent agreement with the Edmonton Oilers for a one-year contract managing however only a preseason game where he scored the winning goal in the defeat of the Vancouver Canucks 3-2 in September of that year. He was then reassigned to Chicago’s AHL squad.

That season saw the Kitchener, Ontario born player ice seventy-four games with the Oklahoma City AHL outfit to where he was later assigned. Finally he linked up with the East Coast Hockey League’s South Carolina Stingrays before taking the plunge to come to Europe to showcase his talents and study to gain a coveted MBA qualification.

Whilst playing left wing Stewart has acquitted himself well with the Belfast fans and teammates alike. He is currently playing on a line centre by Noah Clarke, another former NHLer who iced with the New Jersey Devils and the L.A.Kings before travelling to the DEL to ice in the German league. Playing on the right wing is Scott Champagne who also played for five seasons in Europe after moving from the Texas Wildcatters of the ECHL.

The season started with a trickle and built to a flood of NHLers coming to Europe, after filling all the AHL and other league places available. The Giants fans can start to measure the difference between the level of the Giants playing staff against, for example the Nottingham Panthers who have just signed Anthony Stewart, a current playing squad player for the Carolina Hurricanes before the lock-out.

In a top of the table clash in the Odyssey Arena dubbed by the Giants fans “Fortress Odyssey” the Panthers came to Belfast looking for revenge after allowing the Giants to take three of the four points available to them on their last double hitter visit to the ‘Lace City’ of Nottingham.

In a tense struggle between two excellent teams the Giants eventually edged the victory 3-2 over the Panthers in a penalty shoot out win with Greg scoring the second goal and taking only a two minute hooking penalty throughout the game.

Anthony Stewart was held scoreless and sin bin free.  Greg had this to say after the crucial match:

“It was good to take that extra point for a penalty shoot out win. We haven’t worked that much on penalty shootouts in practice but the Robby Sandrock winning goal was a classic.

With our league being so close, when it comes to the last few games of the season those vital few extra points can mean so much when you are trying to repeat the league title this season as reigning champions.

The rivalry between Nottingham and Belfast is high and acknowledged by players, management and fans. These are the games you love to play in where it goes right down to overtime then a penalty shoot-out to separate the teams to find a winner.

I had a couple of good chances early on in the game and the puck didn’t find the back of the net but hey I’ve got to work on that. We have to learn how to closeout the game early on and not have to go into overtime or a penalty shoot-out to take both points.

We had a lot of changes and played fairly well but with more gelling processes going on, together as a team we will play better. Sure there were things we could have improved on but it’s still early season and we are finding our line harmony getting better each game.”

Talking to Greg about being labelled a veteran at the ripe old age of 26 he commented:

“A ruling they made after the last NHL lock-out where they deemed a player up to the age of 25 was in his development phase following that he was a veteran.

So once you reach the age of twenty-five plus the light at the end of the tunnel starts to dim is why I scoured Europe with my agent to find a good spot and further develop my academic abilities with the MBA programme we found at Ulster University.

That was the clincher for me in playing for a winning organization whilst up grading my available skill set that would be necessary in my post hockey career. You know going back to University isn’t as easy as it sounds after sometime away!

I’m having to find time between road trips and after practice to pound the books which I’m going to do tonight for an hour to try to catch up on my assignments.”

Off he headed, back to his waterfront flat in Belfast to study rather than go to the local watering hole for hockey players post game analysis: “Rockies’ Bar.” Now that’s called dedication!