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Madden: Stevens battles demons daily

Saturday, October 07, 2000

With the NHL season under way, every general manager, coach and player in the league will soon talk about playing the games one at a time.

Philadelphia Flyers winger Kevin Stevens, however, will be taking his days -- on and, especially, off the ice -- one at a time. In Stevens' case, it's no cliche. Taking the days one at a time is the mantra of the addict, which the former Penguin sadly was revealed to be Jan. 23 when he was arrested in a suburban St. Louis motel room for drugs and solicitation of prostitution. Crack cocaine was found in the room.

Stevens still faces one felony possession charge, which he expects to be settled in the near future. And he has to re-establish his career and reputation.

Stevens denies solicitation. He also says he never smoked crack: "When the cops came into the room, all that stuff [crack] was around. But it wasn't mine. It was basically a party. There were other people around, but I was the only one in the room when the cops came in. I'm not blaming anyone. I put myself in a situation I shouldn't have been in. It was a nightmare. But it was my fault."

A prostitute arrested with Stevens described him as "a crack monster." But I'd believe him ahead of most people, let alone a hooker.

Anyway, addicts can't look back. They have to look ahead. They have to conquer their demons. And in Stevens' case, that means no drinking. Booze is his demon.

"It's better if I don't drink," said Stevens, 35. "I've been sober 16 months except for a couple nights, including that night in St. Louis. I don't crave alcohol all the time, nothing like that. But I'm a binge drinker. Sometimes I get carried away. So it's better if I don't drink at all."

Stevens went through an NHL-mandated rehabilitation program after his arrest.

"It was a good program, eight weeks, and I learned a lot," Stevens said. "Since then, I've been going to AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] meetings. They help a lot. The people are great. Some people recognize me, but they don't make a big deal. People aren't exactly at AA meetings to look for celebrities. People are there to take care of themselves. The meetings remind me that I can't drink.

"It's up to me to stay sober. Thank God for all the support I've gotten from my wife [Suzanne] and family. My wife's great. She didn't deserve to have anything like this happen to her."

Stevens became a free agent during the off-season when his contract with the New York Rangers expired. Penguins fans were hoping he might return to Pittsburgh, and that was indeed a possibility. But the Flyers offered a one-year deal worth $600,000 plus incentives. Stevens took it.

Stevens enjoyed the glory days of his career in Pittsburgh, winning two Stanley Cups while spending half of a decade as the best left winger in the world. He still loves the city.

Nonetheless, Philadelphia seems a better fit for Stevens. Former Penguins Mark Recchi and Rick Tocchet, two of Stevens' best friends, are once again his teammates. Flyers assistant general manager Paul Holmgren has waged a successful battle with alcoholism.

"I was very fortunate," Stevens said. "After what happened, I figured I'd have to go to camp somewhere on a tryout basis. But five or six teams offered contracts. I was surprised. I'd like to think that's because people around the league know what kind of person I am. I had the opportunity to go to Pittsburgh, and I would have enjoyed that, I'm sure, especially with Mario [Lemieux] owning the team now. But with Recchi and Tocchet here, Philadelphia was the best situation for me."

Stevens is glad to be playing hockey. He's not going to score 50 goals again. He'd probably be satisfied to get 20.

"I'm a third-line guy now," said Stevens. "I don't know if I like it, but I've accepted it. If we win, it'll be easier. It looks like me and Tocchet are going to be on the third line here, so that should be fun."

The NHL season is under way. Stevens is ready to battle in the corners. He's ready to battle in front of the net. More important, he's ready to battle the temptations of the road. He's ready to ignore the cruel catcalls that will inevitably come from the crowd.

"There's temptation on the road, sure, but there's temptation everywhere," he said.

"I expect to hear it from the fans. I'm just going to do my best to block it out. I made a mistake. I'm sure the people in the stands have made mistakes, too. I think more people want to see me succeed than want to see me fail. I just want to play well. If I do, I don't think I'll hear it as much."

Stevens' voice gets enthusiastic when he talks about the Flyers, but it's a different story when he talks about his night in a suburban St. Louis jail.

"It was awful, just awful," Stevens said, struggling for words. "It was terrible. I don't like talking about it ... "

Hopefully, Kevin Stevens can stay sober and maybe score some goals as a bonus. If he does, he won't have to talk about what happened Jan. 23. Not as much, anyway.


Mark Madden hosts a sports talk show 4-8 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM 1250.

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