VANCOUVER — Peter Stecher wrote a letter to his son that he never sent.
Why he didn’t mail the letter doesn’t matter. What is important is that he kept it, so that before the Vancouver Canucks summer camp began last week, Troy Stecher discovered the letter and was able to feel again the love of the dad he lost suddenly four weeks ago, on Father’s Day.
“My brother and I went there to clean out his apartment, and I actually found a letter he wrote in my rookie year but never gave to me,” Stecher, the 26-year-old defenceman, said Saturday. “He was telling me how proud he was that I made the NHL. And how there’s no straight road in this world. There are always going to be bumps and bruises and you just keep going through it. (He wrote) I’ve faced a lot of obstacles already and I’ve overcome a lot, but now is not the time to stop.
“When I found that letter, I definitely broke down. That’s something I’ll hold and probably frame and keep with me the rest of my life.”
It is the final gift of a father who, Troy said, gave him everything.
“He was my first coach and my favourite coach,” Stecher said. “He was my best friend. My dad was always hard on me as a player. He wasn’t an asshole or anything, but my dad expected me to work hard and he wasn’t going to sugar-coat anything. He was going to tell me the way it was, and I’m thankful for that.”
Peter Stecher, who raised his three kids in Richmond, B.C., before settling in Surrey, died suddenly on June 21 from complications of diabetes. He was 65 years old.
“My darkest nightmare you could ever imagine,” Troy said.
The coronavirus pandemic has made most of us more human, more vulnerable but also more aware.
The Canucks are a poignant reminder of the joy and sorrow the circle of life offers.
Stecher is the third Vancouver player to lose his father this season. Zack MacEwen lost his dad, Craig, in May after a massive stroke at home on Prince Edward Island. Goaltender Jacob Markstrom’s father, Anders, died in Sweden last November after battling cancer.
But the NHL shutdown also saw Canucks Bo Horvat and Antoine Roussel welcome new babies. And on Saturday, as Stecher was promoted to the top-four on defence and practised alongside Alex Edler at Rogers Arena, depth defenceman Jordie Benn returned home to Texas for the birth of his child.
“It’s a crazy thing, the unexpectedness of life,” MacEwen said Saturday. “I think both of us (he and Stecher) took away from that you just never know and nothing is a given. You’ve just got to keep pushing forward and kind of lean on each other and use the people around you.”
Stecher said it helps that he is back among teammates. He said both Markstrom and MacEwen sent him long text messages when his dad died.
“Sending their condolences and just telling me a little bit about how they handled it, understanding that you’re going to face a wave of emotions and to just accept them and try not to fight it,” Stecher said. “There are going to be times you break down, and that’s fine. There are times you have good memories, and that’s fine. Every day is a new day. It was nice for them to reach out, and not just them but the amount of support I got from people was just amazing.
“On a personal level, it’s been a blessing to have the guys back and I can get on a schedule that will occupy my mind throughout the day: showing up at the rink to work hard and going through practice, and then trying to take care of my body after. Obviously, there are times at home I think about things. It has just been a blessing to be at the rink. That’s where my dad and I were happiest together – when we were at the rink.”
Stecher said his father coached him at Richmond Minor Hockey until he was nine, but also taught him how to play baseball and other sports. His parents separated when he was in high school, shortly before Troy went off to play Junior-A in Penticton, B.C., where as an under-sized defenceman he eventually earned a scholarship to the University of North Dakota.
After three years at college and a national championship with Vancouver teammate Brock Boeser, Stecher signed with the Canucks as an undrafted free agent in 2016, and since then has spent all but four games of his professional career in the NHL. Peter Stecher’s letter is four years old.
Troy’s dedication to his craft and work ethic are relentless, exemplified by him literally skating hard enough to vomit on the first day of every training camp he has attended. He finally broke his puking streak last Monday when the Canucks began practising for the NHL’s summer Stanley Cup tournament.
“You want the secret? I took two Gravol before the skate,” Stecher said. “I took two of the non-drowsy ones. I might be doing that come training camp next year.”
Stecher has looked sharp in this camp, something he attributes partly to remaining in Vancouver and skating through most of hockey’s four-month shutdown. He got right back on the ice after his dad died.
“When I got off the ice, I bawled for about 40 minutes in my car,” he said. “(The rink) was where we were happiest. It’s where he taught me to love the game. Some of my greatest memories are at the rink, so I just have nothing but good thoughts coming to the rink now. I want to be here.
“I’m flooded with happy and amazing memories. Unfortunately, that’s all I have now.”
And a letter too precious for words.