It’s no exaggeration to say that for Steve Kirkby, hockey has been a cornerstone throughout his life.

“A great majority of the people I’ve met in my life, both professional and personal, have both come through that platform of hockey,” he tells NVMHA in an interview.

He was born near Toronto in Woodstock, Ontario — not far from where Wayne Gretzky, the Great One, was born. He played growing up as a child in Ontario, before moving to North Vancouver as an adult.

During his entire professional career, he’s worked with at-risk youth. Before moving to British Columbia, he worked as a correctional officer in Ontario for 15 years, primarily with young offenders. And as it turns out, hockey was a key instrument in building connections with these youth.

“I was trying to make some inroads before they became adults and always found, like through all forms of sport but primarily hockey, that I was able to establish some pretty powerful connections with young folks and establish relationships and do great things,” he explains.

Steve Kirkby was gracious enough to sit down with NVMHA and expand on the relationships that he’s built through hockey, a tenured coaching career, and highlights of working with players from NVMHA.

Hockey Heroes

Upon moving to B.C., Kirkby started a program called Hockey Heroes, which still runs to this day.

The program helps keep youth engaged in school by providing a weekly opportunity to play hockey. It’s offered to teenagers between the ages of 14 and 18 who are unable to play hockey due to financial or social barriers.

On top of having the opportunity to play with mentors, who help them build positive interactions and connections, individuals who participate are given equipment that allows them to keep playing after graduating high school and play in adult leagues.

Hockey Heroes participants identified a 40% increase in school attendance, as well as an increase in academic success and a reduction in reportable incidents within schools.


On top of creating Hockey Heroes, Steve Kirkby has been coaching for nearly 25 years.

In Ontario, he volunteered and worked with players with special needs. Upon moving to North Vancouver, he began formally coaching teams, including his three children who play for NVMHA and the North Shore Avalanche.

“It’s a lot of ice time,” he laughs. “When I talk to people about it, they just sit there and shake their heads. I always say that it’s a good thing that I really like it so much. I genuinely do — it’s busy but it’s a good busy.”

He adds that none of the coaching or success that he sees is done alone.

“I have really great assistant coaches and managers to help with it all, it’s a pretty big part of the household.”

Creating a positive and supportive environment for young athletes

Steve Kirkby has spent his entire career coaching players at the “C” (House) level.

One of his biggest priorities is creating a positive and supportive environment for his players, while being open-minded and understanding that they juggle different priorities and hobbies alongside hockey.

“If they’re active and they’re involved in lots of healthy pursuits, I think it’s a good thing,” he explains. “I also think it’s a good thing to mix up different activities, not just to get locked into one.”

“A big part of my coaching is building up a positive culture. They have other sports, hobbies, or interests, it’s not the end of the world if they can’t make every practice or game. But we’re stronger and better when they’re in the room or on the ice. So welcoming and supportive is our approach.”

From a tactical standpoint, he says that he takes a strength-based approach with all the kids that he coaches.

“I know they all have something that they bring to the party. Some may need more development, some more skill-based work, but they all have something that they’re good at.”

He loves highlighting that every Stanley Cup winning team has a cast of characters where not all of their skill sets are the same.

“You need a mix of all those things and the right mix for a successful season to get to the Stanley Cup or whatever it is that you’re competing for.”

He also has them write down their goals, giving players horizon-driven goals that they can work for. It’s also an opportunity for the players to sit down at the end of the season and see where they’ve grown.

Highlights of the 2023-24 season

This year, Steve Kirkby is the head coach of NVMHA U15 C1.

One of the biggest highlights for Steve and his coaching team this past season has been working with two players who are completely new to hockey.

“You have new-to-hockey people come into the room. For people to recognize what that individual might be going through and how do you support them, how do you welcome somebody that might not have any friends at all,” he explains. “They’re walking into a room where they don’t know anybody and skill-wise, they’re a bit behind the eight ball.”

“It’s about embracing that and encouraging a positive supportive environment.”

Steve says that he and his coaching staff were ecstatic to see the rest of the U15 team embrace and celebrate the new players.

“When the moments both came for these two to score their first goals, the bench went crazy,” he recalls. “All the players were super positive. They were going the lengths to get them the puck for that moment to have it and it was just really cool.”

“I tell the team every once in a while, don’t underestimate an act of kindness as well. You might just be asking someone what he did on the weekend or whatever it is, he’s somebody that hasn’t established any friends. That’s going to make a big difference and he gets a sense that he belongs to something.”

“We’ve been able to do that this year. And to see these kids have that success and have their parents comment, or say that their kid’s confidence has shot up, or that they’re finding a place in a community, and have a good impact in school and their ability to make other friends.”

Teaching life lessons through sports

On top of coaching the skills side of hockey, Steve adds that he’s always trying to help players learn important life lessons through the game.

“I think hockey is sort of an instrument to other things,” he explains. “And not trying to overstep boundaries but we have a big responsibility and opportunity to teach other skills and transferable skills outside of hockey.”

He wants to teach players to be respectful, to be a great competitor, and great people in the locker room. But most importantly, he wants to encourage them to be resilient.

“I think that’s one of those transferable things that’s paramount in sports but also your day-to-day,” he explains. “You always hear metaphors about how when you get knocked down, you have to get back up again. You’ve got to get back into things and try to instill ways or approaches of doing that because inevitably, it’s always going to happen — whether it’s sports, schools, or socially.”

“I think resilience is a good quality that these young athletes can take with them, not just for the season but for the rest of their lives.”

Rapid Fire

Who’s your favourite current NHL player?

Nathan MacKinnon

Who’s your favourite player of all time?

Joe Sakic

Who’s your favourite NHL team? 

Colorado Avalanche. My older brother was a Montreal Canadiens fan, so the most logical thing I could do was pick their most hated rival, which at the time was the Nordiques before they moved to Colorado. And when they moved, my allegiance went with them.

Do you have a favourite coach? 

Jared Bednar for Colorado, I think he’s a really good coach. And in football, Pete Carroll when he was a coach for the SeaHawks, I always really liked his positivity with his players.