When it comes to hockey Cory Stillman has seen it all, the good, the bad, and the ugly. The good? Being a part of one of the more dominant teams in OHL history, when he was traded from Windsor to Peterborough in the 1992-93 season. Stillman, a Peterborough native, had to go through to that difficult process of being traded for the first time. In this case, Stillman got to come home and play with the likes of Mike Harding, Jason Dawe, Chris Pronger, and Brent Tully. The steady hand helping him through the process was the legendary coach Dick Todd, who Cory attributes to being a huge help dealing with that first trade.
“It was good, obviously at that time he was one of the best coaches in junior hockey let alone the OHL, and what helped made it easier was that I had already played two years in the league. Being 19 made it easier to come play in my hometown, we had a great team, great players and if I had to do it all over again I’d do the same thing.”
Stillman and the Petes were rewarded that season capping it all off with an OHL championship, over the powerhouse Soo Greyhounds. That championship run prepared him for an NHL career, many hope for, but seldom realize. Stillman played 18 NHL seasons with six different teams, amassing 727 points, and winning back to back Stanley Cups with Tampa Bay and Carolina.
Where does the bad come in you ask?
During my chat with Cory, the grind of 18 years of pro hockey and the politics of the NHL don’t seem to be difficult, but fatherhood is where the true test of character lies. Stillman has had to endure putting his son through hockey, which comes with its own unique version of stress. There’s playing in your dad’s hometown and living up to his reputation, and getting drafted and suiting up for the rival Oshawa Generals. Like any father, Cory says playing was easy, but watching your son play is a whole different story.
“When you sit in the stands you can’t control anything, you can’t help out at all, there’s a lot of you should have done this and this, but I’m just going trying to enjoy watching him play.”
The junior hockey life has definitely suited Riley even though he didn’t make the team as a 16-year-old rookie, but he certainly proved everyone he belonged one year later, in his first full season with Gens he had 21 points in 62 games from the blueline. That was enough for the Florida Panthers to take him in the fourth round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Fittingly enough, Cory spent parts of three seasons with the Panthers during his NHL career.
Draft day has become a big part of Canadian culture; it’s the Canadian media’s super bowl really. As fans we eat it up, but Cory admits that draft day is much different as a parent.
“Obviously some guys know they’re going to go first round and a high second round pick ,but after that you’re sitting waiting to hear your name called. Sitting beside him in Buffalo you could see him getting excited and you could see the ups and downs of everyone in the arena, luckily he got picked by Florida which helped a lot.”
Despite trying out for one of his dad’s former teams, Cory says a lot has changes since he played there. The moment it really hit him was when he and his wife watched Riley suit up for an NHL exhibition game,
“As a parent we took the trip down there, because you never know if it’s going to happen again, obviously you’d like to, but Riley walked out of there afterwards and said dad these players are so good! I told him ‘hey, now you know how much work you have to do to get back here.’”
From father to son, there may be no greater mix of stress and happiness that goes into your son chasing after his dream of playing pro hockey.
by Colin Teskey