Kristian Stead helped the Knoxville Ice Bears win their first Southern Professional Hockey League regular season title since 2009.
The former 100 Mile House Wrangler earned 18 wins in his first pro season to help the Ice Bears set an SPHL record with 42 wins, to go 42-10-4. The season was a change of pace since last year the University of Alaska-Anchorage opted out of competing during Stead’s final season because of COVID-19 so they practiced for the year.
“I was definitely kind of champing at the bit to get some playing time, and then came down to Knoxville, and I was pretty fortunate that we were able to get some games going, and getting a rhythm and it’s been a great experience,” said Stead, prior to their playoff run, which ended in the first round of the President’s Cup.
Stead didn’t have any expectations of what he wanted to accomplish, he just wanted to play and that opportunity came thanks to Head Coach Jeff Carr.
“I’ve had a little bit of success myself, but obviously that doesn’t come without any of my teammates,” he said.
In February he was named the Player of the Week and on April 14, Stead was named to the All-SPHL Rookie Team. He was named the league’s best rookie netminder with a 2.20 goals against average and 18 wins which were both fourth in the league and the best among rookies. He also posted a .923 save percentage, which was fifth in the SPHL. He finished the regular season with two shutouts.
Stead said the talent in the SPHL is really good with a mix of players coming straight out of Division I or III and older players who have been around for a while.
“I was actually really surprised with the talent level, and I think it’s a lot better than some people might think,” said Stead, who saw action in Games 2 and 3 of their playoffs and made 28 saves on 30 shots for a .929 save percentage and a 1.70 goals against average.
The pace is faster and players’ releases are quicker.
“You really need to learn how to read the player, because players are so good nowadays,” he said. “They make minor adjustments, whether they pull it to the middle or push and change the angle, or they’re shot – you just have to be able to read the game a little more.”
Stead said he’s not the most orthodox goalie.
“I think there’s a little old school in me from time to time. I just like to compete and never give up on pucks and try to be aggressive when I can,” he said. “I was always a huge fan of Henrik Lundqvist. I always thought he played a little differently than the other guys. I was always aware that I wasn’t the most technically sound goalie that you’ll see on the ice.”
After two years with the Wranglers from 2013-15, Stead moved on to the Nipawin Hawks, where he would be named the CJHL’s Top Goaltender in 2016-17. Stead said the KIJHL is an “outstanding development league for young kids.”
“The quality of hockey is really good,” he said. “It really gives guys the tools to move on to the next level, or just kind of grow into themselves as a young man.”
Stead found the pace to be really good, and the season length helps players develop, and lots of guys want to move on to the next level.”
“In the KIJHL, you’ve got coaches who are connected, neighbouring leagues like the BCHL, SJHL, whatever it is there’s eyes on you so there’s lots of opportunity for people there,” he said.