Stief happy to be back in familiar surroundings

Last week Matt Stief picked up the phone and called Mike Hawes.

He wanted to come home. Home to the comfy confines of the Prince George Coliseum to resume patrolling the blueline for the Spruce Kings.

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Of course Hawes, the Kings general manager, said yes.

So Stief, a 19-year-old from Weston, Fla., packed up his bags and arrived in town Friday afternoon.

"They were happy to hear I was coming back," said Stief. "I'm very happy to be back and know my role and (I want to) help out the team as much as I can."

Last season in his first B.C. Hockey League campaign with the Spruce Kings, Stief appeared in 58 games and collected three goals and 30 assists.

In the off-season, the five-foot-nine, 170-pound defenceman was drafted 185th overall by the Waterloo Black Hawks of the United States Hockey League.

But he admits things didn't work out with the Black Hawks and he was searching for a place to play for the remainder of the season.

He called Hawes.

"I felt this is the right place to be for my development," said Stief on Saturday. "Even though things didn't work out (in Waterloo), I think it's kind of a blessing in disguise to kind of come back and know my role here and kind of help out as much as I can. In Waterloo, things didn't work out. I was sad to leave, but happy to be back (here)."

He didn't dress for the Kings game Friday against the Cowichan Valley Capitals, but he was in the starting lineup Saturday against Penticton in a 5-2 loss, paired up with another familiar face from last season, veteran defenceman Alex Stoley. They also spent time on the second power-play unit.

In his first season as Kings head coach, Chad van Diemen is aware of what Stief is capable of.

"The thing is he wants to get better," said van Diemen. "He had a pretty good experience in the USHL but he wasn't getting the ice time he wanted. I think he'll log a lot of minutes and be a calming influence to the veteran group. He's got an active stick and good ice presence. He's a smart kid and another guy who can continue to preach in the dressing room what we're doing, works.

"The guys have seen enough that when you stick to the game plan, it works."

After eight games, the Spruce Kings are tied with the Victoria Grizzlies for the worst record in the BCHL at 1-6-0-1 and three points.

Stief was part of a Kings group last season that advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 10 years.

He's more than happy to try and right the ship with his veteran presence.

"I like to be vocal and I like to lead by example," he said. "I spent last year learning from the vets. Coming back I feel really comfortable knowing my role and kind of understanding what the coaches want. I think I'll be able to help with the new kids."

He also likes the challenge of learning a new system under van Diemen.

"He's very loyal and what he says makes sense," said Stief. "Everyone just needs to buy in and believe in his systems because he's a great coach. Things are going to start turning out the way we want them to. Everyone just needs to buy into it."

The Spruce Kings are on the road Thanksgiving weekend with stops in Trail Friday against the 2-5 Smoke Eaters, in Vernon Saturday against the 4-5 Vipers and in Salmon Arm on Sunday against the 5-1 Silverbacks.

The Kings beat the Smokies 6-3 at the BCHL Showcase for their first and only win of the season.

"Those are always tough games in the Interior and tough buildings to play in," said van Diemen, adding the Kings will have to play a complete 60 minutes to have success. "We've had a good week of preparation and we've already played Trail and had some success. We know what we're going to have to do. Vernon and Salmon Arm are never easy places to get a win."

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