A caring warmth fills Kelli Wilson’s voice as she reveals how drug addiction shattered her brother Kevin Stevens’s professional hockey career and cherished family life.
“He was the perfect, all-American kid,” she recalls.
Their growing-up years were almost like living in a Norman Rockwell painting.
“I had an all-American family. Great parents and two older sisters who supported everything I did,” says Stevens.
Family members paid him a dollar for every hockey goal he scored while skating on the frozen cranberry bogs of Pembroke, Massachusetts.
“He was already rich by the time he was six years old,” Wilson says with a laugh.
A Stellar Hockey Career
Kevin Stevens’s talent on the ice led to a full scholarship to Boston College, the school he had always dreamed of attending. As a senior, he completed an economics degree and scored 70 points in 39 hockey games. He soon rose to fame as a three-time National Hockey League all-star as a left winger and power forward with the Pittsburgh Penguins. In addition, he was a power forward on the US Olympic team in the 1988 Calgary games.
The early ’90s were a highlight in Stevens’s life. In 1990, when he married his high school sweetheart, Suzanne, he was making $150,000 a season. And by 1992, he was making more than one million dollars per season. It was a giant leap from those dollar-a-goal days of his childhood. Beyond finances, he was a treasure to the Pittsburgh Penguins team, both on and off the ice. Mario Lemieux—often considered one of the greatest hockey players of all time—said Stevens “was the party of the room at every game. He made it fun for everybody to come to the rink.”
During the back-to-back Stanley Cup seasons of 1990–1991 and 1991–1992, Stevens was the only Pittsburgh Penguin to play in every season and playoff game. He racked up 17 goals and 33 points within that Stanley Cup run, finishing third in the team, scoring behind future Hall of Famers Mario Lemieux and Mark Recchi.
“He was one of the best, if not the best, power forward for a few years,” says Lemieux. “He developed into this beast who could skate, hit and shoot.”
Poor Decisions, Major Injuries, and Addiction
Stevens believes that a choice that felt small at the time opened the door to his long battle with addiction. Along with his teammates, he was in New York City after a game against the Rangers.
“It was just like any other night. Somebody handed me this little vial of something. I didn’t know what it was then. Now I know it was cocaine,” he recalls.
He went into a bathroom and decided to take the drug.
“That was the first time I’ve ever tried drugs, and it set off this gene in my body,” Stevens recalls.
While he cites that night as the beginning of his addiction, his friends and family feel that heavy use of painkillers following a horrific hockey injury in which Stevens shattered several bones in his face also sparked the spiral. Whatever the reason, the compulsion to use drugs grabbed hold of him with increasing intensity.
“It builds and builds until something happens,” Stevens says. “If you don’t have a solution to fix it, it will get you. That’s what addiction does.”
Spiraling Out of Control
As Stevens’s drug use continued, his family became increasingly concerned about his well-being. When they realized he was missing practices and games, they knew something was seriously wrong—but they had no idea what it was, says Wilson.
His parents were worried, saying, “Something’s not right with Kev,” she recalls, “His behavior changed and started to go south.” She adds, “He wasn’t the same, Kevin. Before, he was always putting everyone else first. Now, suddenly he would disappear and not call me back.”
When Wilson tried to reach her brother, his voicemail was full. It was like their communication was cut off. His relationship with his teammates changed, too. To hide his drug use, he sneaked away from team outings to try to score drugs.
“I’m hanging out in the worst places in town,” Stevens remembers. “When you look for illegal things, you go to illegal places.”
At times, he searched for drugs all night, then arrived sleepless at the rink the next day. His teammates noticed that he looked exhausted, and his game was off. Stevens brushed their concerns aside, thinking he was just having fun. The thought that he was an addict didn’t cross his mind.
Along with affecting his health and athletic performance, today, Stevens acknowledges that his addiction and related behaviors led to huge financial losses. There was a time when he needed $500.00 worth of drugs a day just to make it through. He spent millions of dollars and pawned valuable possessions.
“I think he made close to 21 million dollars in his career,” says Wilson. “He should be living in a mansion or be set up for retirement, and he’s not. He’s renting an apartment.” Back in the day, she says, “He’d have a nice watch, or he’d have some memorabilia, maybe even his Stanley Cup rings, and then suddenly they would be gone.”
Along with losing money and material possessions, he also lost his marriage and his relationship with his three children, Luke, Kylie, and Ryan.
“He got divorced, and his kids took a long time to come back to their dad and start to build a relationship,” says Wilson. Stevens adds, “Addiction takes and takes until you stop, and if you don’t stop, it will keep taking until you have nothing.”
Wilson remained devoted to her brother despite his addiction. During that time, she educated herself and understood more about addiction as a disease. “When you become educated about the reality that addiction is a disease, you can help better,” she says.
Hitting Rock Bottom
In the fall of 2015, Stevens met with a friend to obtain prescription pills. He didn’t know the FBI was watching him.
“When I got the call, it was Kevin’s girlfriend, and she was hysterical, saying, ‘They took him, they took him, they took him!’ Wilson recalls. “Who took him? The FBI. On the news, police stated that Kevin was in possession and conspiring to sell Oxycodone. Fifteen FBI agents just pounded the door down. They dragged Kevin out of bed, cuffed him, and took him away,” says Wilson.
It became a federal case that was “built up through a bunch of different people and came down at the end to me,” says Stevens.
“Obviously, they wiretapped phones and heard people talking. I was just doing what everybody else was in that world, but obviously, I was doing something wrong. I paid the price.”
Stevens had six days to sit in jail when he could “decide to make a left turn and go to jail and die, or come out and take a right turn and do the things I was supposed to do.”
Wilson says that even though it was a terrible situation for her brother to experience, “I think it needed to happen because it was his rock bottom.”
“That was probably the worst time in my life, but now I can say it was probably the best thing that ever happened to me because it saved my life,” he says.
Throughout Stevens’s turbulent battle to move past addiction, his source of calm, hopeful stability was his sister.
“Kelli always took care of Kevin. There is no one else like her,” says her husband, Willy Wilson.
Stevens left jail as a changed man. For the first time in more than two decades, he committed to getting sober. It was challenging for the first two or three months.
“Sobriety was like torture. You have to take it a day at a time; you have to be around people that can help you get over those situations,” says Stevens. “I was willing to sacrifice to do anything to get sober. Because I wanted to live a life where I could be around another 25 years and be happy.”
Paul Kelly, Stevens’s lawyer, said,” Over the year I spent with Kevin, it was clear that he was genuinely committed to sobriety. Physically, he looked better and dropped pounds; his mind is clearer; he just seems like a happier person than when I first saw him.”
Slowly, one step at a time, Stevens put his life back together. But he still faced more than a year in prison for his drug offense.
“The case against him was pretty strong. They had audio recordings of conversations, surveillance video, and photographs,” says Kelly.
Wilson remembers that it was quiet enough to hear a pin drop when the judge started to speak.
“You would have thought he would send Kevin to jail,” she recalls. But instead, the judge decided to impose a probationary sentence of a $10,000 fine and three years probation. And then he said, “Kevin, you have a voice. You are somebody who could help other addicts. I want you to go out and speak to the community. When you tell them your story, they’ll have some hope.”
His attorney said that Stevens is “in a better place than he’s been in decades. He’d like to be part of the solution to the opioid crisis rather than a contributor to the problem.”
A New Life
Today, Kevin Stevens lives in Weymouth, Massachusetts, with his girlfriend and their son, Hunter, who is seven years old (and already a great athlete, says Wilson.) Stevens’s three older children are all athletes. His oldest son, Luke, graduated from Yale University and now plays minor league hockey with the New Jersey Devils. Daughter Kylie played soccer for Union College and is now a financial advisor living in Palm Beach, Florida. Stevens’s second son, Ryan, now plays hockey for Yale.
To keep following his children’s successes, Stevens says that it’s vital for him to go to AA meetings, which helped save his life. After 15 months of sobriety, his family and friends saw that the change in him was real. It was so real that his old team decided to give him one more chance as a scout.
His former teammate, Mario Lemieux, says, “I think it’s good for him to be involved with the Penguins; he’s been a big part of our success over the years.” In turn, Stevens feels grateful and lucky to have that chance to be involved.
Wilson adds, “I thank God every day because I have my brother back, who I’ve missed for over two decades. It’s different now because he believes he’s an addict and isn’t in denial anymore.”
“I didn’t know if I had a purpose for a long time,” says Stevens. “I think I have one now.”
Today, he sees his purpose as helping people.
Stevens has been sober since May 17, 2016. That same year, the Penguins were back-to-back Stanley Cup champions again. Stevens’s mind filled with memories as he watched the final game and relived the moment when he stood with his Pittsburgh teammates, celebrating their own twin titles. As the thrill of victory for his former team sank in, Stevens’s mood reflected both hope and happiness.
While those once-in-a-lifetime Stanley Cup moments were now in his past, he could visualize the reality that he was now putting his life back together. And now, he’s reaching out to help others resolve their own addiction challenges.
Today, along with helping their own family thrive, Stevens and Wilson have founded Power Forward (powerforward25.com), a nonprofit organization seeking to remove the stigma relating to addiction while helping those who are currently struggling.
“We understand that addiction is a disease that can be prevented and recovered from,” says Wilson. “The shame associated with addiction prevents people from getting the help they need. We want to change that.”
Thus far, Power Forward has presented 50 Sober Living scholarships, providing up to six weeks of sober housing for those in recovery. The results have included a 95 percent completion rate and 80 percent employment from those completing treatment. In addition, Stevens has told his recovery story at more than 200 speaking events.
Stevens and Wilson are currently bringing Power Forward to Utah, their adopted home state since 2010.
“For us Bostonians, Park City is like Nantucket in the mountains,” says Wilson. “We love the fresh air and especially the people.”
They also adore “the bluebird skies all year round. We love to ski, snowshoe, hike, and bike. We’re excited to have Power Forward here.”
Just like he did during this hockey career, Kevin Stevens continues to touch countless lives by sharing his story of addiction and helping others who are battling addiction.
To learn more about Power Forward, visit powerforward25.com.
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