Reluctant Hero

This is a story that Steve Cady doesn’t want you to read, because it’s mostly about Steve Cady.

Strike that. Cady wants you to read it because it also promotes Miami hockey. He just wishes that the words “Steve” and “Cady” were nowhere in the picture, but he’s willing to take one for the team.

“I could do without the naming part,” said Cady. “That certainly wasn’t the intent 10, 20 years ago when this whole thing began.”

When the Miami RedHawks dedicated their new Goggin Ice Center with its 3,200-seat Steve Cady Arena at this year’s Ice Breaker Tournament, the praise for the arena’s namesake echoed more loudly than the puck play along the newly-minted dashers:

Through his own, unique methodology, Steve has facilitated the development of literally thousands of people. As his students become mentors to future students, and they collectively transcend the generations in perpetuating his noble contributions. Clearly, one example of his inspiration to work harder and achieve more is evident tonight, for we are sitting in the premier college hockey arena in the nation thanks to a gift from Tom Brown … just one of the many people who wanted to thank Steve Cady for his lifetime commitment to developing people.

As RedHawk announcer Steve Baker introduced Cady, the former Miami head coach and current senior associate director of athletics looked like he wanted to escape. It wasn’t that Cady didn’t want to be present at the building’s dedication; he just thought that he shouldn’t be the center of attention.

“He wants to deflect everything,” said Michigan State athletic director Ron Mason. “That’s the sign of a pretty good leader, actually. People around him gain as much credit as he does, if not more.”

Rick Comley, MSU head coach, added, “He hires good people and he works hard. Nothing’s come easy for Steve Cady.”

Mason and Comley should know. The fraternity of college hockey coaches is fairly small, and both Comley and Cady are Mason protégés. Cady began coaching as a student assistant on his junior varsity hockey team at St. Lawrence under the watchful eye of another name familiar to CCHA fans, Wayne State head coach Bill Wilkinson, but after graduating from SLU in 1975, Cady went to work for Mason at Bowling Green.

“He was a young whippersnapper, I called him,” said Mason. “Once I got to know him, I saw what great potential he had.”

Cady spent a year as a graduate assistant with BGSU hockey and soccer — the two sports he played at SLU — before being hired by Miami in 1976 to skipper the team’s budding club hockey program. Those who have come to know Cady now may be surprised by the younger man’s brashness. From the moment he arrived in southwest Ohio, he pushed for the expansion of the hockey program.

“When I came here, they said that hockey would never be a varsity sport and never be supported,” said Cady. “I was hired to run a little club program.

“I was young and naive enough to believe that we could make this a varsity program. I told them, ‘We’re going to go into the CCHA, we’re going to win a CCHA championship, and a national championship.’

“It was 1976 that I made those statements, said as a 23-year-old after one year with Ron Mason. I didn’t know any better.”

Of course, history has proven that Cady knew more than better. Cady himself compiled a record of 121-126-11 as Miami’s head coach in the first seven years of the program’s Division I status, and 34 years after the inception of the CCHA, the RedHawks have two league titles to their credit, are the defending regular-season champions, and now play in an intimate arena that is second to none in college hockey.

Although Cady has always been the driving force behind men’s ice hockey at Miami, he credits everyone around him — anyone else, in fact — for the program that he’s built and the arena that bears his name.

After the arena dedication, Cady said, “When it comes down to it, Ron [Mason] is really the key to all of this. It was very kind of him and Joel to come back.”

“Joel” is Joel Maturi, former Miami athletic director and the current AD at Minnesota. Cady spoke of Mason’s and Maturi’s presence at the new arena’s dedication as though the two would have been anywhere else that weekend.

As for the design of the building, “Our vice president for finance, Richard Norman, was a real key in all of this.”

Cady is good at giving credit where it’s due, a major component to his own success. Of Mason he said, “I learned more in one year [at BGSU] than I have at any point in my career.”

And Norman, said Cady, was the guy who gave the green light for the new arena’s design research. Cady and his team toured hockey facilities all over North America to get the new Goggin just right.

“The locker room is patterned after the Toronto Maple Leafs’ locker room,” said Cady. “Some of the things in the arena are laid out in respect to the [Columbus] Blue Jackets’ rink. The club area and the press box, that came from Michigan State.

“Richard gave us the money to go, and that’s what went out and did. We found a place in Calgary that had the dasher boards that come down from the ceiling.”

Cady’s vision for this new facility wasn’t limited to the men’s varsity ice hockey program. He wanted something that would completely replace the old Goggin Arena, a building that saw more intramural than varsity action. The new Goggin Ice Center has two NHL-size rinks, the ice surface in Steve Cady Arena and the practice sheet right across the hall.

Why were Cady and his colleagues intrigued with the dashers that descended to divide a regular-size rink in half? Because Miami University has at least 500 intramural broomball teams. In fact, part of Cady’s legacy is his gift to the general student population at Miami; 7,000 students participate in intramural broomball or ice hockey, three seasons each year.

“He’s the greatest man I’ve ever worked for in my life,” said Miami assistant athletic director Mike Harris. “I think the world of the guy. He has loyalty, integrity, positive attitude, teamwork … Some of his players called him the Bobby Knight of college hockey because of what he instilled in them. To a ‘T,’ all of them say that he is the man who made them who they are today.”

And that’s evidenced by the donor list in the new Goggin. Every major benefactor is a former Miami hockey player but two; they played soccer.

His players come back to see him, repeatedly. “Reunion week, they tell the stories of how hard he was to play for,” said Harris. “I think Steve took pride in developing not only hockey players but people.

“That’s really the story. The person he is.”

And Steve Cady, the person, is so much more than most people realize. Loyalty is a quality that everyone agrees that Cady possesses in abundance. So are generosity and graciousness.

“He’s first-class,” said Comley. “I have tremendous respect for him. Everyone does. Not only did he hold the program together in the early going, but he developed it and contributed to the entire university.”

Cady has served as chair of Miami’s Athletic Facilities Master Plan Committee since 1995, a position that allowed him to oversee the refitting of MU’s athletic classrooms, build new baseball, softball and field hockey facilities, and push for a major upgrade of Yager Stadium, home of RedHawk football. That upgrade has led to greater exposure for Miami’s nationally-respected gridiron program.

And while Cady graduated from college 31 years ago, there’s a good chance he’s still the spryest guy on the ice, anytime he chooses to don the skates. His High Performance Skating for Hockey, co-authored by Vern Stenlund, is the bible for skating instruction. Cady is considered one of the best skating instructors in the world and remains active in the Huron Hockey School, founded by Mason in 1970.

Cady’s been the on-site coordinator for two NCAA Ice Hockey Regional Tournaments (1984, 1990), was instrumental in Miami’s bid to host the 1996 Frozen Four in Cincinnati, and from 1995 to 1999 served on the NCAA Ice Hockey Rules Committee.

He’ll serve on the Men’s Division I NCAA Ice Hockey Championship committee for the next four years.

“How fortunate I have been on multiple levels,” said Cady. “This place attracts some tremendous student-athletes. Because of Miami’s national reputation … that’s allowed me to be involved on a national level.

“I really think hockey, maybe because the family is so small, is such a great group of people.”

These days, Cady is glowing — in his understated way — in the radiance of the 2005-06 RedHawk regular-season title and a new arena that he wishes didn’t bear his name.

“Last year was a memorable year. What [Miami head coach] Rico [Blasi] and his staff did from start to finish was tremendous. For him to clinch the championship here in front of the students was special.

“I’m extremely proud of all the former players who have stepped up to make donations to make this facility a reality. If we could have gotten away from the naming piece, I would have been much happier.”

Steve Cady would have been happier, but the thousands of people whose lives he has improved wouldn’t have it any other way.