Bethel hockey goalie coach uses experiences in junior hockey to carry himself today
Jason Stormer | Sports Editor
On a regular summer day while a young Steven Bolton was working as a lifeguard at the Trump Hotel in Las Vegas, it was announced that Donald Trump himself would be making a surprise visit to his establishment. When the news broke of Trump’s sudden arrival, the staff frenzied in preparation, making the hotel glisten to his standards. In the chaos, young Steven was given a key responsibility — To open Trump’s car door for him upon arrival.
It was Bolton’s job to make sure a man worth $4.5 billion got out of his car safely and was escorted into the building.
When the car pulled up later that day, Bolton didn’t open Trump’s door. He was nowhere to be found. That is because Bolton was in one of the hotel bathrooms getting sick after a vigorous hockey practice in preparation for the upcoming hockey season had zapped any energy he had. He missed a chance to meet his prestigious boss.
“Ehh, it’s just Trump,” Bolton said, shrugging his shoulders.
That’s what life was like for Bolton at the time; unless it had to do with hockey, everything else paled in comparison. When you are good enough to play junior hockey like Bolton was, there is hardly any room to fit auxiliary activities.
Currently the men’s and women’s goalie coach for the Royal hockey teams, Bolton spent three seasons from 2009-2011 playing in six different junior hockey leagues all across the United States and Canada, including the BCHL, NAHL and USHL. His goal was to use these leagues as a way to earn himself a scholarship to a Division I school and then attempt to make the leap to the NHL.
Growing up in the suburbs of Las Vegas, Bolton developed a passion for a sport that had only produced one player in NHL history from the area (current Minnesota Wild forward, Jason Zucker, a childhood neighbor and former teammate of Bolton). He and his older brother, Brett, would play roller hockey in the streets and driveways. Because he was younger, Steven had to be the goalie, so the Bolton brothers would stuff a backpack full of newspapers and away they went. The backpack became his chest protector.
Those moments in the driveway would spark an infatuation for the position, and Bolton began playing hockey and goaltending at age 12. In fact, it was his neighbors, former NHL goaltenders Corey Hirsch and Pokey Reddick, that helped him get his first tryout for a junior team when he was 18 years old.
In his first season, Bolton played for the Oceanside Generals of the VIJHL, a team that won the league championship. This propelled Bolton to be recruited by the Nanaimo Clippers of the BCHL in 2009, but he left the team after being offered a spot to play for the Tri-City Storm of the USHL, whose coaching staff included Reddick. He played in 20 games and earned the spot as the No. 1 goaltender on the roster heading into 2010. After five games, Bolton was traded to the now-defunct New Mexico Mustangs of the NAHL.
“It was really tough for me because I was personal friends with the owner and coaches,” Bolton said of leaving Tri-City.
His stay in New Mexico was short-lived, however. After just one game, Bolton quit when his money was stolen by a teammate and the coaches were intoxicated as they approached him after the game. He didn’t catch on anywhere else after the incident and by the time the season was over, Bolton had been on five different teams.
The constant movement and emotional rollercoaster over three years eventually took its toll, so Bolton walked away from hockey. He identified as a Christian at the time, but describes his experience in juniors as being detrimental to his faith.
“My walk with God was on the side,” Bolton said. “It was more about what God could do for me.”
Bolton then moved to San Diego in 2011 to enroll at Point Loma Nazarene University and find a purpose beyond the rink. Ironically, in his first day in San Diego, he received a call from American International College in Springfield, Mass., a Division I school, and they offered him the hockey scholarship he craved.
A call to prayer seemingly answered, Bolton went to for a visit. He returned to San Diego three days later.
“It was surprisingly easy to turn down,” Bolton said. “I can’t really explain it. It wasn’t where I was being led.”
In the year he was in San Diego, Bolton never found the purpose outside of hockey he was looking for, with the sport continually creeping back into his mind. After discussing his longing to return to the game with a friend at Point Loma who was from Minnesota, it was suggested to him that he pursue hockey again.
After sending letters to colleges inquiring about playing, he received a call from former Royal forward, Ryan Townsend, that Bethel was interested in him. After a visit to the campus and a conversation with head coach Charlie Burgraff, Bolton traded the palms for the pines and was on his way to Minnesota.
“After talking to Steven (Bolton), it became apparent he was a solid guy,” Burgraff said. “He was interested in his education, faith and growing as a player, and those were things that we look for.”
Bolton’s first season was cut short to six games after an ankle injury, but he returned to play 20 games, all of which he started, during the 2013-14 season. His .917 save percentage that year is the highest a Royal goaltender has ever recorded in a season. Overall, Bolton finished his college career with 3.45 goals against average, a .893 save percentage and 792 saves.
He graduated with a degree in exercise science, and Burgraff and former assistant coach, Bill Butters, helped him to land an internship as an instructor for Hockey Ministries International, an organization that promotes incorporating faith and youth hockey development. He has since worked with other developmental organizations as well.
Before the 2015-16 season began, Burgraff offered him the vacant goalie coach position.
“We knew that he could play the position and he had been an instructor who was going to have a positive impact on the goaltenders,” Burgraff said.
Bolton now begins a journey and faces challenges in the game he loves, but remains adamant about where hockey fits into the bigger picture.
“I believe in making a difference in these kids’ lives,” Bolton said. “I want them to be awesome human beings.”