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Photo Credit: Twitter.com/oilkings

Steve Bluett: The Ultimate Hockey Statistician

Steve Bluett was a volunteer statistician for 34 years. He did stats for over 2,200 games in the Alberta Junior Hockey League and the Western Hockey League. He started in 1983 helping out the Sherwood Park Crusaders.

Bluett retired from the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL in March of 2017. His goal was to work 70 of their 72 games that year. He did stats for 71 of them. The only game he missed was in Kootenay at the end of the Oil Kings seven-game road trip through the United States. They were in Spokane, heading to Kootenay, but his mother was getting out of the hospital the next day in Victoria, and he drove there instead to be with her.

Bluett retired from the Oil Kings in March, and was ready to be a fan and fulfill his sport bucket list of seeing every baseball stadium. He had eight cities/stadiums left and was excited to see them. Sadly, less than six months after leaving the Oil Kings, he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour. He had cancer, and never got to see all those stadiums.

After a courageous battle, Bluett passed away this past Saturday, May 26th. He was 62.

I only met Steve once before having him on my show.  I wouldn’t say we became close, but a random email from Steve this past September really resonated with me.

Before we get to the email, here is Steve’s story.

He was born November 13, 1955, in Calgary, but was raised in Victoria. He married the love of his life Audrey, and they were together until he passed. They never had any children.

How did he get involved in stats?

“I was working at a restaurant on the south side of Edmonton, and I was tasked with the responsibility of looking for trophies that we were going to hand out as awards to the staff. I didn’t know Edmonton that well at the time, so I looked in the Yellow Pages for trophy shops on the southside and I bumped into this trophy shop called The House of Trophies.

“When I walked in this gentleman was wearing a white Victoria Cougars T-shirt. I grew up in Victoria and I knew the Cougars. His name was Al MacDonald and we got to talking. Over time we got to know each other and I found out he was with the Sherwood Park Crusaders. He asked me if I wanted to help them out and the rest is history,” Bluett told me on my radio show in March the Friday before he would work his final weekend in the WHL.

Former Oilers Al Hamilton was the GM and head coach of the Crusaders at the time, and his son Steve, who was the Edmonton Oil King head coach and associate coach or the past six seasons until being let go this morning, was the 10-year-old stick boy for the Crusaders. That early connection would be re-kindled later on.

Admittedly, Bluett didn’t know much about stats when he started with the Crusaders.

“Hits, shots, faceoffs and some of the basic ones were all I tracked to start,” Bluett explained. “At the end of every month I would tally up the stats, and then I would hand out a culmination of the stats on a piece of paper to the players, so they could know where they were at,” he smiled proudly.

Steve did stats for the Sherwood Park Crusaders in the AJHL, then with the Fort Saskatchewan Traders, where he the treasurer. He was team President for a year, but still did all the stats. He then returned to the Crusaders. It was there he reconnected with Steve Hamilton and Bluett would go work with whichever team Hamilton coached. From the Crusaders, to the Traders, then to the Spruce Grove Saints, and then to the WHL with the Oil Kings.

Bluett is a stats wizard. He watched the game very closely, and after only tracking three stats his first few years, he eventually tracked 19 stats. He didn’t watch replays. He tracked all 19 stats live, by himself. “A statistician needs to move his eyes like a goalie, back and forth quickly and be on the ball. And you have to learn to be one step ahead of the game,” said Bluett humbly.

Very few statisticians can track 19 stats accurately, but Bluett did for years.

He tracked one-on-one battles won and lost, hits, turnovers, takeaways, shots, plus/minus, faceoffs, opposing shots, opposing hits among others. He would track them by hand, and during stoppages he would transfer them to a “math machine” he had. At the end of every period, he would take a snapshot of what happened in the period and present it to Hamilton.

When I had the pleasure of having Bluett on my show in March of 2017, he outlined exactly what he did. He was such an inspiring guest to have on the show.  I also learned he was an umpire in baseball and a referee in ball hockey. He gave so much of his time to help amateur sports.

I asked him why he didn’t take the bus with the Oil Kings, instead opting to drive himself and his response was incredible.

“I love the game. I love watching, but I also felt if I had my vehicle then if someone needed something — a ride to the hospital, or something needed to be picked up — I always wanted to be able to help out,” said Bluett.

He was incredibly selfless.

“Anytime you can give back, and make a difference, it is a great feeling. When you meet the players years later and they remember that you did stats for them, they were always very appreciative. It allowed me to stay in the game and it was very rewarding,” said Bluett.

Hamilton explained Bluett’s contributions to his teams.

“From a statistical standpoint, it was amazing how much Steve was able to track on his own. He would track all major events that happened throughout each period, then concisely tally them up and present a “snapshot” to me between periods. He was doing his own form of analytics well before its time. And the end of the game he would create a “score” for each player by tallying the individual stats. The categories were considered a positive (ie – hit, battle won, etc) or a negative (battle lost, turnover, turnaway, etc). He would track individual games, segments, months and entire seasons as a comparison tool for the staff. It was an incredible time investment each game and each season. He had a gift for numbers and was really one of a kind during a time when no one else used that kind of insight. In Spruce Grove, he would always sit in the same spot for games. When we needed a critical faceoff win, I would look up toward him and he would signal the number of the player having greatest success on that side of the ice against that specific opposition centre,” Hamilton said proudly.

Hamilton also added:

“On a personal note, I’m not sure if I’ve ever met a more genuine person in my life. He was the epitome of humility and selflessness, never seeking anything for his time and efforts. He did his job in relative anonymity, without fanfare, and did it because he loved the game. He was a very special person with a huge heart and generosity of spirit, a true friend in every sense of the word,” said Hamilton.

A RANDOM EMAIL

After Bluett “retired” from the Oil Kings, I’d only heard from him once, when he emailed me about hockey stats.  But that changed on September 15th, when he emailed my producer Marc Majeau.

Marc,
I hope things are well. I have a strange request. I have spent the last two weeks in the hospital where I have been diagnosed with Inoperable Brain Cancer. I know Fridays are Positive Fridays on Jason’s show so I’m reaching out to get some of that positive vibe as I fight this terrible disease.  I have a lot of respect for Jason and what he stands for so maybe I can get some of that vibe to help me through this terrible time and be a part of strength not weakness.
Very much appreciated.
Steve Bluett

We gave Steve a shout out and later I emailed him to see how he was doing. When I asked why he didn’t just email me directly he said, “I didn’t want to be a bother during the show,” he replied. He had such a polite demeanour and positive outlook. I asked him to keep sending me updates and over the next few months, he included me in emails to his friends about his fight against Cancer. His upbeat attitude in his emails during a terrible time was always inspiring.

This was part of his email he sent to me in October.

“Beginning tomorrow, Friday the 13th of all days, maybe that’s a good omen, I will be starting both my Radiation Treatment and Chemotherapy Treatments at the exact same time. Due to the fact, I agreed to do the Clinical Trial for Radiation I will be doing the Radiation five days a week for four weeks as opposed to the standard six weeks of Radiation. The idea through the trial is to see if doing four weeks instead of six weeks of Radiation speeds up the process and shows quicker results. The dosages I will be taking over the four weeks will be higher on a daily basis. My last day of Radiation is scheduled for Nov. 10th.

“The Chemotherapy will start off by going through 41 days straight. This will certainly be subject to change depending on how my body will react during the process.

“Needless to say combining both Radiation and Chemotherapy are going to make for some I’m sure up and down days with certain side effects making some days tough.

“However I’m going to do everything in my power and in my control to stay positive, strong and do whatever it takes to believe that life matters and whatever happens it won’t be from feeling sorry for myself or any self-pity and whatever is ahead of me… I’m ready.”

Steve would send updates every few months. I spoke to him on the phone in December and we had a short, but very memorable (for me) conversation. Steve said something about his situation that really stuck with me. He knew what his outcome likely would be, and despite us not knowing each other very long, he really impacted me. As he fought the toughest fight of his life, never with any self-pity, he said, “All I hope is people remember me as a good person.”

As Steve Hamilton wrote earlier, Bluett never wanted any public accolades, but as he saw the finish line was near, he just hoped he’d have made an impact on people.

Well Mr.Bluett, I hope you know you did. You impacted me very much in a short time.

Saturday evening I sent out a tweet saying how lucky I was to have met Bluett. I think he’d like some of the replies.

Many will remember you, Steve. Thank you for loving your wife and for giving so much of your time to help amateur sports.

If you are thinking about volunteering or getting involved in amateur sports, remember what Bluett said.

“You need an understanding of the game, sure, but you need to be passionate about it. Be excited about it. Don’t be afraid to step up to the plate and ask an organization if they need help. Those teams can use your help.”

Audrey, our deepest condolences and please know your husband left a very positive and impactful memory in the sporting community.

RIP Steve.

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