Due to the popularity of my first article chronicling the career of all-time scorer Shane Kuss, I got in touch with him for an exclusive interview. I spoke with Shane about hockey before joining the BC Hockey League, what life is like today, and what it means to him to still be number one in points and assists all-time.
Taking on Kamloops
Kuss looks back fondly and describes hockey as an adolescent being “a fun time” and that he enjoyed it just like many other small kids do. He told me the meaningful memories in hockey didn’t start until he turned 15, though.
At 15, Kuss began playing for the junior B Richmond Sockeyes and began drawing attention almost immediately. He says Richmond is where he got the offer to join the Western Hockey League’s Kamloops Blazers for the 1992-93 season at age 16.
It meant a lot for Kuss to be with the Blazers as a 16-year-old. “It was a pretty cool experience, obviously, going up there, it was one of those things where I was highly recruited by them, and they had big plans for me.”
He only suited up for Kamloops once but made a meaningful impact by putting up a goal and an assist, but then he left the Blazers. “It’s one of those things where you look back now, and you kind of regret those mistakes you made,” Kuss explained.
“I made that (mistake), but I was young. To leave that situation for a girlfriend at that age was obviously a mistake, but they’re mistakes you make, and then you learn from them,” he continued. “It’s disappointing after what they had done for me and all the plans they had for me and stuff.”
“It was pretty exciting. I wish I wouldn’t have made that decision at such a young age now, but still being able to experience that was quite the thing back then.”
“The fanbase there and the players there were all pretty amazing,” Kuss said of a Blazers team that included future NHLers Shane Doan, Darcy Tucker, Tyson Nash, Scott Ferguson, Chris Murray, Hnat Domenichelli, and Steve Passmore, to name a few.
The takeaway from Kuss’s short time in Kamloops was for kids to “cherish the moments you do have.”
After moving back home to Delta, BC, Kuss joined the Surrey Eagles. He posted 48 points in 58 games as a 17-year-old and was sixth on the roster in scoring. Kuss describes it as a bit of a roller-coaster season.
“I think it was up and down. The first half of the year was like getting your feet wet and paying your dues of battling and competing for ice time. The older guys there were already given the opportunities to start, so I had to compete and battle that to earn my opportunities.”
“I didn’t get as much early on as I had liked to, but I kept working and getting better and eventually started to learn the league as a young player,” Kuss said. “By the end of the season, the coach had more trust in me and let me show that I could be that guy for them moving forward.”
Kuss exploded for 123 points as an 18-year-old in his sophomore season. It was also the first year the BCHL introduced a new divisional format.
“We had a good group of guys and a good team. We were playing in a pretty tough division and stuff, but we felt good. Back then, it was big battles between us and Chilliwack all the time. (The Chiefs) had a small rink and a big-bodied team that bullied you around a bit.”
The Eagles did just fine though, finishing third in the new Mainland Division. When the playoffs rolled around, the emotions did not change for Kuss.
“I thought we had just as good a chance as anybody, and unfortunately, it didn’t go our way. But, I think all in all, as a group, we had a pretty good team, and we were looking forward.”
As a 19-year-old, Kuss produced a great 1995-96 season, nabbing 107 points in 60 games and again leading the Eagles to a third-place finish in the division. However, they were shockingly defeated in the first round by the Merrit Centennials 2-0 in the series. Kuss humbly acknowledges how well he did, but says the season could have been better as a team.
The impact of the KGB
The big story of the 1996-97 BCHL season was Surrey’s “KGB” line. The line was comprised of Kuss, who had 140 points, Scott Gomez, with 123 points, and Rod Bowers, who tallied 113 points. Kuss reflects gleefully on his time with the “KGB”.
“It was great, I was paired with two highly skilled players, which always helps. We clicked right off the bat. After the previous year with the coaching changes and it not being our best year, I was glad to have (Gomez and Bowers as linemates).”
In terms of how the season went, the Eagles were a deep club, constructed to win. “We built a pretty solid team where we were balanced straight through our lineup and being able to play with Scotty and Rod was a treat. We were able to keep the momentum going throughout the year.”
Wondering what the trio was like off the ice? “They were great guys to go and party and hang out with, and they loved being the center of attention.” However, Kuss is quick to note any personal stories stay between the three of them.
Finishing the regular season with a league-leading 47-7-6 record, the Eagles dominated the playoffs and captured the Mowat Cup and Doyle Cup.
“It was a great experience right through. The Doyle Cup against Fort McMurray was quite tough. It started off with the Oil Barons coach kind of challenging me, Scotty, and Roddy (by) saying that we were not as good as we were made out to be. For us to beat them in the first games there was great because Fort McMurray is such a tough place to play.”
“It’s a small town with a small building, and the fans are crazy. They were throwing things at us. Also, we had sickness go through our team, and Scotty was forced to miss two games. I think the team really pulled together while we were up there and came through to win that series.
Sadly, the Eagles’ white-hot run came to an end in the 1997 Royal Bank Cup as they were defeated by the Summerside Western Capitals in a tough 4-3 defeat. “Being in Summerside was great until that last game where we had an unfortunate major call against us that people think was questionable and still talk about today.”
“It burnt us a bit but running into their goalie – who was the guy for Summerside – (him standing) on his head was no help either.”
Starting fresh in Europe
In 1998, Kuss went to play pro in Sweden for some smaller teams, but it never worked out to his liking, and he returned home a year later. At some point in 1999, Kuss assisted in coaching the junior B Delta Ice Hawks. During that endeavour, he met Cliff Ronning, who was playing for the Nashville Predators at the time. Ronning invited him to a skate during the NHL offseason.
That experience sparked Kuss to skate hard again, and the next thing he knew, he was skating with Ronning and a bunch of other pros in the summertime. “It was kind of fun,” smiled Kuss.
It became a weekly thing in August 2000, meeting up to skate with the pros in the offseason. Once the European players left to go back for their season, Kuss hung around to skate and practice.
That lead to Canucks strength and conditioning coach Peter Twist calling Canucks general manager Brian Burke and director of player personnel Steve Tambellini to recommend Kuss to them.
Eventually, Kuss was invited to the expansion Columbus Blue Jackets camp. “I played really well in the intrasquad games, and they wanted me to agree to an NHL contract where they have my rights for a certain amount of time only to play in exhibition games. Unfortunately, this was my second mistake in decision-making involving my hockey career.”
“I got talked into taking the “contract” with the promise I had a good shot at making the NHL roster. Well, I found out when I got to (their ECHL affiliate in) Dayton that wasn’t the case. I had eight points in four exhibition games for (Columbus) that season, but they told me they were looking for the big body, bruiser type player. I did not fit that bill, and decided to move on from playing hockey.”
— BCHL (@BCHockeyLeague) December 7, 2018
Kuss is quite a humble man. Through his memories, he isn’t bitter about his pro career not turning out. He thanks everyone who helped along the way countless times. He even thanked me for writing the article on him.
We both wowed at how crazy it is that it’s been 25 years since he last played in the BCHL. He also says many of his most fantastic memories with hockey come from his time as a player within the league.
After putting the playing career to rest, Kuss got back into what he is up to today – coaching. He began his first head coach job in 2005 with his hometown Ice Hawks.
They performed great under Kuss’s command and ended the season as champions. “To watch those players compete and give everything they’ve got (and) then end up becoming champions is quite rewarding.”
“Being able to coach players like Brent Seabrook (and) Milan Lucic in those early days was pretty exciting. To see them where they are now is a real treat for me personally. To see the kids I once coached play on TV in the National (Hockey) League.”
Kuss coached his old team too for four seasons. From 2006-10, he was the head coach of the Surrey Eagles. Although the Eagles couldn’t bring in another championship with Kuss at the helm, they did have three winning seasons.
As for a chance to get behind the bench with his alma mater to coach again? “You never say no to anything. If the opportunity came up again, I’d definitely consider it.”
A living BCHL legend
Today, Kuss is delighted to be the head skills development lead for the Semiahmoo Ravens. He feels it is the most rewarding position he has ever held for a career. Kuss loves to help athletes move up the ladder in not just hockey, but life too.
He feels it is equally important to teach kids about life lessons and hockey skills while on the ice with them. For that reason alone and countless others, Kuss is one of the most desired hockey trainers in BC today.
Great skill session tonight with Shane Kuss & Matt Erhart. pic.twitter.com/J5QvxZDvvq
— Valley West Giants U17 AAA (@valleywestminor) January 8, 2020
To conclude, I would like to thank Shane again for taking the time to speak with me for the BCHLNetwork. He is genuinely one of the most humble and kind people I have interviewed and reminisces so well on his playing days that it is a thrill listening to him speak.
Finally, if you want to check out a remarkable piece of Eagles memorabilia, head to the South Surrey Arena to check out Kuss’s retired number banner.