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With a background as a city parks pond hockey player, Steve Kirley began playing WAHA organized hockey in Madison when he was in sixth grade. He received strong encouragement to do so from his neighbor Scott Owens. Steve and his brother Ken were fortunate to learn from inspiring coaches, former Wisconsin Badgers coach Art Thomsen and Doc Joe Coyne. While playing for Bert Hable’s Madison West Regents, he competed in the first two WIAA sanctioned high school state championship games in ’71 and ’72. He went on to become a member of Bob Johnson’s UW Badgers Hockey program.
Steve began his coaching career at Eau Claire Memorial High School where he coached hockey with Mark Froehle. He also coached baseball and debate along with teaching high school English classes. He made presentations to students at elementary schools throughout the city to encourage participation in the youth hockey program.
Steve became the head coach at Hayward High School in 1981, serving in that position for twenty-nine seasons. His Hurricanes teams were known for quick transitions, creative passing, defensive toughness, and excellent power plays. Although being one of the smaller high school programs in the state, Coach Kirley and his staff set sights on competing with top programs in Wisconsin and Minnesota. His teams often used four lines and three sets of defensemen and employed a variety of tactics among those groups. He had some long-time assistant coaches including Tom Kuklinski, Steve Longtine, Rob Moone, Chuck Johansen, Mark Strapon, Ryan Strapon, Jeff Finstad, Hutta Marquardt, and Mike Sawyer. He enjoyed the opportunity to coach his sons, Casey and Nolan. Along with coaching the high school team, he coached youth teams, was on the board for the Hayward Sports Center, and chaired the Hockey Development Committee. He was a strong advocate for the eventual construction of a second indoor ice arena in Hayward.
While serving as president of the Wisconsin Hockey Coaches Association, he was known for challenging the WIAA to help improve the state’s high school hockey program. He also coached at a variety of hockey schools in Wisconsin Including Joe Balderotta’s Hockey Camp, was co-head shooting instructor along with Shjon Podein at Bob Frerker’s Goalie Schools, and coached extensively at the Minnesota Hockey Camps for Herb Brooks and Chuck Grillo. He coached Wisconsin Selects teams with Lee Skille and Vic Levine.
Over several decades, Steve instructed at many WAHA/USA Hockey coaching clinics from the beginner to advanced levels throughout the United States. He also organized WAHA tryouts and was involved with the Senior Class Tournament in Waupun. He worked in several USA Hockey programs, including coaching at USA Hockey National Select 16 and Select 17 Festivals in St. Cloud. Steve coached a number of WAHA Team Wisconsin teams where he had the good fortune to coach with Lee Skille, Mark Greenhalgh, Bob Ritzer, Brian Campbell, Mark Johnson, Matt Walsh, Mike Dibble, Dave Witting, and Mike Cowan. He coached at the international level at AAA tournaments in Canada and led a combined USA/Canada team on a successful tour in the Czech Republic. He has helped many players advance to Junior A, college, and professional hockey.
Through leadership, organizational skills, and can-do presence, Coach Kirley has helped young people achieve success in their hockey and educational lives.
Hayward High School Hurricanes Varsity Record: 361-276-16
Wisconsin Hockey Hall of Fame Induction: September 8, 2017
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