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STEVENS ON THE ROAD BACK

One by one, Kevin Stevens' former Ranger teammates shook his hand and offered their best wishes. Standing in the hallway outside the Philadelphia Flyers' locker room Saturday afternoon, Stevens greeted them all with big smiles.

It was just a happy coincidence for Stevens that the Rangers opened their preseason schedule against the Flyers at the First Union Center. Almost eight months after nearly throwing it all away, Stevens has his life back in order again and is resuming his hockey career with the Flyers, who defeated the Rangers, 5-1, Saturday.

Stevens was arrested in a St. Louis suburb early in the morning Jan. 23 and charged with possession of crack cocaine. He was suspended and placed in the NHL's substance abuse program. The 35-year-old left wing was reinstated near the end of the season, but at that point it appeared his NHL career might be over.

Stevens, a four-time 40-goal scorer and two-time Stanley Cup winner with Pittsburgh, had just three goals and five assists in 38 games with the Rangers last season.

To his surprise, he received contract offers from "five or six" teams, including Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Edmonton, when he became an unrestricted free agent in July. The Rangers did not offer Stevens a contract, but gave him the option of attending training camp as a tryout. Stevens picked the Flyers, who offered him a one-year, incentive-laden deal that could end up paying him $1 million, because of the presence of his old Pittsburgh teammates, Rick Tocchet and Mark Recchi.

"Obviously I made a big mistake, but it wasn't something I did every single day, so I don't have to worry about that part of it. But it's important to have friends on the road," Stevens said. "Whenever you go someplace, the first thing people are going to talk about and ask about is: 'How are you doing? What's going on with that?' I know that, so it's not really a big surprise for me. But it's good to have friends and support."

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