Quick takes road less traveled to Cup Finals

Quick takes road less traveled to Cup Finals
June 2, 2012, 4:42 am
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NEWARK, NJ Jonathan Quick grew up in a big hockey townrelatively speaking, of course.

Connecticut isnt exactly known as a hockey hotbed within the New England region. Massachusetts has traditionally cranked out the most hockey players from the five states and Rhode Island has had some very good ones that have kept the Providence College hockey program alive through the years.

But Quick is used to playing with and against Massachusetts kids and Rhode Island homeboys that constantly win the bragging rights arguments about who has the best hockey.

Hockey was a pretty big deal in my town. I guess it depends on where you go in the state to see how big hockey is, said Quick, a native of Milford, CT. Some parts were big and some not so big. We have a pretty good tradition and some of my high school teammates are pretty excited. Some are Devils fans, though, so Im not sure if theyre on my side. Well find out when its over.

I think Massachusetts still has the best players around. I was lucky enough to be on a pretty good travel team and we played a lot of those guys. Then I ended up going to college at UMass and played with a lot of the guys that grew up in that area. Hockey is hockey no matter where you grew up.

Plenty of the usual suspects from Massachusetts are familiar faces from Quicks past. He played against both Keith Yandle and Corey Schneider in high school while at Avon Old Farms, and has developed a rivalry with Schneider where theyve played against each other in prep school, Division I college hockey, the AHL and the Stanley Cup playoffs along the way.

But the Kings goaltender has the ultimate trump card: hes the one thats still playing hockey right now and hes the odds on favorite for the Conn Smythe Trophy with no more than six games left in the season.

With all due apologies and respect to Darien, Connecticuts favorite son, Ryan Shannon, Quick is the best player from the Nutmeg State currently drawing a paycheck in the NHL, and hes shown it throughout the playoffs.

That shouldnt be something that Chris Clark, Colin Wilson or Max Pacioretty or the other 25 players to ever hail from Connecticut should feel upset about either.

While everybody talks about Martin Brodeur in reverential tones normally for players that are no longer active, Quick is the goalie thats feared, loathed and respected by the opposition.

I think hes much more controlled than he used to be. He used to always try to make the amazing saves. He was relying a lot more on his athletic ability, said New Jersey defenseman Peter Harrold, who played against Quick in Hockey East and with him while both players were coming up through the Kings organization. Hes become a much more cerebral goaltender now that can use his athleticism when he needs it. Hes obviously one of the best goaltenders in the world and I assume that hes only going to get better.

Back in college maybe you would have said that Corey Schneider would be an NHL star someday. I dont know that you would have said that about Quick. Guys grow at different rates at different times, but hes proven a lot of people wrong. Hes having a hell of a year.

The former UMass superstar showed flashes of his bright future while out at Amherst. He led the Minutemen to their first NCAA tournament appearance and left the school as the best goaltender in the history of the schools hockey program.

So how different is he from the goaltender that arrived straight from the bucolic Amherst campus to work with LA goalie coach Bill Ranford? Oh, if you would have seen him five years agotheres been a big change, said Ranford. He was probably just like the way I played early in my career. He was all reflex and all athleticism. Hes learned a lot and calmed his game down. Hes generated a really good technical package, but when he needs to get athletic I dont think theres anybody thats better.

Its that versatility to go from quiet, calm puck-blocker to scrambling playmaker in desperate times that separates the average from the great, and its a balance that is difficult to master. But the 26-year-old Quick has done it while lifting up every hockey program hes come into contact with.

He put UMass hockey on the map, and now hes doing the same with the LA Kings as they search for their first Stanley Cup championship.

Dont let the quiet delivery from Quick and the media day hoodie fool you, either. Quick knows exactly whats on the line for his Kings, and just how far theyve come in the four years hes been backstopping in LaLa Land.

Obviously you have dreams watching Mike Richter play and saying to yourself Oh, I want to do that one day. Everybody has those. Youre just playing for whatever team youre on at the time and doing good things for them while trying to win, said Quick. Then you find you could make it to the next level, and then you start going level to level. It never really kicks in until youre there and you start playing well at that level.

Its an exciting time for us and an exciting time for the fans. Its been 19 years since we were last in the Cup Finals and its been 45 years as an organization without winning one. So its exciting to win it for them.

Quick leads all playoff goaltenders with 13 wins, a .946 save percentage and a 1.49 goals against average, and hes been every bit as good as the numbers would suggest. Hell have to continue that if the Kings are going to finish off a devastating run through the postseason as the eighth seed in the Western Conference. But theres no reason to think Quick will suddenly turn into a puddle staring at Brodeur the legend at the other end of the ice, and every reason to think hell be another example of a hot goaltender serving as the main ingredient in winning the Stanley Cup.

Not bad for a kid from that hockey hotbed of Connecticut, eh?