Quick takes road less traveled to Cup Finals

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Quick takes road less traveled to Cup Finals

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While everybody talks about Martin Brodeur in reverential tones normally for players that are no longer active, Quick is the goalie thats feared, loathed and respected by the opposition.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

Haggerty: Bruins get chance to show good results weren't just short term

Haggerty: Bruins get chance to show good results weren't just short term

The mission for the Bruins on their four-game road swing through the West Coast is certainly to keep the momentum going, but it’s also to quell any talk that the positive results will be short-lived following the coaching change.

The Bruins won there first three games interim head coach Bruce Cassidy headed into the five-day “bye week”, and they’ll come out on the other side with a potentially dangerous road swing through California that will finish up in Dallas next weekend. 

The Black and Gold have gone into death spirals before on the Cali trip, so that’s always a danger when going coast-to-coast to face tough teams in the Sharks, Ducks and Kings.

There’s also the fact that NHL teams are 3-10-2 as of Saturday afternoon in the first game coming back from the five-day midseason vacation. That means the B’s are going to face a stiff uphill battle on Sunday night against the Pacific Division-leading Sharks. 

The challenge is going to be there for the Bruins to answer all of those challenges when they’ve shrunk away from such adversity most of the season. It gives the Bruins yet another chance to show that the three games aren’t merely a sugar-high after cages had been rattled and is instead something that Boston sustains over the season’s final two-plus months.

“Our thinking is to try to win every game. We know the standings. We know it’s pretty tight. We put ourselves in some of the games in tough situations. Now, we’ve got to climb up and fight for every point,” said Zdeno Chara. “It’s going to be very important that we do that and play that way until the end.

“We can look at the standings as much as we want. I think that we really have to focus on how we play, how we want to go into every game, and what we can do to get as many points as possible.”

The good news for the Bruins is that the teams chasing them in the standings really haven’t gained ground on them, and they enter Saturday still in a playoff spot. So, the mathematics don’t look as dire for Boston as they did going into their rest period, and now they should be energized, recharged and highly motivated headed into the final 24 games of the season.

There’s also the fact that the Bruins were playing exciting, aggressive and winning hockey due to some of the tweaks made by Cassidy after taking control of the team. He finally got some production from the third line after putting forwards Frank Vatrano, Ryan Spooner and Jimmy Hayes together, a combo he never truly gave a look because he didn’t trust them to do the job defensively. Cassidy immediately placed 21-year-old Peter Cehlarik into a top-six role with power-play time straight from the AHL. That’s something one almost never saw happen with rookies and inexperienced guys during Julien’s run.

The B’s defensemen corps scored four goals in the three wins and showed aggressive, timely risk-taking to produce offense when playing it safe was normally the call of the day under Julien. The forwards were avoiding the low-to-high passing to the point that so often resulted in perimeter shots from the Bruins in the offensive zone, and instead attacked the net down low with the forwards looking to put some anxiety into the opponent’s D-zone coverage.

It all worked and it all looked remarkably different from the way the Bruins played in the opening 55 games.

“It’s something we need to bottle up and not change our approach, not change what we’re doing, make sure we’re moving [during the bye] and not just sitting idle and getting rusty,” said David Backes last weekend headed into the bye. “Make sure that mentally, we can have those same sort of mindsets for every guy to be contributing. It’s something that doesn’t show up on the score sheet, but guys are recognized in here for doing those things and that’s winning culture. That’s what we’re building.”

The Bruins now get their chance to prove this is a permanent change to a winning culture rather than a short term, three-game adrenaline rush after watching their longtime coach get fired. It won’t be easy, but it shouldn’t be for the Black and Gold if they’re finally going to earn their way into the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in three seasons. 

Saturday, Feb. 18: NHL more likely in Seattle than NBA?

Saturday, Feb. 18: NHL more likely in Seattle than NBA?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while hoping that Purple Passion doesn’t try the same comeback as Zima.

*A Seattle investor says that an NHL team coming to that city is much more likely than a return by the NBA to the Pacific Northwestern city.

*Gare Joyce writes eloquently about the loneliness of a hockey scout, and how that world can sometimes come to a crashing halt.  

*Good piece from Arpon Basu giving the sights and sounds of Claude Julien’s second stint behind the bench with the Montreal Canadiens.

*The agent for Russian player Maxim Shalunov says there is a “10 percent chance” that he’s going to sign with the Chicago Blackhawks.

*Mike Babcock says not to expect any big trade deadline deals from the Toronto Maple Leafs as they push for a playoff spot.

*Henrik Zetterberg reflects on a difficult season with the Detroit Red Wings where it looks like things might finally come down to a crashing halt.

http://www.detroitnews.com/story/sports/nhl/red-wings/2017/02/17/red-wings-zetterberg-reflects-tough-season/98064530/

*The Minnesota Wild have underrated depth on their team, and the Hockey News says it might just be their scariest attribute.

*For something completely different: as referenced above, it looks like that Zima drink of the 1990s is trying to make a comeback. I was in college when the Zima people were seemingly flooding campuses with advertising and samples back in the day.