Ranking the Top 10 New England Ties to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final
Three weeks after the Boston Bruins closed up shop, several sectors of the New England hockey fanbase can still take an active interest in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final. The series commences Wednesday evening at L.A.'s Staples Center, where roughly half of all active participants will an element of New England in their background.
For the first time, the NHL’s championship round will feature two teams whose AHL affiliate resides in the six-state Northeast region.
The Los Angeles Kings have partnered with the Manchester Monarchs since that franchise’s inception in 2001. For 17 years, the New York Rangers have based their top professional prospects in Hartford under the various labels of Wolf Pack and Connecticut Whale.
Naturally, there will be several alumni from the New Hampshire and Nutmeg State franchises partaking in this series. In addition, a sprinkling of New England natives and/or graduates of New England schools have the potential to leave an imprint.
In turn, regular rink-goers in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, in particular, have ample potential to boast that they were among the first to see those impact players. Furthermore, the players who are Hockey East or AHL alums likely left visiting skate marks in as many as five or all six New England states.
Here are the 2014 Stanley Cup Final participants with New England connections to watch for the most. Rankings are based on a combination of what each player has done so far in the playoffs and what should be expected of them in the final.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via nhl.com
Honorable Mentions: Dominic Moore and Jake Muzzin
Before he sandwiched two stints with the Blueshirts around stops in eight other NHL markets, Dominic Moore captained the Harvard Crimson in 2002-03. At the start of that season, teammate Tyler Kolarik told the campus newspaper, “Dom’s the obvious choice. He’s a leader by example.”
A little more than a decade later, that description has not changed much, even if his position on the depth chart has. The 33-year-old Moore, who spent the better part of his first two professional seasons with the Wolf Pack, is the third-eldest Rangers player.
Despite his seasoning and mileage, however, this will be his first Stanley Cup Final. His hunger for first-time fulfillment ought to make a valuable intangible combination with Brad Richards’ and Martin St. Louis’ winning experience.
On the other side, would you believe that Drew Doughty’s defensive partner is almost 10 months older than him?
Whereas the 24-year-old Doughty cemented his spot in The Show without delay, the 25-year-old Jake Muzzin slogged along the stepping stone for three-plus years. He finally became an L.A. regular at the belated start of the 2012-13 campaign after 146 regular-season and 23 playoff ventures with Manchester.
10. Brian Boyle
One arguably underrated storyline in the series lies within the fact that Rangers depth forward Brian Boyle started as a Kings prospect. He logged a sparse 36 appearances with Los Angeles before a summer 2009 transfer to New York.
That brought him closer to home, where he had otherwise spent his entire life and career.
The Hingham, Mass. native maxed out his eligibility at Boston College, graduating in 2007. As a senior, Boyle led the Eagles with 34 assists and 53 points amidst a run to their third Frozen Four appearance in four years.
Boyle transitioned to the Kings system and led the 2007-08 Monarchs with 31 goals. By the time he earned permanent NHL employment, he had tallied 91 points in 126 AHL contests, all in a Manchester uniform.
Boyle is not likely to saturate the scoresheet in the Stanley Cup Final, although he did assist on the lone goal in the Eastern Conference-clinching game. But he will be heavily leaned on in other key areas.
Most notably, he leads all Rangers forwards in shorthanded ice time with 52 minutes and 42 seconds. That means he will be seeing his share of action against an L.A. power play that has converted 25.4 percent of its chances this spring. In addition, his 53 postseason hits are also second only to Dan Girardi for the overall team lead.
9. Slava Voynov
Per the Internet Hockey Database, only seven skaters have made more career appearances in a Manchester Monarchs uniform than Slava Voynov. None of those longtime Granite State staples have gone on to reap quite the same rewards in The Show.
Although Muzzin has been skating with Doughty at even strength, Voynov has been logging more time on each side of the special teams’ spectrum. His nightly average time on the penalty kill and power play, respectively, are 57 and 12 seconds more than Muzzin’s.
Furthermore, the veteran of 266 AHL games is also a returnee from L.A.’s 2012 title run and three-round journey last year. He was barely one year removed from his final AHL appearance (he had returned during the 2012 lockout) when he garnered a Russian Olympic roster spot.
Voynov’s big-game repertoire is as good as almost anybody’s on the Kings roster and as a second-tier blueliner he will be crucial to neutralizing New York’s middle-echelon forwards.
8. Carl Hagelin
Carl Hagelin joined the Connecticut Whale for five Calder Cup playoff games after his senior season in college. Another 17 twirls in the minors the next fall yielded 13 points and he was in The Show by Thanksgiving that year.
He has not looked back since. He enters this round tied with Martin St. Louis for the New York team lead with six postseason goals.
That production has been, in part, Hagelin’s reward for being a crucial specimen of speed for the Rangers strike force. That asset could come into productive play in multiple scenarios.
In one bullet point tidbit on the player in question, Mike Mazzeo of ESPN New York reminded us that “As a rookie, Hagelin won the NHL’s Fastest Skater competition during All-Star Weekend in 2012. It’s one of the reasons why he’s such a terrific penalty-killer.”
It would not be a stretch to predict Hagelin will be among those tasked with defying the discrepancy in championship experience by skating against the likes of Voynov.
7-6. Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli
Nov. 20, 2012 was the first time Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli collaborated on the same scoring play. Pearson picked up the primary helper on the second installment of Toffoli’s natural hat trick, which cracked open a 3-0 Manchester lead en route to a 5-1 drubbing of the Portland Pirates.
Barely 18 months later, Toffoli charged up a goal-assist variety pack in Game 7 of the 2014 Western Conference Final. This came in the midst of working with Pearson as the wings of seasoned center Jeff Carter on L.A.’s second line.
Looks like Carter was not kidding when he told Elliot Teaford of the Los Angeles Daily News, “Obviously, they have a lot of chemistry playing together in Manchester (of the AHL). They’re working hard and they’re having fun. They use their speed and skill to create opportunities.”
The left wing Pearson and the right wing Toffoli combined for 98 points in 122 outings as AHL rookies last season. They now have 11 goals and 25 points between them through the first 21 games of the Kings’ 2014 postseason run.
5-4. Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh
Rangers holdovers from 2012 know what Marian Gaborik is capable of, particularly in the playoffs. It is safe to assume that the top blue-line tandem of Girardi and Ryan McDonagh will be asked to apply that familiarity the most in the 2014 final.
Hockey fans from the Connecticut capital, particularly those with Rangers leanings, will watch that pair with keen interest. They saw both of them in person during separate stretches in their respective professional development years.
Girardi logged 128 engagements in Wolf Pack attire between 2005 and 2007. After signing out of the University of Wisconsin in 2010, McDonagh bridged his way from Madison to Manhattan with 38 games on the farm.
Besides curbing the Gaborik line, McDonagh can help New York’s cause by delivering more of his productivity from the point. He enters this series with a team-best 10 assists, including four on the power play and one shorthanded.
3. Dustin Brown
A season-long lockout in 2004-05 delayed Dustin Brown’s sophomore season with the Kings. In turn, he spent the year as the youngest member (19) and second-leading producer (29 goals, 74 points) on the Monarchs.
Brown might have been a default AHLer, but he was an AHLer all the same. As the embedded video indicates, he either honed or kept intact a propensity for perseverance during that minor-league stint.
Since then, he has evolved into a bona fide leader on a team seeking its second Cup in three years.
Barring any lineup tweaks, Brown figures to see his share of shifts against the aforementioned Girardi and McDonagh. His physicality and respectable offensive aptitude will be crucial to paving openings for the flashy Gaborik and Anze Kopitar.
Brown will enter the final on a four-game production streak, having amassed six points over the latter portions of the Chicago series. He also enters as the captain of a team with decidedly more Stanley Cup pedigree than its opponent.
Can he translate those qualities into a punctual turn of the page less than 72 hours after clinching the Campbell Bowl? He may need to if he wants to give Jonathan Toews company as another captain with two Cups in the post-2005 lockout era. Or, in his case, the post-stopover in Manchester era.
2. Chris Kreider
Apart from Richards and St. Louis, two members of the 2004 Lightning, the proven winners among the Rangers are only proven at amateur levels.
With that being said, Boxford, Mass. native Chris Kreider has a bold set of championship stripes. You may recall he hit the ice sprinting with the Rangers two springs ago after piloting the BC Eagles to their second NCAA title in three years.
On the heels of that 45-point, 44-game campaign at Chestnut Hill, Kreider dressed for the Blueshirts in 18 of 20 playoff tilts. He stumbled back to a terrestrial realm in 2012-13, when he mustered 23 NHL appearances and only 23 points in 48 outings in Connecticut.
But Kreider has caught a second wind this spring. After missing the first 10 games of the current tournament with an injury, he has averaged one point in 10 appearances. That tear started in his second game back with a goal-assist variety pack in Game 5 of the second round the first installment of the Rangers’ rally against Pittsburgh.
After another prolific performance in Game 5 of the conference final, Barbara Barker of Newsday quoted head coach Alain Vigneault as saying, “Chris with (Derek Stepan and Rick Nash) have been a real consistent line for us. Bringing that speed back in, bringing that physical game he can play, it makes it real tough on the other team.”
Can Kreider use those elements to complicate the lives of the Kings, who are at a recovery time disadvantage entering Game 1? If so, he and his associates can set the tone for an integral role in a competitive bout.
1. Jonathan Quick
Granted, Jonathan Quick’s numbers through the first three rounds are a far cry from his Conn Smythe-winning data in 2012. He enters this year’s final with a 2.86 goals-against average and .906 save percentage. That 21-game GAA is more than twice his 1.41 GAA in 20 games two years ago.
You can shovel that out with the Zamboni snow at this point. Quick knows he is in for an unprecedented series of staring contests with world-class counterpart Henrik Lundqvist. With sufficient mental toughness and a strict focus on the present, he can prove that the stats from previous rounds have no bearing on the next round.
Puckheads from communities in three New England states will be eager to see if that kind of Quick shows up. The Milford, Conn. native stayed close to home through high at Avon Old Farms before moving north of the state border to UMass-Amherst.
Avon’s website highlights these achievements from the peak of Quick’s amateur career:
The Kings selected Jon in the 3rd round of the 2005 NHL draft after he had led Avon to two straight New England championships. Before turning pro, however, Quick played two years at UMass-Amherst, setting school single-season records in wins, appearances, saves, and minutes in 2006-07.
Before cementing his position in L.A. during the 2008-09 campaign, Quick also logged 34 regular-season and playoff appearances in Manchester.
Five seasons later, he has a chance to become the first two-time Stanley Cup-winning starting goaltender in more than a decade.