Monday, June 18, 2012

Just as Quick as it can be to Stanley Cup champ

By Larry Wigge

Dean Lombardi admits he was a little worried about his goaltending when he took over as GM of the Los Angeles Kings in April of 2006. Oh, he had lots of contenders ... many of whom could not stop a beachball.

It was so bad that the Kings went through five goalies in 2006-07 and then six the next season. Using three netminders in one season may be necessary, but five or six ...

Dan Cloutier or Mathieu Garon or Sean Burke were one thing, but the Kings tested Lombardi's sanity and Los Angeles also tried Barry Brust and Japanese-born Yutaka Fukufuji. The second year, the Kings brought in youngsters Erik Ersberg and Jonathan Bernier and Jonathan Quick.

Lombardi's attitude raves and yet shakes his head in confusion the first time he saw goalie Jonathan Quick up close and personal.

"I'll never forget, he was really athletic, really competitive," Lombardi explained. "But when we got down to the locker room, we noticed his shoes were undone and he was only halfway dressed. I asked him how he thought he played."

Said Quick, "He said I got the 'W.' "

He got the 'W.'

"It was as simple as that. I'll never forget," recalled Lombardi. "He said, 'I got the 'W' with that Connecticut accent on the 'W.'

"He had a long process to become a pro. But he didn't work ... and his technique was raw."

Still, there was something the Kings GM liked about the goalie from Milford, Connecticut.

Little did he know then that Quick would post 39, 35 and 35 victories during a period of three season from 2009-10 through 2011-12. In the meantime, Quick joined the NHL's elite --New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist and Nashville's Pekka Rinne as the top three candidates for the Vezina Trophy.

Jonathan brought steady and solid and then put up an amazing run of 16-4 to the Kings in their amazing Stanley Cup run, beating No. 1 ranked Vancouver, No. 2 ranked St. Louis and No. 3 ranked Phoenix. He had sparking stats -- 1.41 goals-against average and a .946 save percentage in the postseason. Quick even set NHL records for goalies who played at least 15 postseason games. Quick's stats slid under Chris Osgood's 1.51 GAA for Detroit in 2008 and Jean-Sebastien Giguere's .945 save percentage for Anaheim in 2003.

In the process, he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the NHL playoffs MVP.

"The biggest problem in my six years is we've had some pretty good teams here but we have no goalie," admitted captain Dustin Brown. "You build your team from the goalie out. You can have a good team and an average goaltender and you become an average team because hockey is a game of mistakes and there are going to be Grade A scoring opportunities. And if you don't have a goalie who can make those saves, you're not going to be able to advance as a team and an organization."

Said center Jarret Stoll, "He works so hard to find pucks. Maybe you think, 'How the heck did see that puck? How did he find that thing?' He's all over the net. You watch him on replays when the iso-cam's on him and he's constantly moving and his legs are so strong. He's so flexible, so athletic that he can get into so many positions in that crease and make saves.

"We've seen it time and time again where he can come up with these saves and calm our team down, keep the game 0-0, keep the game 1-0 for us, whatever the case may be. He does it game-in and game-out. That's the other thing that's surprising -- the consistency he has in his game. There's no valleys, there's no dips in his game.

"He's playing on another planet."

An 8-year-old Jonathan Quick was perhaps the most nervous boy in Connecticut in June 1994, at home on his parents' couch watching Game 7 of the 1994 Stanley Cup Final between the New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks.

Quick's favorite player was goaltender Mike Richter, who carried the Rangers to their first championship in 54 years on the strength of the best regular season of his career that he managed to improve upon for four rounds of the postseason.

"I grew up a Rangers fan, so I saw a lot of them," Quick said. "He was very competitive, very explosive. He competes, he battles. I just remember I was more nervous back then ..."

Doug and Lisa Quick gave birth a solid citizen. Doug, a route salesman for Entenmann's bakery and does construction work on the side, knows the value of hard work. 

Hard work and an attitude adjustment were necessary to build the goaltender we know as Quickie. Jonathan was a third-round pick, 72nd overall, in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Drafted by Dave Taylor and left to Lombardi. Quick led Avon Old Farms to consecutive New England prep school championships in his last two years of high school, compiling a 45-3 record. In two years at the University of Massachusetts-Amerst, he took to within of the Final Four -- losing to the University of Maine.  

Lombardi recalled a saying that goaltending guru Warren Strelow told him when they were both in San Jose, whether it was with Miikka Kiprusoff or Evgeni Nabokov.

"Warren would say, 'Don't try to evaluate Quick. With goalies ... you never know.' So much is (pointing to the head). That's why you see so many first- and second-round picks that don't pan out." 

So, Lombardi left the analysis to his goaltending experts. But, still, he said, "Every year, he was always a great competitor, always a great athlete -- probably our best athlete on the conditioning chart. He's got that -- you could see right away -- that swagger. Got a little (goalie Ron Hextall) Hexy in him.

"Jonathan's a maverick. He's a real battler."

Hextall was there at watching the Manchester farm club with Lombardi in the 2007-08 season.

"Stylistically, he had lots of work to do," Hextall remembered. "He was very clean, but you could see the holes ... and we could see the upside. Allowed him to be the athletic goalie that he is. But ..."

During that 2007-08 season, Quick was guilty of sleeping in instead of meeting with Kim Dillabough, who was being sent to Manchester to work with Jonathan. Hextall and Bill Ranford, Kings goaltending coach, let the young goaltender that would never happen again. They also demoted Quick to Reading of the East Coast Hockey League as a consequence of the sleep-in.   

"I learned a lot. I played a lot of games down there and saw a lot of pucks and kind of got an understanding for the professional level," said Quick. "Maybe I wasn't too happy to go down at first, but looking back at it I learned a lot down there and it helped my game."

Hextall said that Quick needed to learn to become a pro.

Said Ranford, "He was very athletic. Pure atheleticism. Cleaning up the technical side of his game and utilizying the athletic skill as a plus.

"He's a real student of the game. He's special that way, in that you can talk about things in the morning and he'll be trying it that night.

"He showed great athletic ability and flexibility. Strong legs."

Quick's style includes elements of the traditional stand-up approach, which relies on reflexes; a hint of butterflying, which relies on positioning; and one wrinkle -- in which he puts the paddle of the goal stick flat across the crease to take away the low shot. Quick can do the latter because of his leg strength -- a speedy post-to-post leg push.

"That flexibility and leg strength is what is key to me," coach Darryl Sutter said. "He reminds me of Miikka Kiprusoff. So good on all shots along the ice ... plus he's got a crab-like quality of getting to the high shots, too.

"What he is best at is being a teammate, fitting in with the team -- not somewhere else like a loner."
There's a lot beneath and behind the mask of Jonathan Quick. He keeps his answers short. He refuses to look at the historical context. He says all he cares about is the next game, nothing else. "I feel I've tried to give my team a chance to get the 'W' every night," he said. "I think from a goalie's standpoint, that's your job."

That's it. That's Quick.

"He never quits on a puck," said St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock. "He's like an old-school goalie. He reminds me a little bit of Marty Brodeur, because he just never quits on a puck."

About his own evolution, Quick shrugged: "It's just kind of a natural progression that everyone goes through. You pick up experience, and two more years of coaching at this level pays dividends. It's just a natural progression."

According to Bill Ranford, "He used to use his athletic ability on every save versus just using it when needed. I think that's where his game has evolved the most.

"It's kind of the pot calling the kettle black myself, but I learned as I went along that you have to utilize (athleticism) as a tool, not your toolbox. That is the best analogy for him. He needed to get more tools to create a toolbox ... and then this athletic ability that he has, he could utilize it when needed as opposed to using it on every save."

The evolution of Jonathan Quick is a goaltender with swagger. The more success he gets, the better he becomes.

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