Sunday, April 7, 2013

Seguin, From Stanley Cup to a developing star

By Larry Wigge

You could say hockey was a part of Tyler Seguin's life. You could say his hockey game grew up larger than life.

Sort of ...

Actually, you could say that Seguin doesn't remember what it feels like to be a normal person his age. At 18, he became involved with Taylor Hall in one of the best draft stories in years -- the Taylor vs. Tyler Sweepstakes for the nod as the top player in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft before being selected second by the Boston Bruins.

Then, at 19, he led the Bruins to the 2011 Stanley Cup. 
Not too many players have such an opportunity.

"My first year, a lot of this was a whole new world for me," Seguin gushes. "It was a big learning curve ... with a lot of ups and downs."

All the Brampton, Ontario, native, has done is come into the NHL and score 11 goals in his rookie year, then lead the Bruins in scoring with 29 goals and 38 assists. In the process, Seguin became the youngest player in club history to do so.

"You can grow at your pace and not have the world expected of you," said Mark Recchi, one of Seguin's linemates in his rookie season. You'll never know what Recchi, who won a Cup with Pittsburgh, Carolina and then in his finale season with Boston, meant to Tyler.

"I think it's a lot better that way," said Recchi, a three-time champion. "I think it's easier, obviously."

This year, Seguin has 12 goals and 14 assists in 37 games through April 6, although he scored 25 times for Biel in 29 games in the Swiss League during the lockout.

Some might say that Tyler Seguin may have taken the fast track to the NHL. But ...

Seguin grew up with hockey in his blood. Paul, his father, suited up four years at the University of Vermont. And, Jackie, his mother played for a local team, the Brampton Canadettes, which his sisters played for as well.

Paul Seguin played at the University of Vermont, where he was the team captain and a roommate of future NHLer John LeClair. However, there was no comparison in the way father and son played the game.

"He was a fast defenseman who did a lot of fighting," Seguin recalled. "We're pretty much opposites that way."

Doing the every-day things was a must in the Seguin's family. He remembers the drive downtown from Brampton, while playing for the Toronto Young Nats. It included being dropped off at a bus stop by his mother, before starting an hour-and-a-half morning commute. And there were days when the young hockey player fell asleep and missed his next stop, elongating the trip.

Next was a walk through the Yorkdale Shopping Center to get to the subway, which he took to the St. Clair stop. From there, he walked to St. Michael's College School in Toronto. His family relocated from Whitby to Brampton so he could attend the school. 

Does that sound like a too-big-for-his-britches kid? Tyler did this bus journey every day at Toronto St. Mike's.

"Obviously every family has to make sacrifices for money. There were a lot more little things," Seguin said. "They made that sacrifice to move, it was only an hour-and-a-half, but to move for my hockey ... There were a lot of little things, sacrifices they had to make, just for me to have a chance to chase my dream."

In the year prior to the draft, the 6-1, 182-pound center-right wing scored 48 goals and 58 assists for a league-leading 106 points for the Plymouth Whalers.

"He's a terrific player," Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli said. "He's got a terrific skill set. He's still growing. His improvement has been tremendous from one year to the next. He's very smart. Terrific hockey sense, good stick, very underrated wrist shot. He's got the whole package."

After his first year, Seguin said he saw things a little differently.

"I see the game differently now," he said. "Guys talk a lot about the game slowing down. I don"t know if it's like that for me, but I've learned some little tricks out there that have helped me."

One of those tricks, said Seguin, is knowing when to circle toward the net when he knows Patrice Bergeron has secured a puck along the wall or near the goal line.

Said Seguin, "My first year, a lot of this was a whole new world for me. It was a big learning curve with a lot of ups and downs."

"He was first on pucks, he was hard on pucks, he was battling, he was doing all the little things that people don't always see, but are huge," said Bergeron. "I told him that was one of his best games all year. He was awesome. He was strong, he was hard to keep up with he was so fast. He really was doing a great job with his vision, his speed but also his battle level."

Two seasons and one Stanley Cup later, it's hardly an old world for Seguin, but it is one with far more ups than downs.

"What happens with kids like this is, you've been the best player at every level and then you get to a level when you're not the best player and you get told you're not ready to play at that level," said Gary Roberts, the former NHL stalwart who now trains players in North York and works for the Dallas Stars. "Some kids mentally aren't prepared to do it. That's where the family comes in. That's where the upbringing comes in. If you've been brought up with good standards and morals and work ethic that matters. You just can't show up and play. Some kids aren't willing to do what they have to do and they squander their talents."

Roberts is impressed by what he's seen of Seguin.

"I'd say Tyler Seguin's figured it out," said Roberts. "Whatever he's been doing away from the ice and on the ice, it's all starting to click for him."

What Roberts was talking about was teen-agers playing men.

"It actually gets kind of annoying sometimes because I'm use to 30-year-old men all around me," he laughed. "I'm used to Zdeno Chara’s little jokes he laughs at that I don't laugh at, and then you go back to guys around your age and just the maturity level, of course. It gets a little weird."

As a rookie he had to become a professional. Playing against men. Giving of yourself for the guy next to you. It's something Seguin learned the hard way ... limited ice time. He wasn't used to that.

He actually was scratched in a game.

"I'm watched like a hawk. Paid lots of attention," Seguin said. "When you come here, I still have guys I can maybe I act my age with, but the only time I could really be a 20-year-old, which is what I take advantage of, is in the summer. I'm with kids all my age all time."

Team president Cam Neely and coach Claude Julien reiterated their intent to bring Seguin along slowly. Fans and media, mesmerized by the kid's bursts of skill, urged the Bruins to give the rookie more opportunities. Why not use the kid? The pressure mounted on Julien to put him in the lineup.

"It was a natural thing for people to want more, especially his friends and family," Julien said. "I know how frustrated they got at certain points. But I also knew there were some things Tyler had to work on."

The coach brought Seguin into the film room and ran the tapes of him skating into the corner. He wanted the rookie to see for himself.

"At times he'd put on the brakes and bail out," Julien said. "We showed him some video clips. Sometimes when you see what it looks like it, it's not fun to watch. It made him understand how far he still had to come."

Obstacles a young player must learn from and overcome.

When he was in seventh grade, Seguin got cut from the basketball team. He still uses that as a tool to overcome obstacles that you face to get where you are.

Said Seguin, "I freely admit I wasn't very good ... I never forgot it. I never forgot that feeling. It motivates me."

Lesson learned. 

The goal that Seguin scored that made me jump out of my seat. It came in Tyler's second season against Washington goalie Braden Holtby at 3:17 in overtime of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal. The goal gave the Bruins a 4-3 victory.

"I saw the goalie challenging ... so I just tried to make a quick move," Seguin said.

Challenging was putting it mildly. Holtby was trying to smother the puck ... and he failed.

Said Seguin, "What I do remember is he was coming out far, so at the last instant I stopped and pushed it around him."

"When you're not producing you put enough pressure on yourself and you've got to know people are expecting you to do well," continued Seguin. "As a little kid your dream is to get the big goals."

The dreams of a little kid. Tyler Seguin has done it all.

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