Sunday, June 30, 2013

Seth Jones was No. 1 on the Nashville draft charts

By Larry Wigge

Every dad loves to watch his son's grow and live up to their father's legacy.

For Ronald "Popeye" Jones that would have been a career with a basketball in hand, while draining 20-foot jump shots like they were going out of style. But ...

Jones, a 6-foot-8 power forward, wowed nobody with mid-air theatrics or dazzling offensive moves in his basketball career, but made himself enough of a low-post presence to play for six NBA teams -- Dallas Mavericks, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, Washington Wizards and Golden State Warriors, averaging 7.0 points and 7.4 boards.

So much for the legacy part of this story. 

While he was playing for the Nuggets, Jones introduced himself to Joe Sakic of the Colorado Avalanche at the practice facility that both of the Denver professional team shared in 1999.

He told Sakic, a two-time Stanley Cup winner, that he had three young boys who wanted to play hockey and no clue how to help them.

Listening to Jones tell the next part is priceless.

"I don't think he knew who I was, but I knew who Joe was, and I stopped him and introduced myself," Popeye remembered. "He looked at me all the way up and into my eyes. He saw how big I was. He said, 'They've got to be huge. Make sure they knows how to skate.' "

Keeping up with the Joneses was going to be difficult after that conversation. The proud father enrolled Seth, Justin and Caleb in a figure-skating class. They then joined up for the Littleton and Lone Tree clubs for eight years.

So, you see, whether Sakic would like to admit it, he was responsible for defenseman Seth Jones meteoric career -- long before Jones became a top prospect and potential No. 1 overall pick by Joe's Avalanche.

The parents took him and his two brothers to nearby Beaver Creek for the Joneses first foray around the rink. The kid decided to try something new.

Those rental ice skates that Jones wore when he was 5 were perfect -- like big boy's golf clubs. He skated and skated. Even though, he looked like he needed help, he waved off his parents' attempt to get him to use one of those stabilizing walkers.

"You could see what a blast he was having, right from the start. He was pretty good on skates even then," Popeye recalls.

Eighteen months later, Seth Jones had another little epiphany, pounding on the glass behind the goal of Pepsi Arena, celebrating the Avalanche and their Game 7, Stanley Cup clinching victory over the New Jersey Devils, mesmerized by the speed and intensity and the virtuoso skills of the likes of Sakic, Patrick Roy, Ray Bourque and Peter Forsberg.

Hockey had stolen Seth's heart, no matter what line of work his dad was in.

Seth Jones said, "It just kind of took off from there."

After being drafted 42nd overall by the Houston Rockets, the Joneses went on their long-standing journey from city to city. Popeye, who never played for Houston, started his career with Dallas. It was in Plano, Texas, where Seth was born. Obviously, the younger Joneses had clearly found ice turns out to be much thicker than blood. 

Seth Jones explained: "I actually am pretty good at basketball, I have to admit. I have a nice two-way game ... and, one thing is certain, I know I can dunk."

Amy Jones, Seth's mother, revealed, "Seth loves playing basketball. When he gets home from the Combine, I guarantee you he and his brothers will be at the gym playing the next day. But he was adamant about not doing anything organized. It probably killed Popeye, because he saw the talent he had."

Seth Jones was surprised by how the draft went for him. He was not No. 1. Not No. 2. Not even No. 3. He was overlooked. Something he will long have a chip on his shoulder for being the No. 4 pick by the Nashville Predators.

"Oh for sure," said Jones. "I'll always have in the back of my mind: wanting to make those three teams regret not taking me."

David Poile, the GM of the Predators, couldn't have been happier that Jones fell to Nashville.

"I absolutely, 100 percent, 110 percent, said Seth was No. 1 on our list ... all year long," Poile explained. "I think he's the best player in the draft. Period ...

Trying to hold back the excitement of having Seth Jones with the fourth pick, caught Poile off-guard. But ...

"He's the whole package," Poile continued. "He has size, he has great skating, he has offensive abilities. I certainly think he's going to be an aggressive player. He can be a Norris Trophy winner ... and that's not to say the other guys couldn't be equally as good, but that's how I would have him -- as the best player in the draft.”

At 6-4, 208 pounds, Jones is a throwback. He matched Evander Kane of the Atlanta Thrasher (in 2009) being the highest-drafted black player in the 51-year history of the NHL draft.

Seth was a quick study, making his way through the youth ranks, standing out at every level, playing for the Midget Dallas Stars after the Joneses moved back to Texas in 2007. 

Jones acknowledged that the two sports did not have much in common, but said he learned from watching basketball players.

"The persons I watched closely were Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd," he said, recalling when his father was an assistant with the Mavericks. "You'd see Dirk back there behind the scenes taking jump shots before and after games, before and after practices. It just taught me to keep working hard when no ones's watching ... and the person you are behind the scenes is your true self."

Before long Jones was off to Ann Arbor at age 15, playing for USA Hockey’s U-17 and U-18 U.S. national teams. 

At Portland of the Western Hockey League, Jones topped out with 14 goals and 42 assists in 61 games. At the World Junior tournament in December and January, Seth played for the United States -- accounting for one goal and six assists in seven games.

It was there that Jones met Phil Housley, newly hired assistant coach of the Nashville Predators. Housley was a prototypical rushing defenseman in his stellar blue-line career. He had Jones on the U.S. junior team that won the world championship last winter, Jones leading all defensemen with six assists. Housley came away hugely impressed by his skating, shot, hockey instincts and ability to lead a rush, but he, too, was mostly taken by Jones' emotional steadiness.

"There's no panic level in his game," Housley says. "When he has the puck he's poised and calm. Just a great athlete and built for today's game. He's big, strong, physical, great defensively, has a good stick, makes an excellent first pass out of the zone and plays in all situations. He's the most well-rounded player.

"He will be physical at the right times to keep everyone honest. He will play in all situations and, at some point in his career, he could be the top defenseman in the league.

"I hate to put this on his lap, but I can see him becoming a Chris Pronger type."

In a nutshell, Seth has the rare combination of skill, size and power, which allows him to impact the game in multiple ways and in any situation. He is smart and can respond to the various challenges he is confronted with by understanding what his options are and then being able to carry them out. He is blessed with great athletic ability and he moves about the ice with ease and the ability to use his skating to his advantage either defensively or offensively.

And he enjoys ...

"I love the big stage and playing in the big games," he said. "You have to enjoy the position. I know a lot of people would enjoy being where I am, so I'm thankful for everything I have right now."

A couple of years ago, Popeye and Amy were divorced. With Popeye on the road so much his mother, Amy, steered her son down the right path from home.

"Mom taught me everything from how to be a young man, to a handshake, eye contact, all sorts of things," Seth said. "She just wanted me to be respectful."

Or as Amy Jones continued, "Whether you are a plumber or whatever you do, you always want to make sure you do the best job you can, because somebody else is always going to be ready to take your job."

Easy to say where his thoughtfulness comes from.

Some might say, that Seth Jones shows off his hockey/basketball build.

"I'm 6-4 and pretty lanky. I fit the basketball description visually," Jones said. "And I love the game. I play in the summer with my brothers but never had the drive to play organized basketball. I'm pretty good, believe it or not, but I never had the drive to play."

Seth had tried the other sports. Baseball. Football. Soccer. Basketball, too. None of them clicked. Hockey was different -- the pace it maintains, the focus it demands.

"A lot of my friends pushed me to play," Jones recalled. "They had started to play in elementary school. ... I liked the speed, the intensity. The game keeps you on your toes."

It's clear to say, Jones became infatuated.

"The intensity of the game -- it's nonstop," he continued. "You've always got to know what's going on -- the situation, the time of the game. From the moment you step onto the ice, there's no going back. You've got to be 100 percent mentally into the games."

Legacy ... or a genuine love for hockey.

Ask him what's his favorite team growing up? That's easy the Colorado Avalanche and their Stanley Cup in 2001. Ask him his favorite player? Nick Lidstrom of Detroit.

Seth Jones remembered back to his father meeting Joe Sakic. He revealed all the travel his father made during his days as a player and afterward as a scout and team executive ... in basketball.

He laughed at the uniqueness of his story ...

"I'd be shocked myself if I heard a story like that," Jones said, when asked if people are surprised by the combination of a basketball father and a hockey son. "Me and my two brothers all play hockey, so it was weird, I guess, that none of us played basketball."

Weird. Yes. But a good story nonetheless.

Colorado tabs MacKinnon. Explosive. Wants to be a difference-maker

By Larry Wigge

The first time Nathan MacKinnon met Sidney Crosby, they sort of crossed paths at the airport. Like an accidental meeting that could have been one of the most interesting rendezvous' in hockey history. 

Crosby was coming back from the Shattuck-St. Mary's high school in Faribault, Minnesota, where, at 15, he was already being talked about at the Next One. MacKinnon, who was seven or right, was going to Florida with his family.  

From that special meeting, MacKinnon still carries the photo of Crosby, himself, and Sarah, Nathan's sister, in his wallet.

The comparisons between the two centers from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, have been aplenty. MacKinnon was raised minutes away from the home where Crosby grew up. Both have unabashed talents and skills, worthy of the No. 1 pick in the NHL Entry Draft.

The 6-foot, 182-pound MacKinnon quips, "Cole Harbour had good PH levels, I think."

Graham and Kathy MacKinnon, the parents, spent plenty of time nurturing their son. Graham was an inspector on a Canadian National Railway and also was a small-town Junior B goalie. Kathy is an area recreation co-ordinator for the municipality for Cole Harbour.

It's their touch that has created what we see on the ice ... and humble.

MacKinnon said his dad's advice on the Crosby front was right on, "He said, 'You don't have to be as good as Sidney Crosby. But leave it to your work ethic. Work as hard as Sidney Crosby ... all the time. Then, you'll be OK.' "

MacKinnon won't compare himself to Crosby, but ...

"I'm a very competitive guy and always want to be the best I can be and have a love of the game," he said. "I skated the last two summers with Sidney Crosby ... and it seems like he's a machine out there. He never gets tired. And it's not just a natural skill, he worked at it and that's the exciting part."

Graham MacKinnon likes to joke. He says he still has the hockey card to prove the story is true.

When his son was 7 or 8 years old, he got a personalized hockey card made for Nathan. The front showed him in hockey gear posing for the camera, while the back had blank space to fill in personal information. What did young Nathan write?

"He said, 'I want to play for the Halifax Mooseheads, then I want to get drafted by Colorado and play with Joe Sakic,' " Graham said.

Said Nathan, "I was just a little kid then and it's amazing how things have turned out."

This whole Nathan MacKinnon-Sidney Crosby lovefest began long before the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, where the Colorado Avalanche were about to pick the No. 1 player.

Patrick Roy, who recently was named coach and GM of the Avalanche, knows MacKinnon very well -- having been the coach and GM of the Quebec Remparts. In fact, after Nathan was the first player 2011 QMJHL midget draft by Baie Comeau was put up for bidding. Roy got into the bidding, but it was the Halifax Mooseheads that won -- trading a top prospect and three first-round picks for MacKinnon.

"It would be tough for us not to take MacKinnon," said Patrick Roy, the new coach and GM of the Avalanche. "MacKinnon is ready to play ... tomorrow."

That point of view is shared by Joe Sakic, president of the Avalanche.

"Nathan has lived under the microscope for a long time and he's lived under pressure and has always risen to the occasion," Sakic said. "He's an electrifying player. He's the most explosive player in this draft. Whatever challenge he's faced, he risen his game to another level. He wants to be a difference-maker ... he is a difference-maker.

"He's definitely a skilled guy but he's a powerful skater. He can play a skill game, but he loves going to the net. He loves going to the hard areas ... and he's just a tremendous player."

Rick Pracey, Colorado's top amateur scout, put in his two cents worth, "One thing about Nathan, clearly his body of work throughout the year has been very good. He's a player who has withstood the pressures of a draft year. In the playoffs, seeing that push and seeing him elevate his game and carry a team to a Quebec League championship and then into the Memorial Cup is special."

And it all started with Nathan MacKinnon shooting a beat-up net with plastic milk jugs hanging off the crossbar for top-shelf targets. And it became much, much more.

He's a highly-skilled forward who plays with a lot of power. It's a nice combination to have. His skating is elite. He's a durable guy and he's been a terrific player and I really don’t know what more to say. He can play the game any way you want him to play it. He is a total package of skill, speed and power. He's such a gamer, a guy who gets better when there's a big moment. 

Like, for instance, the Memorial Cup  championship against Portland, when MacKinnon scored a hat trick and added two assists in the Mooseheads' 6-4 victory.

Further numbers in MacKinnon's favor -- he helped lead the Halifax Mooseheads to a 58-6-1 record during the regular season, plus postseason championships.

Nathan finished fourth in the QMJHL with 1.70 points-per-game and he totaled a tournament-best seven goals and 13 points over four games at the Memorial Cup to earn MVP honors.

"Nathan has great hands, soft hands. He has quick hands," said Halifax coach Dominique Ducharme. "He can fire pucks from anywhere so fast. His release is so quick. He surprises goalies with quick shots from anywhere."

God-given talent, plus don't forget the PH from Cole Harbour. 

"We live on a small lake, and in the wintertime I used to flood it every day," Graham MacKinnon said. "He was always out shooting pucks down on the lake. He just loved the game."

Kathy MacKinnon said he displayed remarkable hand-eye co-ordination and agility from an early age.

"He walked early ... and always had a stick or baseball bat or golf club or hockey stick the minute he could walk," said Mrs. MacKinnon.

While he had a clear love for hockey, Kathy said he also showed a talent for canoe racing, basketball, soccer and tennis.

"I knew there was no question he'd play sports," she said. "We just didn't know what sport it would be."

For Nathan, the stigma of playing in a small town such as Cole Harbour could be a disaster. But it wasn't for Crosby ... and MacKinnon made it a plus for his, too.

"The first time I realized I could make it, I went to Toronto when I was 9 or 10 in tournaments," said MacKinnon. "You kind of realize you can play with those guys. I was doing well against Toronto kids.

"You know their track record. That's when I figured I could play. I know I was young ... but I got focussed on the NHL."

The numbers from there became stratospheric for MacKinnon.

MacKinnon, who had 200 points in 50 games as an atom, played at the AAA bantam level in Cole Harbour when he was 12 years old -- against boys who were more than two years his senior -- and said he piled up 110 points.

"I was about 5-feet playing against 6-footers," MacKinnon said. "But I was on a great team. We won everything in our region. I had great linemates, so I just contributed and did my role."

After registering 145 points in 35 games as a 13-year-old, MacKinnon, like Crosby, moved on to Faribault, Minn., to play for Shattuck-St. Mary's, where he had 101 points in 58 games with its top bantam team last winter. This season he is averaging more than two points a game for its under-16 squad -- the second-best mark on the team despite being its second-youngest player.

Despite some injuries last season for the Mooseheads, he wound up with 41 goals and 64 assists in 49 games.

Everyone knows the journey that Sidney Crosby took. It has been more of the same for Nathan MacKinnon.

"For me, I knew what kind of player I was, and I knew I wasn't going to be Sidney Crosby," MacKinnon said. "But at the same time, I'm trying to be the best player I can be.

"I guess I never put too much thought into the comparisons or the expectations. I just have to be me."

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

No keeping Crawford from Chicago success

By Larry Wigge

Each save is an important one. Every save is crucial for Corey Crawford and the Chicago Blackhawks.

The playoffs are unlike no other marathon. You must get 16 wins -- by hook or by crook. And when that has been achieved ...

Said Crawford, "Make the next save and our we'll score on the next shot ... Constant repeat of that. Repeated that over and over and over."

That's the life of a goaltender in the Stanley Cup playoffs ... And in the end, you wrap your arms around the Stanley Cup.

It's been an up-and-down four years for Corey Crawford. A journey. When Chicago won the Cup in 2010, Anti Niemi was in goal and Crawford was in the stands as the team's third-stringer.

For Crawford obviously the goaltender gets the flak if a team comes up short, so for him and everything that he worked through to get to this point, what does this mean for him?
"We're happy for him," said Chicago coach Joel Quenneville. "The scrutiny that he was under at the end of last year going into the season, if he was capable of getting through the regular season, let  alone the playoffs ..."

The coach wanted to this his next statement right, because after giving up several soft goals in the Phoenix series in the first round of the playoff, Crawford and Blackhawks goaltending coach Stephane Waite watched hours of film of New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist to get it right.

"His preparation going into the year was in the right place," Quenneville continued. "I thought his consistency was great. I got a question the other day which kind of was surprising: "Who's going to play your next game?' It was obvious who's playing our next game because he was the reason we were playing the next game. It was that type
of year for him ... and I'm very happy for him."

Crawford's playoff record was nearly identical to the regular season. In the regular season, he a 19-5-5, with a .926 save percentage and a goals-against average of 1.94. In the playoffs, he had 16-7 record, with a .932 save percentage and a 1.84 goal-against average. He led the league with 16 wins and 1.84 GAA.

The biggest scrutiny of the Finals was Boston was scoring, when a thorough dissection of his glove side followed the Hawks' 6-5 victory in Game 4, when all of the Bruins' goals were aimed that way.

"I didn't listen to anybody," Crawford said. "What mattered was the guys in the room. Everyone was behind each other. We worked hard for each other all year, and I'm so proud of everyone in that room."

"Things were different this year ... and it was hard for him at times," said Sylvia Crawford, Corey mother. "But the way he finished, the way this team finished? It's just like magic. It's a magical ending."

Said Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya: "Corey's the guy that got us here. Everybody that doubted him? Well, he shoved it back to them."

It's a strange thing about goaltenders. Most of them ... anyway.

Goalies hide behind masks. They often face shots that often come at them at 100 mph. But most of them forget who there are playing ... it the opposing team's goalie.

"Yeah, it's competitive," said Crawford before facing Tuukka Rask and the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals. "You want to beat the other guy on the other side. My focus is more on their players, what they're doing ... but yeah, I definitely want to beat him."

Goalkeepers usually hide that last fact, saying they have no control over the other teams last line of defense. In truth, Crawford wants to be more competitive in goal than Rask in this best-of-seven series that began with the Blackhawks winning a triple overtime decision, 4-3, in Game 1. 

Crawford was the victor, making 29 of his 51 saves -- including 52:08 of overtime that seemed to last an eternity and made it feel like two separate games.

The Montreal, Quebec, native, could be forgiven. He is not like most puckstoppers. In fact, Crawford had designs on scoring goals rather than stopping them at an early age.

"I changed when I was about 8 years old," Crawford recalled. "I was a forward before. I thought I was pretty good."

So the question begs, what happened when Crawford was 8 that made him don the mask?

"Patrick Roy is pretty much the reason why I wanted to be a goalie," Crawford said of the Hall of Fame goalie for the Montreal Canadiens. "He was the man back in the day. I wanted to be like him."

So, Trevor and Sylvia, Crawford's parents, had a dilemma on their hands. 

"I remember him watching Patrick Roy. We had this tape of the playoffs and he'd watch it over, over and over again," said Crawford's mother. "I knew he had a fascination. He'd watch it two, three times in a row."

Studying Roy was all the craze in Montreal at the time. He had just led the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup Finals over Los Angeles in 1993, his second Cup title with the Habs. 

Crawford's father, Trevor, wasn't thrilled by his son's new obsession.

"There is so much pressure on them," Trevor said. "They seem to be a scapegoat when things don't go well. I wasn't too keen on it at first. He was such a good forward ... But playing goalie is something he wanted to do."

Crawford, a classic late bloomer, hasn't been in the conversation as the best at his position until now. He was a second-round choice, 52nd overall, in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. Five seasons in the minor league are the qualifications that bring him to this season.

"Nothing, man," he replied when asked what elite teams he's played on in the past. "Other than regular-season junior hockey, AHL, NHL, other than that, there's not much."

"I think a number of top goalies, after a strong rookie season, seem to have an ordinary year the next year," Quenneville said. "Different challenges. Corey, with the expectations this year, came in with the right attitude. I loved the consistency of his approach. In net, game in, game out, the predictability has been in place.

"It's a different animal having the number one job, expectations changed. He had to answer a lot of questions this year going into the season. What about our goaltending? We said we're very comfortable with Corey.

"He always has been kind of together ... and always has been square. I think he has developed more each and every year. He's a good student of the game."

Crawford has evolved from being a guy characterized as a shot blocker and very technical to a more athletic goaltender under Waite, with whom he has worked since he was 15 and first attended Waite's goalie school in Sherbrooke, Quebec.

"I've been plugged into that boxy, shot blocker status," Crawford said. "That's what I've based my game off of. I've learned you have to battle and make those other saves, too. You can't just give up on plays. Players are too good and can make plays on you. You have to be able to read and react and be desperate at times."

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews calls Crawford Chicago's MVP, even before this playoff run. 

"If they didn't really before, I think everyone knows who Corey Crawford is now," Toews said. "The influence and the effect he's had on our team all season and through this Cup run that we’ve had. He's proven he's a pressure player. He's got the talent and the ability and the mental game to go with it."

He's doing what Niemi did three years ago -- giving the Blackhawks a chance.

"We felt he was capable of being an elite goalie, a top goalie," said Quenneville. "This year, he was ready to go. The consistency of his game was in place. He did what he had to do all year long and didn't change his approach whether there was a couple of goals go in. He hasn't had any games all year where we were disappointed with his contribution."

Since then, however, the goaltender pendulum has swung the other way.

"Can't even put that into words," Toews said after the overtime heroics. "He made some unbelievable saves. I can't remember if it was still in regulation time or not.
"Anyways, you know you're going to need some big stops. One went off the posts there. A couple times we gave up a few too many chances off the rush. He was there every single time.
"We needed Crowe to make those stops to keep the game going."

Game after game, save after save. Only Corey Crawford stands tall for the Blackhawks.

Toews: The beginnig of a legend at Hawks 2nd Cup

By Larry Wigge

You could say Jonathan Toews was playing in the moment. 

The moment could be characterized as center stage -- all on the line for the Stanley Cup. The Chicago Blackhawks captain wanted to put the Blackhawks on his shoulders. Every fiber of his soul, told you so.

Toews said, "You look at the great players who have worn the 'C' and there's always a defining moment."

I'm quizzing the third player selected overall in the 2006 Entry Draft -- drafted behind only Erik Johnson and Jordan Staal.

It was the second time in four years that Jonathan Toews led Chicago into the winner's circle.

Mark Messier, Scott Stevens, Steve Yzerman and Mario Lemieux were names of famous captains that came to mind. All of them would not back away from a defining moment.

"Reality sinks in, you're not in dreamland anymore," Toews related in the best way. "You've got to earn every point and every chance. It's not easy.

"But it's not all on my shoulders. We're a young bunch ... with great goals."

For the Winnipeg, Manitoba, native, the scene was set with an iffy context. Toews had been held out in the third period of Game 5 with what coach Joel Quenneville called a "dinged noggin." Yet, Jonathan answered the bell.

He played 20:12 on the night. Toews broke out on a two-on-one break give the Blackhawks the tying second at 4:24 of the second period and, with 1:16 left, his sweat pass went right threw Zdeno Chara's legs to a waiting Bryan Bickle to knot the score once again at 2-2.

The stage was set by Jonathan Toews for Dave Bolland to finish off the 3-2 victory with 58.3 seconds left to put the final dagger into the Boston Bruins in six games.

Jonathan had just one shot in the game, three hits, two blocked shots and went 12-8 on faceoffs. Moreover, his playoff performance was highlighted by his two goals and three assists in the final three games, when all the pressure was on the line.

"He had a monster game," Quenneville said of Toews. "He looked ready to go at the end of the last game ... and he was ready to go. The bigger the game, the bigger the setting, you know what you're going to get from Jonathan Toews. He just knows how to play hockey."

He's getting older ... but he's getting better.

At 6-2, 208-pounds, the 25-year-old captain has got all the tools and willingness to compete.

"There's no part of the game he can't compete in," linemate Patrick Kane said. "He just does everything well. But what makes him so special to me is that I have never seen him give up on a single play ... and, believe me, that kind of attitude rubs off on everyone around him."

"He's just getting older ... getting that maturity just comes with age," said defenseman Duncan Keith said. "It's a lot of pressure on a young guy. He's just grown into that, matured. He's a great leader for us.

"He's more comfortable as he's gotten older. As you get older you get comfortable with who you are as a person, more sure of yourself, just a natural progression and maturity as a person and as a player. Not only helps your teammates, but it helps yourself and helps your confidence."

Added Rick Dudley, special assistant in Montreal, "He's one of those rare players, the kind of guy you see out there busting his butt play after play. If you're a teammate, you have to say; 'I'd better get my butt in gear.' "

"This group of guys makes you look good every day," said Toews. "It's a special group, special team and they deserve it more than anybody.

"It's awesome. We're going home. We've got the Cup."

Some could say that Toews performance created a remembrance of the 1970 NBA Finals, when Willis Reed limped onto the court to led the New York Knicks to a triumph over the Los Angeles Lakers. Maybe so, but the Chicago captain came out full speed despite sitting out the entire third period of Game 5 because of concussion related items.

"He's got it, and he gets it," says Scotty Bowman, the Blackhawks senior advisor of hockey operations whose next Stanley Cup will be his 13th. "And when you have what Jonathan has, age doesn't matter. It's the person, not the birth certificate."

How Toews developed his work ethic is no mystery, at least not to him. 

Bryan Toews, his father, and Bryan Toews is from farming stock in rural Manitoba and now works as an electrician for the University of Manitoba. Jonathan's mom, Andree-Gilbert, is from Quebec, where she studied to become the managing director and finance expert for a large credit union in the Winnipeg region. She’s smart and she is particularly proud of the work she has done in French relations in the Manitoba area for the bank.

Watching and learning is something Jonathan Toews has been good at since he was a kid.

"I remember taking Jonathan to his first NHL game when he was 4-years-old. You know how kids are at that age, they lose their attention span after a few minutes and want to do something else. But Jonathan didn't even want a treat when I offered to buy him a pop or hot dog. He said, 'Dad, all I want to do is watch the game,' " Bryan Toews said. "When it comes to hockey, he's always been driven and determined and very, very smart. He gets that from his mom."

You might think that a kid who grew up watching the Winnipeg Jets when he was little would idolize former captain Dale Hawerchuk, but Jonathan thought the game started and ended with Wayne Gretzky.

Quite a quantum leap from getting his first stick when he was 2-years-old and stickhandling a tin of petroleum jelly around the house without a misstep. He got his first pair of skates when he was 3 and was an instant whiz on the ice.

"Jonathan could see things you’d show him and then go right out there and do them better than I’d describe them," Bryan laughed. "I remember I had him on the lake when he was four. He had such a natural stride. I remember several parents coming up to me and asking, 'How old is that kid?' "

Jonathan maintains that he wasn't so natural.

"I never was one of the biggest kids, but I kind of found myself thinking of ways in my mind to beat them," he said. "I'd use my skating, my stickhandling, my wits to visualize ways to win."

Detroit's Dan Cleary has seen Toews development from the beginnig. He and Patrick Kane.

"Toews and Kane are a lot like Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk." Cleary continued. "They are the Blackhawks two best players. Like Henrik and Pav, NO ONE works any harder than them. It's easy for the rest of the team to follow them."

Never one to pass along praise.

"The best advice I ever got was from Tom Ward, my coach at Shattuck St. Mary's, when he told me, 'You're not going to play the game forever, so it’s more important to be a good person,' " he said.

Level-headed. Smart. Driven. Determined. With a will to win as big as Winnipeg.

"I was like any kid in Canada growing up," he said. "My dad built a rink in our backyard. My brother, David, and I would play until it got so cold we couldn't feel our fingers. I'd dream that I was Gretzky ... in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final ... scoring the winning goal."

Jonathan Toews had two Stanley Cups to his credit. A lot has happened to the boy from Winnipeg, who told his dad at a young age, that he didn't want a pop or a hot dog.

He said, 'Dad, all I want to do is watch the game.'

The beginning of a legend.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Toews gets a little help from a friend

By Larry Wigge

Glen Seabrook and Jonathan Toews. One a defenseman, the other the team captain and do it all guy for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Strange as it seems, they are talking about scoring goals ...

After Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals, Seabrook was basking the limelight after putting the Blackhawks even at two games apiece with a slap shot in overtime.

The story Seabrook told was a classic ... into the the deep, dark inner thoughts of two friends. 

It reminds us all that someone always knows more about you ... than you.

Wayne Gretzky pushed Mark Messier and vice versa. Mario Lemieux listened to Ron Francis. Steve Yzerman remembers hearing some sobering advice from Brendan Shanahan. And so on ... and so on.

It's just that its interesting that a guy like Jonathan Toews, whose scored more than 150 goals in six years with Chicago would listen to Brent Seabrook, who has just over 50 goals in the same time.

Toews, ever the steady, monotoned, unfailingly positive voice and captain of the 2010 Stanley Cup champions Chicago Blackhawks, has come unglued emotionally, letting a scoring slump affect his entire psyche.

Teammate Brent Seabrook did his best Dr. Phil on Toews, while sitting in the hotel lobby after three games of the Stanley Cup finals with the Blackhawks trailing the Boston Bruins two games to one.

"What are you thinking about?" Seabrook, a defenseman, asked.

"Nothing," Toews said. "What are you thinking about?"

It was the wrong answer.
"What are you thinking about?" Seabrook inquired again.
Toews then realized what Seabrook was fishing for.

"SCORING GOALS!" Toews snapped back ...

Seconds later, Toews finally admitted, "Absolutely, every waking moment it's something you think about. Just got to be hungry. No excuses. I have to find a way. I'll take whatever I can get."

Said Seabrook, "To be completely honest, I was sick and tired of hearing everybody talk about everything that Johnny's doing right. He's a great player. He's one of the best in the league. I just told him that, 'He's got to stop thinking about that, too. He's got to stop thinking about everything that he's doing right and stop worrying about not scoring goals. He's got to score goals for us. He's a big part of our team. When he's going, we have a chance to win as well as Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa and Bryan Bickell, all our forwards have to be going ... and I knew he was going to be playing great.

"It wasn't about the little things that he does. It wasn't about his leadership that he brings. I just thought that maybe he needed to start thinking about scoring goals."

Toews had gone 10 games without a goal when he tipped in a shot by Michal Rozsival in the second period. That gave the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead, and he also had a hand in the game-winner, screening Boston's Tuukka Rask as Seabrook unleashed a slap shot 9:51 into overtime.

That was more like it for Chicago.

Toews is the captain of the Blackhawks. Seabrook is a leader, too, as one of the team's more vocal players in the pregame moments and a veteran willing to speak up if necessary -- even when it's to the player wearing the 'C'.

It was a flashback from the conversation the two had after Game 4 against the Detroit Red Wings, when Toews took three penalties in the second period and was coming unhinged. Seabrook skated over to the penalty box and attempted to calm him down -- Henrik Zetterberg of the Red Wings was getting under Toews' skin.

"If the rest of the group sees him like that it's going to trickle down so we need him to be focused and be ready," Seabrook said at the time.

The sage advice continued in conversations like the one on the hotel lounge. As Seabrook said during an off-day interview at the Stanley Cup Final, he was sick and tired of hearing the talk about what Toews wasn't doing.

Here's Seabrook: "He's gotta score goals for us. When he's going, we have a chance to win. I just felt like he needed to start thinking about scoring goals."

Toews said Seabrook has leadership qualities the media and fans don't see.

"He always has. He's one of the louder guys before the game, in the locker room and between periods. I think it's part of his ritual to get himself going," said Toews. "He tries to get the boys going ... and tried to do the same for me."

Two friends, going back to when Seabrook was Toews' roommate in the center's rookie year. Two leaders for the Blackhawks, leading them when they needed it the most.

Said Jonathan Toews, "He wasn't trying to get on me, I don't think. He was definitely just trying to spark me a little bit. I don't know if it's something that goes with the relationship and the friendship we've had over the years, rooming with him my rookie year here in Chicago. It goes a ways back already. But he's always looked after me that way.

"It’s good. He cares about his teammates. He wants his teammates to have success. And more than anybody, he wants to win this thing." 

A couple of days later, we're talking about this Dr. Phil consult ... like it meant something.

Well, it did.

Toews was still active in his assault on the Bruins net, assisting on both of Patrick Kane's Game 5 goals in a 3-1 victory over Boston.

The story goes one step further. 

Johnathan Toews did it in the first two periods of play in Game 5. He sat on the bench. Didn't even step on the ice for the third period, after being slammed to the ice by Boston defenseman Johnny Boychuk.

Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said that Toews was not concussed. Upper body injury. 

What wasn't reported: Jonathan Toews was paying the price to score in the playoffs.

Just as Brent Seabrook was telling him.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Sharp has turned himself into a perfect Chicago Blackhawk

By Larry Wigge

Patrick Sharp is one of the single-most creative players for the Chicago Blackhawks ... over the years. 

He does things naturally that all coaches want from their players -- shoots masterfully, passes flawlessly, stickhandles like a demon. He's a good player with the puck and a very, very intelligent hockey player without it. He never looks out of place at center or either wing. He has skill and quickness. But most of all, he's smart and has a natural hockey instincts for the game.

Patrick Sharp is Blackhawks hockey -- fast, active, dangerous.

"There are too many factors outside of just what we see from his play on the ice," Chicago GM Stan Bowman emphasized. "There's a lot of other things that reporters and fans don't see. He's a very important player for our group here ..."

Trying to find the right word -- the right phrase -- Bowman continued, "Kind of the fabric of our team."

So much a part of the Chicago scene. The fabric. Perfect. 

Patrick Sharp has scored 34 and 33 goals the last two seasons, a clear cut tipoff of the kind of skill and talent he has.

But, this year, he has gone long stretches without doing the things that made him so valuable to the Blackhawks. That was the thing he was talking about before Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals against the Boston Bruins.

"We've been talking about getting more involved, being more active in the offensive end of things," Sharp reasoned, after having only one point in the three games of the finals plus another four games.


Sharp's magical hands and legs made an appearance in a 6-5 overtime victory to even the Final series against Boston as he parked himself in front of the net and lifted one high into the net behind the Bruins Tuukka Rask. The Hawks evened the Finals at two games apiece thanks to defenseman Brent Seabrook scored in sudden death for the winner ... but not without some help from Patrick Sharp.

Still, Sharp was a beast. He was clearly the most dominating player on the ice for the Blackhawks with his one goal, eight shots, four hits and two blocked shots.

But a botched celebration that followed Patrick's goal as he fell to the ice behind the Boston net.

"Yeah, I'm out of practice," said Sharp, with a laugh.

Patrick Sharp suffered through a mess of injuries and had just six goals and 14 assists in his 28 games. In the playoffs, he has been streaky -- as his league-leading 10 goals and six assists in 21 games attests.

Sharp sometimes flies under the radar, but just  like in 2010, he seems to be the most consistent producer you have. Is he just a guy that embraces the

"Well, Sharpy has had a good playoff and I thought he scored a huge goal for our power play and for himself and for our team," coach Joel Quenneville said. "The last few games, he seems like he's getting the puck a lot more and getting opportunities around the net.

"Certain guys get opportunities and certain guys get a little bit more attention than others come playoff time. But like we said all along, we don't care who scores, but we like the fact that he's been productive."

Goalie Corey Crawford echoed those remarks, "He's been really good. That quick shot of his just handcuffs goalies sometimes ... surprises them. His speed is underestimated, just how fast that guy can skate with the puck. He's definitely one of our top guys and we need him to be at his best, which he has been."

Sharp's work ethic comes from his parents. Patrick's dad, who was born in Scotland and adopted as an infant by a Canadian family, ran a successful doughnut business, which started out as one store, Robin's Doughnut Shop, in 1975. The elder Sharp has expanded the business to more than 400 shops throughout Canada and the United States. His mom worked in the doughnut business as well, until Patrick and his older brother Chris were born.

The best advice Sharp ever got came from his dad.

"I always remember him telling me not to get sidetracked, to pick something in life that excited me and give it all I've got," Sharp said. "From the days when I would tag along with my brother, Chris, I always wanted to be a hockey player.

"I never forgot, or got sidetracked, from the thought that a lot of younger players I played with coming through the ranks got chances when I knew I was better than them."

And it all started in the Sharp's driveway with his brother and the neighborhood NHL wannabes.

"I was always Mike Modano, even if I didn't have his size or speed," Sharp said. "The other player I started watching when I got to Vermont was Martin St. Louis. I remember admiring the way he beat the odds -- scouts saying he was too small to make it -- all the way to NHL MVP and a Stanley Cup."

At Vermont, Sharp completed two years of a business degree.

"I always liked math and finance," he said. "If I wasn't a hockey player I would work in the small business field. I would have been proud to follow in my dad's footsteps."

There's nothing normal about Patrick Sharp's story. He has always had to prove himself to coaches and scouts. When he was 15, he wasn't even drafted by a junior team because of his diminutive stature.

"I was 5-foot-7, 140-pounds playing against guys 6-1, 6-2 and nearly 200 pounds," Sharp said in answer to an obstacle he had to overcome in life.

But being undrafted didn't rattle Sharp. It just made him more determined to prove the skeptics wrong. By the time he was about 17, he grew to 6-1, 190-pounds and spurned the Ontario Hockey League for the University of Vermont. In his freshman year, scouts finally began to notice his speed, tenacity and hockey smarts. The Flyers selected him in the third round, 95th overall, in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft.

He was involved in one of the most lopsided trades of all time -- Chicago acquired Sharp and Eric Meloche from Philadelphia for winger Matt Ellison and a third-round draft choice.

But ... Patrick Sharp, concussed or not, turned himself into a goal scorer. A fabric of the Chicago Blackhawks organization.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Keith ... not rooting for the Boston Bruins now

By Larry Wigge

When you want magic from a defenseman, you don't have to say abracadabra to loud to get Duncan Keith involved. Flash ... he was there.

Every time three men Chicago players went in on a rush, there was No. 2 making a push forward for the Blackhawks as they attempted to get even at two games apiece in their series against the Boston Bruins.

When Chicago scored in overtime, it was Keith's sidekick Brent Seabrook who chalked up the winner -- on a slap shot that whistled past Boston goalie Tuukka Rask at 9:51 for a 6-5 victory.

Keith couldn't be any happier than Seabrook was. 

"We were jumping up on the play all night," Keith observed. "It gave Boston a different look ... that I think it surprised them."

When the defensive duo first teamed up as roommates on road trips with the Blackhawks, Seabrook was 20 years old and Keith was 22. Seven seasons later, they still carpool to the airport and back again whenever the Hawks are on the road.

"I think we just grew up together," Seabrook said. "I think we've got a pretty good understanding of how each other are and how each other thinks."

Like a married couple, Seabrook thought he knew all of Keith deepest and darkest secrets. Until, Keith pronounced his allegiance to the Boston Bruins as a kid growing up in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

"Personally, for myself growing up as a kid, a little kid, I was always a big Boston Bruins fan," Keith admitted. "For me, it's going to be neat to go back there and play in the Stanley Cup Final."

Neat? Wait a minute, said Seabrook. Had he heard this right? Keith grew up a Bruins fans. Yes, a young Keith grew up rooting for a team that played its hockey almost 2,000 miles away from him.

Say it aint so, Dunc.

Truth be told, Keith's favorite player at the time was Ray Bourque. Not a bad role model, according to Seabrook, whose favorite player was Chris Pronger of the St. Louis Blues. Got that Dunc.

"I don't wanna make a big deal out of that, it's a long time ago," Keith said. "Just Ray Bourque was one of my favorite players. I think he was a pretty awesome defenseman."

Keith has studied the styles of previous Norris Trophy winners as Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Leetch and Raymond Bourque, all of whom generated offense from the back end by skating and passing. The same must be said for Pierre Pilote, Doug Wilson, Chris Chelios and the fluid, fleet Keith, the Norris winner in 2010 helping the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup the same year.  

On this night, Keith was a plus-three, had one assist, two shots and one blocked shot. For the Hawks, Duncan now had two goals and 10 assists in 20 playoff games.

"Dunks is a thoroughbred," said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. "I think he's one of those guys, his conditioning level is at a different level than most players. He's able to absorb big minutes."

His teammates could see the tenacity and fearlessness he took in Game 4 against Detroit. 

"He's one of those guys you kind of take for granted because he's back there every night and does pretty much the same thing," Patrick Kane said. "Whether it's shutting down the other team, or creating offensive chances, or jumping in the rush, or how fast he skates, or how good he is defensively with his stick .. . he does so many things that you can name and really is huge for our team."

Duncan Keith is one of those self-motivated individuals. Nothing ... and I believe nothing ... is going to stop him from being a quality defenseman.

He dared to be himself ... and it has worked out pretty well.

The Blackhawks big-minute defenseman remembers that his parents never pushed him to be a lawyer or doctor, an electrician or a fireman. They told him to just find a career path he liked and go for it.

No pressure.

It wasn't unusual for a youngster in Fort Frances, Ontario, just across the border from frigid International Falls, Minnesota, to choose hockey. After all, everything was frozen around town for months.

"I'd like to say I got the athletic genes from my mom or dad (his dad, David, is a bank manager and his mom, Jean, is a nurse's aid), but I guess that comes from my grandpa, Wilf, who was a soccer player in England," Keith laughed. "As far back as I can remember, there was nothing other than hockey that I wanted for my career."

And even though he was a tiny kid, the diminutive youngster overlooked the barriers he faced and made it to the National Hockey League. He's grateful to his parents the figure skating classes they enrolled him in when he was just a tot. Experts will tell you that being so good at one part of the game often gives a kid the opportunity to catch up with the rest of the pre-requisites needed to play hockey at at high level. And that's the story of Keith's rise to stardom.

"It may sound funny, but I remember checking almost every day to see if I had grown," Keith said with a twinkle in his eyes. "I may have only been 5-3 when I was 14, but I had big plans. I knew I could skate. I knew I had talent."

Nothing was going to stop this singleminded, self-motivated youngster. Not even getting cut from Team Pacific when he was 15. That was just a small pothole on his road to success.

"That was just about the time I began to go through a growth spurt," he explained. "I went from 5-3 to 5-6 at 14, 5-9 at 16, 5-11 at 178 and 6-feet-tall at 19. For most of my life it always seemed like I was the smallest kid on the team."

You could say he was always measuring the future, measuring his pathway to success.

"A guy like Duncan Keith is fearless," Montreal Canadiens executive Rick Dudley told me. "He will go back and get the puck under duress. It used to be the bigger defenseman would have to hold up and you couldn't get a forecheck, but now under the new rules you need more character because you are going back with the threat of being hit almost all the time now.

"So whether you are a defenseman big or small, you have to have character and quick feet, and character is what Duncan Keith is all about."

To a layman's eye, the first thing you notice about Keith is his speed. He parlays that talent into an enormous positive, being able to take a chance offensively and still recover to be back in position defensively.

"I'll never forget a play last year against Nashville where Dunc was up the ice creating an offensive opportunity in a 4-on-4 situation in overtime and in an instant the play went back the other way," Florida GM Dale Tallon said, shaking his head (Tallon was with Chicago at the time Keith was drafted). "David Legwand, who has some of the best wheels in the NHL, was off ... and Keith gave him a head start and he still caught him before he could get off a shot at the other end of the rink."

Keith laughs at the play, saying that Legwand was at the end of his shift -- although there's a fire in his eyes to indicate that he'd love nothing better than to get Legwand or another of the NHL's fastest skaters on a track to show off his own skating ability.

The 30-year-old defenseman's minutes seem to increase each year, a value barometer that had risen to more than 29 minutes a game -- Chris Pronger and Nicklas Lidstrom minutes.

Duncan is also remarkably durable, having missed just one game in his five NHL seasons. He credits his work with weights for improving his size and plyametrics and speed sprints with making him leaner and faster and all the stamina he needs to play the kind of minutes the Blackhawks have given him the last couple of seasons.

Keith, who was a late bloomer because of his lack of height, came on fast after three seasons of Tier II hockey at Penticton in British Columbia and 1 1/2 more nondescript seasons playing at Michigan State University. Still, the Blackhawks thought enough of him to select him in the second round, 54th overall, in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft.

"When we drafted him, he was 5-11 and 160 pounds," recalled Tallon. "Now, he's 6-0 and 190. That commitment to his growth physically and as a player shows me he has an unbelievable desire to get better."

Duncan Keith was a business major at Michigan State University. Weightlifting and mountain biking are his hobbies. 

"I liked defense right away -- getting the opportunity to control more of the game back there," he told me. "I always believed in myself. All I needed was to find a way to make it."

The offense was always there -- in Fort Frances, Penticton, Michigan State and Kelowna, but a driven Duncan knew there were other parts of his game -- can you say defense -- that needed work.

"I wouldn't be here today without the help I got from Rob McLaughlin, my bantam coach, who helped improve his skating stride using plyametrics," Keith acknowledged. "I noticed improvements on the ice right after just a week with Rob. It was like I had gained an extra step or two that I didn't have before.

"The same was true when I went Michigan State and Ron Mason taught me about systems and being responsible at both ends of the rink. Then, when I went to Norfolk (American Hockey League) and played for (former NHL defenseman) Trent Yawney, he really taught me how to play the position -- the responsibilities I had in my own zone, how to match up with a speedy forward or a power forward and win the one-on-one battle. I'll never forget how nice it was to have somebody at that point in my career willing to take the time to teach me how to be better."

"He's got great skills. The kind you can't teach," remembered Mason.

After Keith began to play on defense full-time, he switched to Bobby Orr, Brian Leetch and Nicklas Lidstrom and Bourque.

"I've watched old tapes of Orr and, well, everything he did on defense, plus I liked how Leetch jumped up and anticipated the play to get open for a shooting lane or pass. And how can you not like Lidstrom's calm on the ice and the way he controls the play," Duncan explained. "Right now, I'd say I'm more of a puck-control defenseman. I'd rather try to make a pass and break it out, then go on the rush."

Talent like that is worth a trip around the world, similar to the one Keith's parents simultaneously took years ago, when his Canadian father and English-born mother met for the first time in —- of all places —- Yugoslavia.

"With that speed, he was always a player we talked about in our pre-game meeting -- making sure our guys were aware at how quickly he could jump up into the play and create a scoring chance," said Joel Quenneville, the new Blackhawks coach remembering how he'd have to game-plan against Keith when Joel was coaching the Colorado Avalanche.

Now, it's Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. In another era, they'd be rooting for Ray Bourque and Chris Pronger.

Some quality players from any era.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

At 41, Jagr still has those dominant moments

By Larry Wigge

Jaromir Jagr used to be a dominant, take-your-breadth away star. Give him and inch and he'd take a mile, using his size and strength.

It was Game 1 of the 1992 Stanley Cup Finals, when Jagr stickhandle-around-the-entire-Chicago-team and beat Blackhawks goalie Ed Belfour with the backhander with 4:55 left to play. Mario Lemieux with 15 seconds left for the winner en route to a four-game sweep by the Pittsburgh Penguins over Chicago.

Even Boston center Patrice Bergeron claims to remember THE PLAY. That came as a surprise that a kid would remember.

"I was only 7 years old, but I remember that play," Bergeron recalled. "He skated in and around every body on that play ..."

He was drawing from a young memory for something truly memorable. Stuggling for details, Bergeron was awestruck, saying, "I'll bet he beat defenseman Igor Kravchuk two or maybe even three times ... on the play."

The videotape shows the big-bodied Jagr zooming around Brent Sutter, Frantisek Kucera and Kravchuk ... maybe two times.

Jagr remembers it like it was yesterday.

"We were down 4-1 and I didn't think we had a chance because they were forechecking really well," Jagr recalled. "With five minutes left, we were down 1 and I got lucky ... and score a pretty good-looking goal and Mario won it with 15 seconds left. Even though it was the first game, I thought it was a pretty key game."

Jagr has 1,600 points, a couple of Stanley Cups, three Pearson Trophies and a Hart. He’ll be in the Hall of Fame after he retires. But there was always a sense that Jagr left a lot in his tank, that he was capable of more than what he achieved.

"Stopping Jagr and Lemieux," then-Chicago coach Mike Keenan would say of defending two separate lines, "was like stopping 1 and 1A."

The Kladno, Czech Republic, native, isn't so dominant now. Though, he flashes glimpses of those old days.

Bergeron and Jagr connected to give the Bruins a 2-1 lead in this year's Finals. On a five-on-three power play, Jagr had the puck deep in the right wing corner as the one Chicago penalty was just expiring. The assist moved Jagr into fifth place on the NHL's all-time postseason points list ahead of Paul Coffey with 197.

Like a quarterback who knew where the puck was going before the Chicago goalie Corey Crawford or their defenseman Brent Seabrook did.

"I knew it was coming," said Bergeron, who was stationed on the opposite side from Jagr. "Jags saucered it over Seabrook's stick ... I didn't think it would be coming to me so fast ... I bobbled it for a split-second, before hitting the open net."

You remember it ... like 1992 ... like in the Pittsburgh series, when Jagr outmuscled the puck away from a defender, then chipped it along the Brad Marchand, who hit Bergeron for a double-overtime victory in Game 3 of the Bruins sweep over the Penguins.

When he broke in with the Penguins in the early 1990s, Jagr was one of the generation's greatest players -- which included the golden era that included Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic.

"The first years that I won it, especially the first year -- I was 18 and didn't speak much English," Jagr said. "It was the first time I was away for 10 months from my country -- probably it was even longer than 10 months because I had to go right after the draft. I was kind of homesick. We were winning and winning and winning and then we went to the Cup.

"When you are young, you don't really think about how tough it is. Obviously you have to be on a good team, but you can be on a great team and it is no guarantee you're going to get into the Final. You've got to be injury-free and your top players have to play the best hockey in those two months."

So in those Pittsburgh days Jagr's mom moved in with him. Home-cooked meals. She made living away from home not so hard to live with. Besides, caused you knock on the Jagrs door as ask Mrs. Jagr whether Jaromir can't come out to play.

Coming into this year's finals, it wasn't just Bergeron who was looking forward to Jagr again being in the Finals again.

"It's pretty amazing," Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said. "He was probably one of my favorite players when I was a kid. I think I wore No. 68m when I was playing summer hockey a couple summers. I had his Koho Jagr stick. I looked up to him. Now here I am getting a chance to play against him in the Stanley Cup Finals. That's pretty amazing."

It was just two years after Jagr returned to the NHL from the Kontinental Hockey League. He played there for three years, before returning to Philadelphia in 2011-12. He signed with Dallas this year, before joining the Bruins.

Dallas coach Glen Gulutzan was actually one year older than Jagr. But his mind was ...

"For Jags, he's got some great ideas that he's implemented, but we've also talked about some things that we need in his game as well," said Gulutzan. "He’s completely on board.

"I remember he had two goals in a game one night and he pulls my pant leg on the bench and says, 'Make sure we have two centers on the ice,' and he was taking himself off. It shows the kind of mentality and mindset he has."

When Boston GM Peter Chiarelli acquired Jagr, he liked it to Mark Recchi before the 2011 season.

"You don't have to be the guy, but you're an important piece and you band together with your teammates," said Chiarelli. "You've got the experience. You’ve got a certain skill set, size, whatever you call it, that will benefit the rest of the group. But one, you have experience ... and you want to win still.

"That was an important question. And he was very receptive to that."

Chiarelli added, "His career speaks for itself. He's a strong player, protects the puck well. It's consistent with our style in the sense that there's a cycle element to his game. He's good on the half-wall. Really good release, shot. He's just a really good player."

A potential free agent when this season ends, Jagr know this could be a one-time affair.

"I like to have fun," Jagr said. "Obviously, the American media, they don't really know me that much, but the Czech media knows I like to have fun. I like to joke around all the time. I know it is not easy to be 41, but I don't think age is a matter. As long as you love the game, and you're willing to work hard every day more than the other guys, you can play.

"When I had the long hair, I wouldn't say it was the style, but I wasn't the only one who had it. There was a lot of guys. Maybe not that long, but it was a lot of guys. Right now it is a different style, but it is going to come back. Everything just comes back. Ten years, you're going to see guys with that hair."

Jagr see some humor in that. Just as he does his age.

"I don't think age matters," Jagr said. "As long as you love the game, and you're willing to work hard every day more than the other guys, you can play ...

"See you guys are surprised ... Your surprised I'm still alive."

The doctrine according to Jaromir Jagr.

Monday, June 17, 2013

At 5-9, Krug continues to prove size is immaterial

By Larry Wigge

Boston fans don't like to hear the story about how Wally Pip sat out a game in June of 1925 with a headache ... and the legend known as Lou Gehrig began for the New York Yankees.

Well, here goes another old-fashioned fairy tale also involving Boston and New York.

Little-known Torey Krug, a 5-9, 180-pound undrafted player who once played at Michigan State, won a starting job when three defensemen Wade Redden, Andrew Ference and Dennis Seidenberg joined Boston's hobbled defensive corps.

It started in the second playoff series for the Bruins -- May 16 against the Rangers.

Krug, who was making his Stanley Cup Playoff debut, scored off a sharp shot from the left circle that squeezed underneath goaltender Henrik Lundqvist's left arm to tie the game at 2-2 on a power play, sending the game into overtime for a Brad Marchand overtime winner.

"It was amazing," Krug said. "I've said before that my main goal was to come in here and try to help the team win, and I was fortunate enough to do that."

It happened again and again and again ...

The Boston Bruins rookie defenseman from Livonia, Michigan, who set an NHL record by scoring four goals in his first five Stanley Cup playoff games.

And ... Krug never left the lineup -- even after Ference and Seidenberg got healthy.

Numerous times in the past month, people have asked: Where did this kid come from? If he's so good, why hasn't he played his entire season with the Bruins? And, how tall is he really?

Krug, generously listed at 5-foot-9, 180 pounds, is a good player who began his pro development after the Bruins scouted him feverishly during his collegiate career at Michigan State, and then the organization ultimately signed him as a free agent on March 25, 2012. Playing for Providence of the American Hockey League, Krug put up great numbers -- 13 goals, 32 assists in 63 games.

"When I was at Michigan State my one-timer was great," Krug said. "It was one of my strengths ... and it was one of those things I let slip away from me."

The diminutive defenseman has made an amazing impact on the Bruins. Three of his goals came on the power play, results of his wicked slap shot. The other came on a dazzling display of skating and stickhandling, catching the puck on his blade between his legs and wrapping it around his left skate before beating Lundqvist with a snapshot.

It wasn't all peaches and cream for Torey Krug.   

Draft day came and went ... and there was nothing ... in 2011.

"He was really disappointed when he didn't get drafted," said Michigan State coach Tom Anastos said. "Clearly the reason was that on a good day, he's a 5-foot-9 defenseman, and how many of them play in the NHL?

"What people missed on Torey Krug was they were so busy measuring him in height, they forget to measure his heart."

"It's a childhood dream to hear your name called at the draft," Krug said. "I interviewed with a few teams. They seemed pretty excited and I was too. You're waiting for your name to get called and it doesn't happen ... and you're crushed, because all these guys you played against are getting picked.

"I'm sitting there, thinking: 'Why am I not getting called? I'm better than this guy, I'm better than that guy.'"

The son of Cheryl and Kyle Krug. Torey's brother, Adam, played college hockey at Adrian College and other brother Matt played at Robert Morris University, his brother Zak plays college volleyball at Siena Heights University in Adrian, Mich.

Torey admires the play of Pavel Datsyuk because "he's the most well-rounded player on the ice", and models his game after Zdeno Chára. He calls his father his largest hockey influence.

"You always hope that guys can come in and help your team out. There's no doubt he was magic for us in this series to score that many goals," Boston coach Claude Julien said after being placed in an unenviable state on defense with the injuries to Redden, Ference and Seidenberg. "The confidence that he showed playing in the Rangers playoff series is pretty outstanding. He's a player we've always felt good about in our organization. He's shown what he's all about. He has ice in his veins ... and that's what he's got."

It was while he was at Providence that he achieved additional work with his shot. Assistant coach Kevin Dean said it's no accident Krug is gunning for the net despite his short NHL resume.

"He understands he's got to produce offensively, or defensively they're going to find someone bigger," Dean said. "He's dialed in. He gets it."

Dean studied his mechanics and suggested he transfer his weight forward. The two took to the ice 15 minutes early each Friday and worked on various angles of the one-timer from different spots on the ice.

"He's a very cerebral kid," Dean said. "You tell him something once and he's going to try and use it. I'd say 80 percent of the kids aren't like that. You've got to tell them three or four times. They've got to see it first. Not Torey. He listens, then goes out and tries it."

Thus, the key to Krug's shooting and his importance on the power play to the Bruins.

But, there was one blip on the radar in Krug's play in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals against Chicago. 

A bad pass -- throwing the puck up the middle allowing the Blackhawks to get back into the game on Dave Bolland's goal.

"Doesn't mean we lose confidence, because we still had the confidence to put him out there in in overtime," Julien said. "He's also the kind of guy that can produce that goal. It is what it is.

"It's easy to focus in on one thing. Yes, it was a mistake. If you look back at the play, I didn't think we had a great line change and he didn't have a ton of options. I think there could be some blame shared on that goal."

A couple of days later, Julien on Krug responding in Game 2.

"Extremely well," said Julien. "He didn't lose any confidence. I thought he was good at moving pucks.

"I thought he handled himself well after some of the heat he was taking from the outside for that mistake in Game 1. We talked about it. I wanted him to go out there and play with the same confidence he always has. He answered that." 

Undrafted. Small in size, but not in heart. Torey Krug is indeed a unique individual.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Seguin still learning how it ... one step at a time

By Larry Wigge

Call it another step in the Boston Bruins drama, "As the World Turns."

Tyler Seguin is your favorite project, trying to find the right mix of talent and skill. The Brampton, Ontario, native, is in the development stage ... but it not there yet. You don't just go from the Next One in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft -- behind Taylor Hall -- to stardom.

Oh, the 6-2, 182-pounder has won a Stanley Cup and he's already scored 29 goals in a season. But ... that mix, between talent and skill .. its like the Unfinished Symphony for Seguin, who had only one goal in 17 playoff games despite a team-high 62 shots entering Game 2 of the Finals.

Maybe Saturday night at Chicago was the entry into the Twilight Zone we've been waiting for. Big game situations make for big game players. 

Seguin ended Game 2 at 13:48 of overtime, when sent a perfect cross-ice pass through two Chicago players to Paille for the winner to give Boston a 2-1 triumph and even the series at one game apiece.

The drama? The story? It came after the first period, with the Bruins trailing 1-0 and being outshot 19-4. Bruins coach Claude Julien played a hunch, putting Seguin, Paille and Chris Kelly together to match up with Chicago's speed.

That line combined for both of Boston's goals. Drama ... I told you.

"When it comes to playoffs, you want to show you can play anywhere. Whether that's first line or fourth line, you want to play the role that's given to you. In the end, I'm just trying to help my team win," Seguin said in kind of revelation ...

He thought for a second. Maybe, he thought about the ups and downs of his first three NHL seasons. And a light went off.

"It can be frustrating," he continued. "I looked back at the tapes of last game ... there were a lot of chances. I need to find a way to score on those. There are no excuses left anymore. This is the Stanley Cup Final. You've just got to find a way."

Game. Set. Match. Boston.

In the overtime period, the second in two games in the Stanley Cup finals series, fourth-line left wing Brandon Bollig missed getting the puck out of the Chicago zone. It was a costly mistake -- Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid pinched down and created a turnover, getting the puck to Seguin.

One little play, a good one by McQuaid. A mistake by Bollig. And that's all that separated two great hockey teams on this night. 

"Claude has a pretty good feel for his players. I think our line got thrown together," said Paille, his second overtime game-winner. "They came out with a lot of speed in that first period. We wanted to somehow change that. We started to pick up the pace. We just stopped thinking and started playing. 

"Tyler looked like he was on a mission. He realized he had to play big for us and he did. He was able to be a huge contributor."

Does one big time assist begin a turnaround for Tyler Seguin? Does having two shots, one hit, two blocked shots qualify?

Seguin is a bit of a hot button in Boston. He's good, but not yet great. Sometimes we give up too early on a player. Remember Joe Thornton, drafted No. 1 overall in 1997 by the Bruins? How about Ilya Kovalchuk, who played the the Finals last year for New Jersey? Rick Nash? Or Marian Hossa, who is playing for the Blackhawks?

We don't know exactly what Tyler Seguin is. We are dazzled by the speed and stickhandling. No Bruin can get off a shot faster. Maybe it's how the Next One sees in the game. Maybe it takes him longer to dicypher the right play. 

Seguin was standing in the Boston dressing room, surrounded by cameras and microphones, with lights bright in his eyes, minutes after the overtime victory, trying to explain how it was the Bruins came back from the near slaughter of the first period to win Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final, tie the series at one game each, and how significant a role he played in the end result.

"Honestly, I don't really remember what happened," said Seguin, who loves to say he's still learning, loves to point out he's just 21.
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.

"It was a big learning curve ... with a lot of ups and downs."
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."

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."

"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 Patrice 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."

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