2014 Stanley Cup Tourney Creme De La Creme!
GRAND MARAIS…. Last August after taking a little bit of a summer break from my daily perusing of the World of Ice Hockey, I started getting back into it. I picked up a couple of pre-season magazines with rosters, previews, and predictions. I flipped on my favorite channel, XM Home Ice, on my satellite radio, where it would stay for the next almost 10 months except to pick up various games on other channels. I started getting on the NHL Network regularly to pick up on any hockey news I might have missed. Then I started getting tuned up for the pre-season to start.
Then it was time for the regular NHL season to kick in. I had to start getting into the College D1 pre-season info. High school was just under a couple of months away unless you watch some of the fall stuff going on. Youth hockey was getting ready for the year at hand. There was USA Hockey NTDP stuff to go over, and on top of all that, it was time for another Olympic tourney. The Stanley Cup was at the end of the line, so to speak, but it was quite a way off, so I wasn’t getting too in-depth about it yet. And just to come clean and confess, in re-reading a column from last October, I see I had the San Jose Sharks beating the Boston Bruins in the SC Final. So much for prognosticating.
I even had the Wild struggling to get back into the tournament after making it last year; I had them picked 6th in the Central. In making that selection and thinking it through, I believed the club was weak on the 3rd and 4th lines, the 5 and 6 D-man spots, and wasn’t sure what we might get from the goaltending. In addition, it seemed we had as much inexperience as we had experience.
To the club’s credit, the compete level of this team was higher than any edition of the Wild ever, in my book. I credit Zach Parise for most of that. Newcomer Matt Cooke added to the work ethic of the group. The young guys slowly but surely got better. Josh Harding was probably the best goaltender in the show for October and November and part of December. The team finally had a backstopper who was winning games for them on nights when they weren’t quite there. They never had that before.
But moving forward, the NHL regular season was exciting; the NCAA year was, too. Hockey day in Minnesota at a place I used to call home brought tears to my eyes. The Olympic tourney in Sochi brought us the bitterness of unfulfilled hope. Then the state high school tourneys, the Frozen Four, and on to the quest for the greatest trophy ever known to mankind, the Stanley Cup.
By the time this tourney rolled around, I was no longer entertaining a Shark-Bruin final. Did you get in on the NHL.com SC tourney bracket contest? I did, and so did the Fan Jr. I had the Blackhawks and Canadiens meeting in the final. My East bracket was perfect until the NY Rangers beat the Habs. My West bracket was shot after the first round, as I had the NorthStars eliminating the Duck and the Avalanche beating the Wild. I did have the Hawks and Kings in the WC final, though.
But along the way, in about the middle of the second round, I started telling people that the Kings were shaping up to be the team to beat. I wasn’t saying that to other fans because I’m some kind of believer or merchant of the Western Conference supremacy theory, although whether it’s the Bruins, Rangers or Habs, they have to get in line behind the Kings, Hawks, Ducks and Sharks. It was because to my eyes, they were the one club that had it all working to the greatest extent. Sure, they might sleepwalk a couple of games a series on you, but….
When it got down to makin’ the gravy, they had all the ingredients. What an epic final, though. If the West is superior to the East, it’s not by much. Yes, the Kings won the Cup four games to one. But there were no less than four one-goal victories, and three of those went to overtime. Friday night’s Cup clincher was probably one of the most entertaining and exciting Cup final games I have ever seen in any year, and that’s saying quite a bit because I still remember the Bobby Orr flying goal (1970) like it happened yesterday.
Friday night, though, I sat by myself intently watching the game as it unfolded, my old St. Paul Rangers jersey on the TV stand for good luck. The first overtime went by with plenty of excitement and no winner. In fact, St. Paul homeboy Ryan McDonagh stepped into one for the blueshirts and hit the far pipe. He had Jonathan Quick beat and we were going back to Broadway for one more chance at it. Players and fans alike will hear that sound of hard vulcanized rubber hitting metal for months to come.
There were five pipes hit in the two OT frames if my count is correct. If hockey IS a religion (it is), then a hit pipe is the bell at church. Friday eve was a full service. By the second OT, I was alternating between sitting and standing up. My fingers were getting sore from being crossed for long periods of time. Then suddenly, a shot, a rebound, a break and a goal. With a tad over five minutes to go in the second OT, the Kings’ Alec Martinez struck Stanley Cup silver and the celebration was on. A classy and heartfelt handshake line followed, out came the greatest trophy ever, and that was that.
Saturday morn I flipped on Home Ice to see what was being said about the series and about the game that decided it. On one of the weekend shows was a regular fill-in for the guy who usually does the show, and he was going on about the Kings and the five-game series. If I heard him right, he stated that the Kings “easily” beat the Rangers—that all the Rangers could do against them was win one game. It was Henrik Lundqvist against the Kings. Yikes! I couldn’t believe it! I’ll bet no one on the Kings is saying that. The radio was off a second later. Radio off, season over, I’m hockeyed out! PEACE
Marc Elliott is a sports opinion writer who splits his time between Minnesota and his hometown in Illinois…