The Stanley Cup Playoffs Make Heroes

The Stanley Cup Playoffs always seem to create a hero out of someone. It becomes that special time of year where someone steps up from the third or fourth line because the first or the second line gets shut down thanks to the opposition’s coaching choices.  Unless you follow everything the team does, you may not even have heard of the guy.
It’s during this “crunch time” if you want to call it that, that diamonds are made. Sometimes these diamonds may never have their number called again. Sometimes these diamonds go on to be legends. Think back to all the Conn Smythe winners in the past, can you name them? Think back to the Stanley Cup Champions in recent years, can you name them?
Even if you can’t, what is amazing about the Conn Smythe award is that unlike most trophies it is based upon the play of an individual throughout the entire playoffs. If you lead your team to the Finals and put up a goose egg there – more than likely you are going to have a hard time winning the trophy. If you play magnificently throughout the playoffs you are probably going to be in line to be the Conn Smythe award winner. It doesn’t always go to the winning team either, five times since the trophy was introduced in 1964 it has gone to the losing team most recently to Jean-Sebastien Giguere of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim who played tremendously in net. He finished with a 15-6 record, a .945 Save % and 1.62 Goals Against Average.
What makes the Conn Smythe award so amazing though is the list of names that have won the trophy. Guys from our decade and guys from decades before us that we can only imagine seeing play in their prime. Hall of Fame players and guys who scored in places like the Maple Leaf Gardens. Guys who made key saves in the Montreal Forum. Guys who were a part of the Oilers Dynasty of the 80’s. Guys who played a part in making the Islanders the talk of the Nassau Coliseum. Guys who were a part of the Broad Street Bullies. Guys would initiate a line brawl and bring the goalies into it. Guys who would see your head down and hit you in the middle of the ice without thinking twice. Drop ’em? Hell yes, this is the rock ’em sock ’em NHL – Don Cherry style. The days of Northern NHL teams winning the Cup with some of the greatest goaltenders you may ever see backstopping them.
Of course as time has past we have seen the new generation, the new buildings with the expansions and the new equipment. The game has been influenced by an international group of players that witnessed the “Miracle on Ice.” No longer is it won by teams in the northern half of North America but Southern states are hoisting the Cup now along with those on the sunny West Coast. Playoff dates in May and June test the ability of maintenance workers to keep the ice frozen in the summer heat. The next generation of player is faster, stronger and better conditioned than those we remember. They wear lighter pads, scientifically engineered skates and use high-tech sticks. There is no more fighting. This is the new NHL. No more Montreal Forum or Maple Leaf Gardens. These are giant arenas built for bringing in the crowd and getting them to spend, spend and spend some more.
I’ve often wondered whether I grew up in the golden age of hockey with Lemieux, Gretzky, Roy, Brodeur and all. I want to say yes, there will never ever be guys like this. I know there will never be guys that stopped shots like that and there will probably never be another guy that scored like Gretz. But at the same time, what about those that grew up during Gordie Howe’s reign? They probably said the same. Can you imagine the talent that has come along since? Patrick Roy won three Conn Smythe awards, does that mean no one else ever will? Wayne Gretzky holds or shares 61 records, does that mean that no one will ever pass any of them? Mario Lemieux won the Conn Smythe award in consecutive years and is the last person to do it, will anybody else do it? Martin Brodeur holds 25 records, will anyone break them?
I can’t help but wonder while watching these Stanley Cup Finals – who will be that Conn Smythe guy? I wonder if there will be a guy that will break a record? Is there someone on the ice that will make it to the Hockey Hall of Fame? Sure there are some names that pop to mind – Thornton, Pavelski and Crosby. But we don’t know where these careers will end. We don’t know how it’s all going to play out. Hockey takes such a wild ride sometimes. It’s such a tough sport to play day in and day out. It takes such a toll on your mind and your body. I can’t imagine what these guys go through just to make it through these playoff marathons. Whoever wins the Cup and wins the Conn Smythe no doubt they’ll deserve but I’ve got my eye on a couple of guys and I’m not going to jinx them by saying their names – just know, they’ll be someone’s hero.

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