As a Boston sports fan, chances are you woke up grumpy recently now that both the Bruins and the Celtics seasons are over. But, before you turn your attention fully to the Red Sox, there’s still a minimum of four and maximum of seven more NHL games to play that will be worth watching.
The 2018 Stanley Cup Final begins tonight in Las Vegas, a city that didn’t even have a team playing in the league last year. It’s the Vegas Golden Knights, the first NHL expansion team to reach the final since the 1968 St. Louis Blues, up against the Washington Capitals, whose last and only trip to the final was 20 years ago.
This is the first Stanley Cup Final since 2007 to feature two teams that had yet to win a Cup. That year saw former Maine Black Bear forward Dustin Penner become the first former Black Bear to win a Cup as a player when his Anaheim Ducks defeated the Ottawa Senators in five games. Penner went on to win another with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012 before retiring after the 2013-14 season.
Like that final, this one also has some flavor for local hockey fans who are very much worth rooting for on both sides of the series.
Ties to Maine
-Barry Trotz, Head Coach
Trotz coached the AHL’s Portland Pirates, then the Caps’ top affiliate, to a Calder Cup in the franchise’s first season, 1993-94. He won the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award as the AHL Coach of the Year that season.
The following year, with the NHL in a work stoppage at the start of the season, the Pirates started the year 14-0-3, which still stands as the longest unbeaten streak to begin a season in North American professional hockey.
In 1996, despite entering the playoffs with a losing record, Trotz got the Pirates to within one game of winning another Calder Cup, falling just one goal short in Game 7 against the Rochester Americans.
After one more season in Portland, Trotz made the move to the NHL with the Nashville Predators for their first season in 1998-99. He went on to spend 15 seasons there before reuniting with the Caps organization in 2014.
Trotz won the Jack Adams Award for NHL Coach of the Year two years ago. It’s his first trip to the biggest showcase in the hockey world.
-Olaf Kolzig, Player Development Coach
Known to most hockey fans as “Olie the Goalie,” Kolzig was named the Calder Cup Playoffs MVP as the starting goalie for Trotz’ Portland Pirates in 1994. From there, he was the Caps’ starting goalie almost exclusively until 2008, when he went on to play one season with Tampa Bay before retiring.
Now, Kolzig works with the organizations’ young players in Washington and their affiliate clubs in Hershey (AHL) and South Carolina (ECHL) to make their top prospects more NHL ready.
Vegas Golden Knights
-David Perron, Left Wing
Perron, a Sherbrooke, Quebec-native celebrating his 30th birthday today, has a one-year stint in Lewiston to thank for his trip to the NHL.
After being completely passed over in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Draft as a 16-year-old, Perron was selected in the Sixth Round of the 2006 QMJHL Draft by the Lewiston MAINEiacs.
The team scout who found him wasn’t even looking for him. That scout went to watch one of Perron’s younger teammates on the St. Jerome Panthers of the Quebec Midget-AAA league, but Perron’s ability to move the puck and his slick skating got him noticed and the MAINEiacs took a chance.
He rewarded them by leading the team in scoring during the 2006-07 season, the year the MAINEiacs won the QMJHL’s President’s Cup championship. He also proved to be pretty clutch, bookending the playoff run with some amazing individual efforts.
In the first game of the playoffs, the MAINEiacs, who had the best record in the league that year and home ice advantage throughout the playoffs, fell behind 2-0 in Game 1 of the first round to the last team to get into the playoffs that year, the Shawinigan Cateractes. Perron scored a goal with only one second left in the second period to give his team some life.
Then, in the third period, he scored two power play goals less than a minute apart in the game’s final two minutes to lead Lewiston to victory and an eventual series sweep.
After the MAINEiacs went 12-1 through the first three rounds, they zoomed to a 3-0 lead in the President’s Cup Final over the Val d’Or Foreurs, a team led by two players who went on to become big-name NHLers: Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins pest Brad Marchand.
In Game 4 in Val d’Or (a six-hour drive north of Montreal), it was Perron who scored twice in the first period to put Lewiston ahead for good, giving them their only championship in franchise history.
It turned out to be the last game he ever played with the team. That summer, he was selected in the First Round of the NHL Entry Draft by the St. Louis Blues. He made the team out of training camp and never looked back.
Now in his 11th NHL season, Perron had his best season yet, notching 16 goals and 50 assists for 66 points in 70 games, by far a career high. After meandering from St. Louis to Edmonton to Pittsburgh to Anaheim and back to St. Louis again, he seems to have found a spot where he can use his strengths.
He’s registered seven assists in 11 games during Vegas’ magical playoff run. He returned from injury in time to play when Vegas clinched the Western Conference title in Winnipeg last Saturday.
Regardless of who wins, the final should bring some very compelling hockey. Lots of people on both sides of the series are going to reach the sport’s pinnacle for the first time ever.
Personally, I’m pulling for Vegas. I’ve been lucky enough to know two of the guys with ties to Maine (Kolzig and Perron), but my allegiance is to Perron.
I was the MAINEiacs broadcaster the year they won it all. And on most of the bus trips that year, David Perron sat in the seat directly behind me. When you’re on a bus near someone for that long, you get to know them pretty well.
David’s drive to succeed was always there. It came from a chip on his shoulder, believing his greatness hadn’t been properly noticed. Think of the way Tom Brady always talked about being motivated because he was always underrated.
Like many of his Golden Knights’ teammates, this is Perron’s first trip to the Stanley Cup Final. If they can win four more games, they will finish off one of the most improbable, but wonderful stories to a season in professional sports history.