SANTA CRUZ, Calif., June 17, 2013 — By the end of this month, one National Hockey league (NHL) team will have won its second Stanley Cup in four years and whether it is the Chicago Blackhawks or the Boston Bruins, the winner will have accomplished it with a different goalie than last time around.
The two remaining clubs battling for hockey’s most prized hardware have a lot in common: both are part of the original six teams; each represents an area of the United States with rich hockey tradition; both are stingy, defensively sound and system oriented. Both head coaches were journeyman players who worked their way up through the minor league coaching ranks. And finally, each team’s goaltender has patiently waited for his chance to be the starter.
In a league where players are frequently traded, it is rare for anyone to remain with the organization that drafted them. Many players bounce through the minor league systems of several teams before ever getting an opportunity to stick. Both goalies competing in this Stanley Cup final are exceptions to this rule.
The Chicago Blackhawks in the 2003 NHL entry draft took Corey Crawford in the second round, fifty-second overall. After his draft year, he played two more seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) before finally turning pro in 2005 with Chicago’s American Hockey league (AHL) affiliate Norfolk Admirals.
He got two starts with the big club that year, five in the 2007-2008 season and one in 2009-2010. During this time, Nikolai Khabibulin was Chicago’s starting goalie and Craig Anderson was the back up.
Two years after Crawford was drafted, the Toronto Maple Leafs selected Tukka Rask in the first round, twenty-first overall. He was traded to the Boston Bruins the following summer for veteran goalie Andrew Raycroft without ever suiting up for the Leafs. Rask got into four games for Boston in 2007-2008, where Tim Thomas was the starter. By 2009-2010, Rask was the full time back up to Thomas and, after Thomas decided to quit hockey after last season, Tukka Rask finally had his chance.
By the 2010-2011 season, Corey Crawford had supplanted Marty Turco as the clear starter in Chicago, though Turco was acquired from Dallas to be the number one. The Blackhawks then brought in Ray Emery, another veteran who was returning from a season-long sojourn in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) but, when Emery struggled, Crawford was again called on to shoulder most of the starts.
Both Rask and Crawford have been patient and have had the opportunity to learn from veterans. Certainly each player had doubts along the way about whether they would ever become starters. Goalies have a shelf life, a limited time where they can be effective. They are understudies, waiting to take the jobs of men they consider friends and mentors. In the intervening years they bide their time, sitting at the end of the bench wearing ball caps, charting face offs and doing what they can to support their teammates.
Rask and Crawford come from different parts of the world (Finland and Quebec respectively), but their paths to this ultimate stage were strikingly similar. The patience of both organizations as well as the players has paid off for two great hockey cities and, for one of them, the reward will be another Stanley Cup celebration.
Goalies are a strange breed, a fraternity all their own. Undoubtedly both of these men are familiar with the other’s story and can surely empathize.
At the end of it all, the players will line up at center ice to exchange handshakes. Don’t be surprised if these two starting goalies share an extra moment and a few more words.
Russ Rankin writes about hockey, music & politics. You can find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He also sings for Good Riddance and Only Crime. Find out what he’s up to by checking out his website.
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