June 12, 2013
The Stanley Cup Finals begin Wednesday at 8 p.m. EDT in the United Center.
A rookie defenseman for the Bruins, Krug has been remarkably efficient, producing four goals and two assists in nine playoff games. Keith is in his eighth season as a defenseman with the Blackhawks and has collected 11 points (two goals, nine assists) in 16 postseason games leading up to the finals.
Both Krug and Keith were on hand for Stanley Cup Finals Media Day on Tuesday at the United Center.
"It's been an unbelievable journey," Krug told msuspartans.com. "Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be contributing at this point in my career in helping the Boston Bruins to a Stanley Cup Final."
Krug's quick ascension from playing collegiately last season to the pinnacle of the sport this summer has been nothing short of phenomenal.
The former Spartan All-American and 2012 CCHA Player of the Year played in just one regular-season game and was not on the active roster in the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but was called into action for the second round against the New York Rangers due to injuries suffered along the Boston blueline.
Krug went on to deliver one of the finest playoff debuts in the sport's history, becoming the first rookie defenseman ever to score goals in four of his first five playoff games. His first career goal tied the score in Game 1, an eventual Bruins win, and he topped that with a goal and an assist in Game 2. He is only one of four Bruins to score goals in each of his first two career playoff games.
After the Bruins defeated the Rangers in five games, Krug continued his solid play and added an assist in the four-game sweep over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Krug is thankful for his opportunity, which never would have happened had Boston not staged a historic comeback in the first round against the Maple Leafs, as the Bruins rallied from three goals down in Game 7 to win in overtime.
"It's been amazing," Krug said of the playoff run. "That comeback against Toronto changed my life personally because I was able to come up and contribute to us beating the Rangers in the way that I did. I can't believe it. I'm just lucky I get to spend it with a great group of guys in the locker room."
Krug credited his experience at Michigan State for helping him get a jumpstart on his career.
"Everything about Michigan State has prepared me to where I'm at today," said Krug, who played his final season (2011-12) under Spartan head coach Tom Anastos. "You start off as a kid going into college and you don't understand everything that goes into being a hockey player and being a student. (It's) just maturing as a person in general, (and) living on your own for the first time. It was an unbelievable experience and I was glad I was able to go there.
"You take a lot of pride going to Michigan State. You say you bleed green and you're a Spartan forever, and that truly is the case. I get texts from Spartans almost every day saying congratulations, keep it going and bring the cup back to East Lansing. It's important for your development too, you go back in the summer (for pro camp) and use it as a gauge to see where you're at compared to other pros. I'm lucky to be a part of it."
The Livonia, Mich., native, who helped MSU reach the NCAA Tournament in 2012, sees big things ahead for the Spartan program.
"I think if you're around the program, you understand that everything is going in the right direction," Krug remarked. "They're coming up with recruits that are on all of these scouting lists and are getting drafted in the NHL. They're doing things the right way. When I left, it was kind of like, `Wow, I wish I could be a freshman again just to experience everything that's going on.' I'm very excited what they're doing there and I'm looking forward to seeing them in the future."
Meanwhile, Keith has been on this stage before, helping the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 2010. An alternate captain, he played in 47 games this season with a 3-24-27 scoring line.
"I don't like to get too far ahead of myself," said Keith, who lettered at Michigan State for the 2001-02 season and scored a goal in the Cold War against Michigan. "We know the opportunity is there to win another one, but there's still a lot of hockey to be played and we know that it's going to be our toughest series."
For Keith, playing the Bruins is also bringing back childhood memories.
"Growing up as a kid, I was always a big Boston Bruins fan, so for me, it's going to be neat going back there and play in the Stanley Cup Finals," he said. "The whole history that both teams have definitely adds to all of the excitement."
In addition to Krug and Keith, Bruins goaltending coach and former Spartan Bob Essensa will be involved in the Stanley Cup Finals for the second time in his career. Essena, who is in his eighth season in Boston, helped the Bruins win the Stanley Cup in 2011. He was a four-year letterwinner at Michigan State (1983-87) and earned first-team All-CCHA honors in 1984-85.
"We obviously had some fun a couple of years ago, and Chicago the year before that," said Essensa, who also played 14 seasons in the NHL for six different teams. "It's nice to get an Original Six matchup against two teams that are playing pretty well. Hopefully it will be a good, long series."
Essensa has been impressed with Krug's impact in the playoffs, but never doubted his talent.
"I was fortunate to get down to Providence to see a few games this year, and it was only a matter of time for him," Essensa said. "I wasn't sure if it was going to be this year or next, but certainly we had high hopes for him, and he's proving us right."
Essensa played with Anastos at Michigan State in the mid-80s and stays in close contact with the coaches in East Lansing.
"He's doing a nice job there," commented Essensa. "I think Tom's a great ambassador for the game. Once he starts getting his recruiting classes in there, you'll see some good things from Michigan State hockey."
With Krug and Keith playing on separate teams, the Spartans are assured of a former player winning the Stanley Cup. The last former Spartan to win a Stanley Cup was Keith in 2010 for the Blackhawks.
MICHIGAN STATE STANLEY CUP WINNERS - PLAYERS
Craig Simpson (Edmonton, 1988, 1990)
Joe Murphy (Edmonton, 1990)
Danton Cole (New Jersey, 1995)
Andrew Hutchinson (Carolina, 2006)
Rod Brind'Amour (Carolina, 2006)
Drew Miller (Anaheim, 2007)
Duncan Keith (Chicago, 2010)
COMPLETE STANLEY CUP FINALS SCHEDULE (TIMES EDT)
Game 1: Wednesday, June 12, 8 p.m., Chicago, Ill., NBC
Game 2: Saturday, June 15, 8 p.m., Chicago, Ill., NBC Sports Network
Game 3: Monday, June 17, 8 p.m., Boston, Mass., NBC Sports Network
Game 4: Wednesday, June 19, 8 p.m., Boston, Mass., NBC
* Game 5: Saturday, June 22, 8 p.m., Chicago, Ill., NBC
* Game 6: Monday, June 24, 8 p.m., Boston, Mass., NBC
* Game 7: Wednesday, June 26, 8 p.m., Chicago, Ill., NBC
* if necessary