June 25, 2013
All photos courtesy Getty Images/NHL)
East Lansing, Mich. - - Nine Spartans - seven players and two assistant coaches - began battle for perhaps the most famous trophy in all of professional sports on April 30. Nearly two months later, it is Chicago defenseman and alternate captain Duncan Keith who outlasted the grueling two-month odyssey and hoisted the Stanley Cup.
Chicago captured the best-of-seven series 4-2 in an epic Cup finals - three of the six games went to overtime, including a game one triple-OT thriller. The two Original Six franchises provided hockey fans a wildly entertaining series to cap a season which began with a lengthy lockout and ended with an improbable 17-second rally.
Chicago mounted an unbelievable comeback in the final moments of Monday's game six, scoring twice in a 17-second span in the game's final 1:16 to turn a 2-1 deficit into a stunning 3-2 victory over the Boston Bruins. Keith was named the game's second star - and while he had the assist on Bryan Bickell's game-tying goal at 18:44, his contributions on the defensive end helped stem an aggressive offensive barrage by the Bruins throughout the game.
"Obviously, we have some experience, being here in the finals before," Keith told NHL.com in advance of game six. "Every series is a new series though, and we're excited to be in this spot. We always want to make the most of it, and that's what we will try to do tonight."
Make the most of it they did.
Keith, who also won the Cup in 2010 with the Hawks, joins Craig Simpson (1988, 1990 Edmonton Oilers) as MSU's two-time Cup winners. Keith was the NHL's Norris Trophy winner (Best Defenseman) that season, as well as capturing a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics. He is one of 11 Spartans to hoist a Stanley Cup: Justin Abdelkader (Detroit, 2008), Rod Brind'Amour and Andrew Hutchinson (Carolina, 2006), Simpson, Danton Cole (New Jersey, 1995), Drew Miller (Anaheim, 2007), and Joe Murphy (Edmonton, 1990) have won the Cup as players; Newell Brown (Anaheim, 2007) and Bob Essensa (Boston, 2011), have won as assistant coaches, while Harley Hotchkiss was an owner of the 1989 Cup champion Calgary Flames.
Michigan State has had a Stanley Cup winner in six of the last eight seasons.
One Spartan alum who also played a part in the Stanley Cup - yet without a chance to hoist it himself - is NHL referee Wes McCauley, who worked his first-ever Cup finals series. McCauley has been an NHL official since 2007.
Essensa and Bruins rookie Torey Krug , despite being on the losing end of the battle for Lord Stanley's Cup, had little to hang their heads over. Boston faced elimination on May 13 in the opening round, down 4-1 in game seven to Toronto with just over 14 minutes remaining in regulation. The Bruins manufactured a furious rally to down the Leafs in OT and advance past a stunned Toronto club. Krug was an emergency call-up for the start of the second-round series against the Rangers, and his gritty, inspired offensive play helped spark the Bruins to a deep playoff run. Krug was in his first professional season after departing MSU at the end of his junior campaign in March 2012, and had spent most of the year playing with Boston's AHL affiliate in Providence before earning the callup - and his play made it near impossible for the Bruins to take him out of the lineup.
MSU had other post-season winners; 2012 graduate Brock Shelgren helped the Reading Royals to their first-ever ECHL Kelley Cup on May 26 with a 6-0 win over the Stockton Thunder, while Jim McKenzie, a member of the 2007 MSU National Championship team won the President's Cup Trophy with the CHL's Allen Americans. Former MSU defenseman and 2006 graduate Jared Nightingale reached the AHL finals with the Syracuse Crunch, but fell in the finals to the Grand Rapids Griffins.