Rangers alumnus Mike Richards rounded out his resume with the Stanley Cup ring he won with the Los Angeles Kings earlier this month, forcing the former captain to make room alongside his Memorial Cup, Calder Cup, World Junior medals and Olympic gold. While the Kings were crowned champions of the NHL this season, Richards was not the only Rangers’ graduate to find success in the postseason.
The Stanley Cup Final featured Kitchener alumni on (and behind) the benches of both teams. The runner-up New Jersey Devils offered Richards the challenge of facing off against friends: less than a decade ago, he was playing for Devils head coach Peter DeBoer and alongside David Clarkson as the Rangers captured the 2003 MasterCard Memorial Cup in Quebec City.
A Rangers’ fan favourite, Clarkson had a career year with the Devils, the team that signed him as a free agent in 2005. He set new benchmarks with 30 goals, including eight game winners, and 16 assists in the regular season and joined Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise as the only three New Jersey skaters to reach the 30-goal plateau. He continued to produce offensively in the playoffs, putting up three goals and nine assists in 24 games as the Devils downed the Panthers, Flyers and New York Rangers en route to the Final. All three of his goals sealed victories for New Jersey, prompting legendary Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur to comment to the media that “every time [Clarkson] scores, it’s a game winner”.
Perhaps it was a not-so-new coach that made the difference. This season was DeBoer’s first behind the bench for the Devils, and he turned the team around, guiding them from a 38-win season in 2010-11 to 48 victories and a sixth-place finish in the East this year. With his guidance, New Jersey battled back from a three game series deficit in the Stanley Cup Final, earning back-to-back wins that forced Game 6. They may not have won it all, but the Devils certainly proved they are on the right track.
DeBoer’s coaching staff included another Rangers’ legend in Larry Robinson, who has spent 14 seasons with the Devils and currently serves as a Special Assignment Coach. The Hall of Fame defenseman played in Kitchener during the 1970-71 season.
When Richards and the Kings were racing their way to the top of the Western Conference, they ran into another Rangers’ alumnus making an impact for his team. Danish forward Mikkel Boedker and the Phoenix Coyotes were a surprise story in the Western Conference, storming into the playoffs on a five-game winning streak and downing the Chicago Blackhawks in a six-game opening round series. Boedker made headlines with back-to-back overtime winners in that series and added two more goals and four assists for the Coyotes as they advanced all the way to the Conference Final.
Like Richards, Boedker was also forced to put old allegiances aside in the playoffs when Phoenix squared off against a Nashville Predators team that includes former Kitchener teammates Matt Halischuk and Nick Spaling.
Halischuk had a solid season in Nashville, setting new personal bests with 15 goals and 28 points in 73 appearances, helping the team collect 48 wins and a fourth place finish in the West. He recorded one point in five playoff games as the Predators earned their first playoff victory at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena and eventually eliminated the Red Wings in the opening round. Spaling also reached new heights this season, potting 10 goals and 12 assists through the regular season and picking up another four helpers during the Pred’s playoff run.
Teams around the National Hockey League benefited from the play of Rangers alumni, not only in the playoffs, but in the regular season as well. Congratulations to all of our former players and coaches on another successful season.
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