EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – This is a little boy's dream. This was Jonathan Quick's. Growing up in Hamden, Conn., about two hours from Madison Square Garden, he had hockey posters on his bedroom walls – one of Mike Richter in his goalie gear, another of the New York Rangers' 1994 Stanley Cup team.
Quick was 8 when the Rangers won that Cup, their first in 54 years. He remembers having a few friends over, eating ice pops and watching Game 7 against the Vancouver Canucks.
"I think I was probably more nervous back then than I am right now," Quick said.
Quick is 26 right now, and he has led the Los Angeles Kings to within a win of the first Cup in their 45-year history.
The kid who admired Richter's competitiveness and explosiveness is becoming known for his own talents. Children are wearing his sweater. Grown men are wearing his sweater. Superstars are wearing his sweater. Like a preppie with a cardigan, David Beckham had a Quick No. 32 tied around his neck Monday night after Game 3, a 4-0 shutout that gave the Kings a 3-0 series lead over the New Jersey Devils.
For his work in the regular season, when the Kings struggled to score and he carried them to the final playoff spot in the West, Quick was nominated for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's best goaltender. He deserves to win it June 20 in Las Vegas. He probably should have been nominated, at least, for the Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player, too.
For his work over the past several weeks, when the Kings have gone a stunning 15-2, he almost certainly will win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs' most valuable player. He has numbers that rank among the greatest of all-time – 1.36 goals-against average, .950 save percentage – and he seems unlikely to lose focus and blow it.
"We only have 15 wins," he said, "so we need one more."
Better put some pops on ice.
* * * * *
Detroit. Dec. 13, 2010. Quick made 51 saves in a 5-0 shutout of the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. When the door to the dressing room opened to the media, the reporters streamed in – and Quick's teammates made a show of disappearing into the back, forcing him to be the center of attention.
Quick seemed to hate it.
He kept his head down. He said there was always room for improvement. He said all he cared about was the two points, not the shutout, not the saves. "Those numbers don't mean anything," he said then. "It's all about the wins and losses."
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Not much has changed. Quick has continued to give amazing performances, and his teammates continue to push him to the front, hoping he will finally get the attention and respect he deserves.
In New York, they think Henrik Lundqvist should win the Vezina. In L.A., they think people in New York should stay up late and watch Quick. "If Quickie's in New York, I don't think there's any doubt that he's going to win it," said Kings defenseman Drew Doughty.
So this was a good thing, that Quick had to stand in front of a blue Stanley Cup Final backdrop Tuesday at the practice facility the Kings share with the Los Angeles Lakers, surrounded by TV cameras and voice recorders and notebooks and nosy reporters, wearing black shorts, a black shirt, a flat-brimmed Kings cap and a scruffy playoff beard, talking about himself.
"No one knows about it, but he's been playing this way," said Luc Robitaille, the Hall of Fame winger who is now the Kings' president of business operations. "Look at his stats for the last three years. They're phenomenal."
Quick still seems to hate it.
He keeps his answers short. He refuses to look at the historical context. He says all he cares about is the next game, nothing else. "I feel I've tried to give my team a chance to win every night," he said. "I think from a goalie's standpoint, that's your job."
That's it. That's Quick.
"I mean, he's not a stats guy," said Kings goaltending coach Bill Ranford. "He's about wins. If there is going to be a stat that he's concerned about, that would be wins. That's a good mentality to have for a starting goalie."
But this is a guy who was drafted in the third round in 2005, played two years at the University of Massachusetts and rose from the low minors in the ECHL to the American Hockey League to the National Hockey League. This is a guy who held off Jonathan Bernier, whom the Kings drafted 11th overall in 2006.
Robitaille is right. Quick has posted good stats three years in a row. But look at the improvement: In goals-against average, he has gone from 2.54 to 2.24 to 1.95. In save percentage, he has gone from .907 to .918 to .929. In shutouts, he has gone from four to six to 10.
Always athletic, he has learned to be more efficient, and he has become one of the smoothest goaltenders you'll ever see – gliding back and forth with such ease and quickness, you'd think there was oil on top of the ice. "He used to use his athletic ability on every save versus just using it when needed," Ranford said. "I think that's where his game has evolved the most."
If not for Quick, the Kings wouldn't have even made the playoffs. They were the second-lowest scoring team in the NHL. He lost nine games in which he allowed only one goal.
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And if not for Quick, the Kings wouldn't be in this position in the playoffs, even though they have improved their offense. Take the first 10 minutes of Game 1 of the second round. He held off a St. Louis Blues barrage until the Kings found their feet, and the Kings ended up with a sweep. Take Game 3 of the final. He stymied the Devils while the game was still scoreless, allowing the Kings to break it open later.
"People should appreciate what he's done in the playoffs is what he's been doing for us all year," Ranford said. "He was our rock, and when we struggled to score goals, he was unflappable. He didn't let it bother him."
Nothing seems to bother Quick, except perhaps the spotlight. It isn't just the East Coast media and fans who don't know enough about Quick. The East Coast teams don't know enough about him, either. Mike Richards said until the Philadelphia Flyers traded him to L.A. last summer, he had no idea how good Quick was.
"You don't get to see him very often," Richards said. "But I'm not sure he minds that, either."
* * * * *
Back to Detroit again. Back to that game on Dec. 13, 2010. As Quick was piling up those 51 saves, Doughty felt comfortable joking with him. After a particularly filthy stop in the second period, Doughty said something particularly filthy.
"It was kind of a joke, and he laughed about it," Doughty said at the time. "That's why we love him. He's a great guy right there. He's a great teammate and obviously an unbelievable goaltender."
Quick is in a zone, but he isn't in The Zone – the weird place some goaltenders reside, making them unreachable to the outside world. He seems unapproachable to the media at times, but he simply seems laid-back to his coaches and teammates, the ones in his inner circle. "He's a normal guy. He could easily be a stay-at-home defenseman," said teammate Rob Scuderi, a stay-at-home defenseman.
He certainly knows never to show up one of his stay-at-home defensemen. "He's one of the best teammates you could have in your life," said Kings veteran Willie Mitchell. "It's because he's such a selfless guy. Playing as a defenseman in front of him, you might make a mistake and the puck goes in. He doesn't look at you, doesn't sit there, doesn't say anything. He just sits there and says, 'Aw, I should have had it.' And he's smart, because when he does that, you play your ass off for him."
In that sense, Quick sounds a lot like Ranford, who won the Conn Smythe with the 1990 Edmonton Oilers. "I think the Conn Smythe is a team trophy," Ranford said. "You're only as good as your teammates. They've got to give it to somebody, but for somebody to win it, their teammates have to be good around him."
Ranford spent a week with Quick last summer back in Connecticut. In the same town where he had a few friends over, had some ice pops and watched the Rangers win the Stanley Cup as an 8-year-old, Quick barbecued outside the apartment he was renting.
"He was just sitting at the table, joking around with his buddies and stuff," Ranford said. "That's about what he is. That's about as much as it gets, in a very close-knit group and just having some giggles, just telling stories and laughing."
Sounds like a plan for a Cup party.
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