As the NHL gets deeper into the Stanley Cup playoffs, more general managers and scouts, and even fans, look for that one player to add to the mix. Of all the soon-to-be unrestricted free agents showcasing their skills late in the post-season, those running their teams salivate at the mere thought of the sniper or the two-way forward to don their team’s uniform. But sometimes, that player has enough promise without being any more than a mere blip on the radars of 29 other teams. This was the case for one such player in 2009.
As I don’t follow play in the Eastern Conference as closely as I do in the West, I was admittedly ignorant entering the 2009 Stanley Cup Final.
The storylines were there: the rematch of the 2008 Final where the Pittsburgh Penguins looked to get revenge of the Detroit Red Wings, Marian Hossa on the verge of winning his first championship after jumping from Pittsburgh to Detroit the previous summer and the game’s next big thing Sidney Crosby on the precipice on adding a Stanley Cup to his already-impressive resume. But as exciting as those storylines were – and they did not disappoint – there are usually career performances done by the most unsung, and even underappreciated, of players. In 2009, this was the case of one soon-to-be free agent: Rob Scuderi.
Entering the summer of 2009, every team was salivating as they looked at the free-agent class which, in addition to the aforementioned Marian Hossa, included netminder Nikolai Khabibulin, Brian Gionta, former King Ian Laperriere, the Sedin twins and, a defenseman I personally wanted to see in a Los Angeles uniform, Jay Bouwmeester But in terms of star status, Rob Scuderi was nowhere near the top of that list. It didn’t matter.
Watching the Finals with my father, the lifelong Red Wings fan, we were taken aback not by the play of Crosby or Malkin, Letang or Talbot or even goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. We were instead enthralled, albeit frustrated, by the play of a certain player wearing No. 4 for the black-and-gold. In Game 1, I was wondering who Scuderi even was. By Game 7, I was amazed that a team as deep and talented as Pittsburgh could win the Stanley Cup thanks to, of all guys, an unsung veteran. While the aforementioned Fleury made a last-second highlight-reel save and while Max Talbot scored twice in that deciding game and while Evgeni Malkin won the Conn Smythe, it was hard to imagine the Penguins having any success that spring without the services of Scuderi.
Watching him through the entire Finals, I constantly said aloud that the Kings needed to sign him on July 1. I still liked Bouwmeester but in all fairness, he would have asked for much more money that the Boston College alum.
I’ve been wrong about free-agent signings before but I felt right about the possibility of Scuderi signing in Los Angeles.
Lo and behold, the Kings did sign Scuderi and I was thrilled.
As part of the Kings’ ad campaign entering the 2009-10, Scuderi contributed by stating that he didn’t come to Los Angeles to finish second – and he lived up to that two seasons later.
In his four seasons in Los Angeles, Scuderi either led or was runner-up on the team in blocked shots: 109, 122, 116, 66. While he wasn’t notorious for scoring points, Scuderi did rack up 47 points during his four regular seasons with the Kings with four of them being goals. Even in his maiden season, Scuderi made noise with an impressive +16 rating. But Kings fans everywhere will remember Rob Scuderi not for his point-scoring but his sheer toughness which, in addition to his uncanny knack for blocking shots, included his resiliency.
While we saw it during the lockout-shortened season and even a few years earlier, Rob Scuderi’s toughness was on full display during Game 6 of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final.
Like Dave Roberts being immortalized by Boston Red Sox for stealing one base, Rob Scuderi will be forever immortalized by Kings fans for taking one devastating hit.
After leading the Stanley Cup Final three games to none, the Kings dropped the next two setting a stage for a potential clincher at Staples Center with many of hockey’s so-called “experts” anticipating an epic collapse by the silver-and-black.
But in the early stages of Game 6 with the contest scoreless, New Jersey’s Steve Bernier drilled Scuderi from behind warranting a crucial five-minute major power play. While the Kings had trouble on the power play for much of the postseason, the same couldn’t be said this time as they scored three times en route a 6-1 whitewash and, more importantly, the franchise’s first-ever Stanley Cup title.
What was even better about Scuderi “taking one for the team” that night was the fact that he returned to the bench later in the period. Despite a bone-jarring hit, drawing blood and laying on the ice for a few moments, Rob Scuderi was far from out.
Like his first stint in Pittsburgh, Scuderi’s contributions towards a Stanley Cup title were certainly not celebrated in the same way that the goal=scorers and the netminders were. But Scuderi’s impact in Los Angeles was no less important than that of Jonathan Quick’s or Dustin Brown’s.
When he returned to Pittsburgh last summer, I was disappointed by the news but thankful for everything the 35-year-old defenseman had done for the Los Angeles Kings in such a brief period of time.
On Thursday, Rob Scuderi will make his return to Los Angeles for the first time since signing with the Penguins and, to be quite honest, I am really looking forward to see him again.
While I certainly can’t speak for everyone, I believe it is fair to assume that Rob Scuderi will receive a very warm reception from the Kings faithful, even if he is donning the colors of the opposition.
Rob Scuderi came to Los Angeles and left his mark in one of the most significant ways any player could. And for that, the blue-collar defenseman deserves a standing ovation from the Staples Center faithful.
Anything less would be downright unacceptable.