Jonathan Quick is a full-fledged star.
He’s one of the most valuable players in hockey, a contemporary great at the most important position in the game.
Last season, the Hamden native was the best player in hockey at the most important time, transforming into a human wall in front of the net and carrying his L.A. Kings to the Stanley Cup title. Quick won the Conn Smythe trophy as the playoff MVP, becoming just the third American (and second from Avon Old Farms–Rangers defenseman Brian Leetch is the other) to win that award. He also set a record for playoff save percentage (.946) and helped the Kings to a remarkable 16-4 postseason record.
This year, he’s led Los Angeles back to the Western Conference Finals, and although his team trails the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks, 3-1, Quick has proven his worth as one of the best net minders in the game. Without him, L.A. probably wouldn’t have even made the playoffs last season. They certainly wouldn’t be back in the conference finals this year.
So what is it like to watch the Connecticut native transform from high school hotshot into a bona-fide superstar in the NHL?
“It’s a lot of fun, obviously,” said John Gardner, who coached Quick at Avon Old Farms. “The games are a little nerve-racking, but it’s certainly fun to watch his progress and root for him.”
With Quick in goal, Gardner’s Avon Old Farms teams won back-to-back New England Prep championships in 2004-05. Quick posted nine shutouts his senior year.
While it may have been a surprise to see Quick dominate the way he did during the ’12 playoffs, Gardner never questioned whether or not his goalie had what it takes to succeed at the NHL level.
“I always thought he’d be an outstanding goalie,” Gardner said. “He has great athleticism, great tools.”
“I told him once, ‘the only thing that can stop you is you. He had the talent and the drive, the only thing he had to do was harness it and reach his potential,'” he said.
Gardner also coached Rangers defenseman Brian Leetch and watched as he won the Stanley Cup as a member of the Rangers. It was a special thrill for Gardner to watch Quick join Leetch as two of the only three Americans to win the Conn Smythe.
“That was really fun,” Gardner said. “To realize that two of them are from old farms is special.”
Gardner said that Quick struggled a little after he left Avon Old Farms, “like every goalie does.”
“He had times when he fought the puck,” Gardner said.
“But the one thing I never questioned was his confidence. The key to being a good goalie is confidence, and he always had that.”
It’s tough for Quick to have much confidence in the rest of his Kings teammates. L.A. has scored more than 3 goals just twice this postseason. The Kings are 5-0 when they light the lamp at least 3 times. They’re going to have to score more goals if they want to come back from this 3-1 deficit.
Still, Gardner remains optimistic about the Kings’ chances. “It’s all about momentum,” he said. “Look at what the Bruins have done since they made that great comeback [in Game 7 against Toronto].”
“I wouldn’t put it past them,” he said.
That gives him something in common with Quick’s opponents, who haven’t been able to put much past him.
Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals is Saturday, June 8. Puck drops at 8:30 p.m.