Todd Hall watched the Stanley Cup opener from the firehouse and began having flashbacks to coaching Jonathan Quick back in Hamden, Conn. He had endured numerous times what the Devils suffered Wednesday while trying to break through against the kid.
Hall never played in the NHL, but he was no slouch. The hard-shooting winger played at Boston College, transferred to New Hampshire and was a hometown hero after the Hartford Whalers made him their third-round pick in 1991. Eric Lindros was picked first overall the same year. The draft was held in Memorial Auditorium.
What a small world.
Hall entered the real world 10 years later after his AHL career fizzled. He became assistant coach at Hamden High, his alma mater. His first order was working with Quick, then a 15-year-old sophomore who already had the demeanor that separates goaltender who can play and goaltenders who can play in the NHL.
"Jon had something," Hall said Friday by telephone from Connecticut. "He was never interested in the newspaper articles or any of the interviews. All he cared about was stopping the puck. When you scored on him, he would grab the same puck, the exact same puck, throw it back and say, 'Do it again.' "
Quick is a terrific athlete whose unorthodox style is better explained than defined. He crawls around the crease like a crab combing the seashore, with limbs going in different directions but covering the territory just the same. He might look out of control, but he's usually very much in command.
"He's so flexible," Devils goalie Martin Brodeur told French-speaking reporters Friday. "He's like Gumby. I'm not the first person to say this, but he has the perfect family name because he's quick. He's really quick."
Quick's approach has been the same for years. His entire repertoire has been on display throughout the playoffs and again Wednesday in the Kings 2-1 overtime win in Game One. Hall, a firefighter, watched the game at work and nodded in amusement over a scene that looked all too familiar.
"It's the same Jonathan Quick," Hall said. "You could see that. He never gets flustered. He's not going to be happy when they score a goal, but he refocuses after that. And that's what he was doing as a sophomore in high school. It was really nice to see."
The Kings have all the trappings of a Stanley Cup champion with their size and speed up front, their mix of skill and aggression, their discipline on defense. But nobody more than Quick is responsible for them locking up the final playoff spot and marching through the first three rounds of the postseason.
Quick is a friendly guy, but he's uncomfortable talking about himself. Ask him about his effectiveness, and he'll give an answer about the Kings. With his quiet confidence but intense competitiveness, he sounded like another Connecticut native, Chris Drury.
"Definitely," said Hall, who grew up with Drury's brother.
Los Angeles is seeking its 10th straight road win tonight in the Prudential Center, and nobody would be surprised if the Kings returned home in complete command of the series. If they make quick work of the Devils -- excuse the pun -- you can count on Quick picking up the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the postseason.
"It's an exciting time right now, not only for our organization but for all the fans of Los Angeles right now," Quick said. "It's been 19 years since we were last there, but it's been 45 years and we haven't won a Cup. It's something exciting that we're trying to do for them."
Quick's statistics are staggering. He has a 13-2 record and his 1.49 goals-against average and .946 save percentage lead all playoff goalies. He has allowed two goals or fewer 13 times in 15 postseason games.
He had a 35-21-13 record with a 1.95 GAA and .929 save percentage during the regular season. He would likely be favored to win the Vezina if not for the alarming statistic: Quick lost 11 games in overtime or a shootout when allowing one goal or fewer in regulation.
"I've seen him pull some saves out of his rear end that he had no chance of getting to or shouldn't have had," Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "He's been tremendous. He's been our team MVP by a landslide the entire season, and he's probably our MVP in the postseason as well."
Quick needed only 16 saves to win Game One, a shot number limited by the Kings' stiff defense but also because the Devils missed so many nets. New Jersey played against Los Angeles early in the season, but it was long before the word was out about him. You couldn't help but think New Jersey was spooked before the series began.
The Kings are looking for a two-game advantage when the series shifts back to Los Angles on Monday. Quick has won 11 straight road games, and another would bring him that much closer to a boyhood goal. He idolized Mike Richter and was 8 years old when his beloved Rangers won the Cup in 1994.
The Blueshirts knocked off the Devils and goalie Martin Brodeur in the conference finals. Brodeur, 23, at the time, now stands about 180 feet away in the opposing crease. Blueshirts defenseman Brian Leetch won the Conn Smythe the same year.
What a small world, indeed.
Quick left Hamden High after his sophomore year and attended Avon Old Farms School, a hockey power he led to two New England championships. Leetch graduated from the same school, played 18 seasons in the NHL and waltzed into the Hall of Fame. The people back home are supporting Quick the way they did Leetch.
"Obviously, you have dreams," Quick said. "I'm watching Richter play and saying, 'I want to do that someday.' Everybody has an experience like that. You're going level to level. You succeed at one level and you're like, 'All right, maybe I can do it at the next one.' It never kicks in until you're actually there."