The 2004-05 Philadelphia Phantoms were already looking good heading towards the end of the American Hockey League season. The Flyers' minor-league affiliate featured Patrick Sharp, R.J. Umberger, Dennis Seidenberg, Joni Pitkanen, and Ben Eager when two 20-year-old prospects joined the club.
Jeff Carter at the end of the AHL regular season and Mike Richards after the first round of the playoffs greatly aided the Phantoms' march towards a Calder Cup championship. Seven years later, John Stevens, the coach of that team, has another shot at a championship with Carter and Richards.
"We were very familiar with those kids, because they had been in the organization for a couple of years," Stevens told NHL.com. "It's not easy to add players at that point of year. But they made it easy because they were so respectful of their surroundings. They did anything they could do to help the team. They came in and were huge parts of our team."
Despite arriving without a single game of AHL or NHL playoff experience, Carter led all playoff scorers with 23 points while Richards contributed 15 points in just 14 games. Fueled by the young pair, the Phantoms blew through the AHL playoffs before sweeping the Chicago Wolves in the final and setting an AHL record with 11 straight home playoff wins. On a team loaded with talent, the two star forwards were dropped into a new situation, eventually winning a championship. The circumstances couldn't be more familiar for Stevens.
Just over a year after winning the Calder Cup, Stevens graduated to the NHL club as an assistant with the Flyers before becoming the team's coach a year later. Twenty-six games into the 2009-10 season, his fourth behind the Flyers' bench, Stevens was let go. But, it wouldn't be long before he found new work. The Kings hired Stevens as an assistant to Terry Murray the following season and acquired Richards, the Flyers' former captain, in a trade last summer. After naming Stevens as interim coach before hiring Darryl Sutter in December, Kings general manager Dean Lombardi saw an opportunity to acquire Carter and quickly conferred with the forward's former coach.
"I'm very familiar with Jeff and Hexy [Kings vice president Ron Hextall] was very familiar with Jeff. So we had some conversations about him as a player and a person," said Stevens. "I feel very strongly about Jeff and I'm a big fan of his."
But even though neither player played another game for the Phantoms after winning the Calder Cup, their shared championship experience created a bond with Stevens.
"I think it's something special to all of us. There is a relationship in place when you go through something like that. Any time you can win with a group, I think there is a bond there," Carter said. "I think being in situations where they've won together certainly helps them when they have an opportunity to do it again."
Four games away from winning Los Angeles' first Stanley Cup, the situation and team may be different, but Stevens is happy to rely on two players who made an instant impression on him.
"They were very mature. They came in all business," Stevens said. "They both knew how to get ready for games. The bigger the game, the better they played."