By Tal Pinchevsky - NHL.com Staff Writer
Brian Leetch hasn't met Jonathan Quick, but he's been hearing about him for a very long time.
The retired star defenseman for the New York Rangers shares a number of uncanny similarities with the Los Angeles Kings goaltender currently competing in the Stanley Cup Final. Both starred in the same area in Connecticut, both attended the same all-boys prep school, both found their game playing Division I hockey in Massachusetts. And in the next two weeks, Quick could potentially be joining Leetch as a Conn Smythe Trophy winner.
"I have guys I still run into from college who were scouting the prep school leagues. They would let me know, 'Hey, your boy from Connecticut is doing good in net,'" Leetch told NHL.com about the first time he heard about Quick. "I had never met him, but there were a lot of those comments."
Long before anyone knew about Quick, the "boy from Connecticut" was following a hockey path remarkably similar to Leetch's. While he grew up in Milford, Quick first starred on the ice at Hamden High School, a public school located less than 10 miles from Leetch's hometown of Cheshire. And just like Leetch, Quick left public school to enroll at Avon Old Farms, an all-boys prep school founded in 1927.
It was at Avon that Quick blossomed, leading the school to back-to-back New England championships and losing just three games combined in his junior and senior seasons. Leetch also found his game at Avon and still remembers his difficult transition there.
"It was a big adjustment for me coming from public school. I looked at a bunch of schools in New England, but the reality was that Avon was the closest to my town," Leetch said. "I found my first year extremely hard. Everything was different for me. Even only being a half hour from home, I was homesick."
About 20 years after leaving Avon Old Farms and around the time his Hall-of-Fame NHL career was winding down, Leetch began hearing about Quick's prep school exploits. But when Quick enrolled at the University of Massachusetts, he temporarily fell off Leetch's radar.
"I went to Boston College, so I was keeping my eye on them. UMass was always a team that struggled to compete, but then he got them into the NCAA [championship tournament] one year," Leetch said. "Then I started watching him in the NHL, just to see how he would do."
Quick did better than alright, earning his first All-Star appearance this season before being named a finalist for the Vezina Trophy. But Quick's breakout campaign took on a new meaning in the postseason, as his Kings team blew through the Western Conference's top three seeds and now stand three wins away from the franchise's first Stanley Cup win.
For the MVP of the 1994 Stanley Cup Playoffs, it’s a thrill to see a kid from practically the same Connecticut backyard play so well.
"When I grew up, I had nobody who had grown up in Connecticut and had gone on to play professionally," Leetch said. "Myself and Craig Janney were coming up around the same time. We got to meet Ron Francis with the Whalers. We skated a little bit with him in the summer before we played in the pros. That was pretty cool. To see more and more kids come out of Connecticut and do well or play Division I in college is awesome."
And if Quick can continue his impressive run and capture the Cup, there's a good chance he could win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. That distinction would make for one more similarity with Leetch, the first American to win the prestigious award.
"The Conn Smythe can go to a few players, it's such a team sport. Tim Thomas was the second American after me. It would be great to back it up with another one," Leetch said. "It would be great, when you look back on it years from now, to say, 'You see that guy right there? He had almost the same background as me in Connecticut and went to the same school and went through the college ranks in Massachusetts. And he was on that [Olympic] team that won the silver medal, just like our team did in 2002.' There are a lot of similarities the whole way there. It's pretty cool."