Rob Scuderi turned 34 years old in December and is currently the senior member of the Los Angeles Kings’ locker room.
Amongst the other 29 National Hockey League teams, only Toronto’s John-Michael Liles, born November 25, 1980, and Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo, born April 4, 1979, are younger “elder statesmen” of their team’s respective rooms.
“I’ve been playing the same ugly but effective game since I was 18. If you pulled up college video of me, you’d be seeing me doing the same exact thing,” Scuderi said. “Although I know I’m the oldest guy here, it’s not something I think about or dwell on. I just try to enjoy myself and play the game hard and try to be a good leader for everyone else.”
That “ugly but effective game” has helped Boston College win an NCAA Championship and the Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins win Stanley Cups. Though he admittedly misspoke at the time, there actually is some truth in “The Piece,” a nickname affixed by his former Pittsburgh teammates when he gaffed during a Stanley Cup interview in 2009, accidentally referring to himself as “the piece” instead of “a piece” to a championship puzzle.
With Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene out of the lineup due to injury, Scuderi’s stay-at-home smarts and ability to lead by example through his on-ice character, shot blocking and lane-clogging stick work are of heightened importance as a model for several younger blueliners whose defensive zone play has improved during the team’s recent resurgence.
“He just does a lot of little things right that go unnoticed,” Jake Muzzin said. “For me, I learn a lot just by watching him [in] practice, games. If I have a question, he’s a pretty easy guy to talk to, so he helps me out a lot.”
Providing that consistent voice before games and between periods hasn’t necessarily been the role Scuderi has forged through his four seasons with the team. As someone who lets his on-ice contributions speak louder than any emotional oration he has delivered, there hasn’t really been a major shift in his dressing room identity that is without a pair of character stay-at-home stalwarts.
“Maybe I’ll try to be a little more vocal because Greenie’s not around and he’s usually the big voice in the locker room,” Scuderi said. “You just try to pipe up a little bit and say what you think the team needs to hear. But overall I think the coaches have done a good job kind of explaining what we want to do as a philosophy out there, so besides maybe a guy picking up a useful tip – maybe just observing – we haven’t had to talk [to the younger players] in detail about anything.”
Simply observing Scuderi would be beneficial to the developing Muzzin as well as Andrew Campbell, who currently serves as the team’s seventh defenseman and is yet to appear in an NHL game. The rough edges of the highs and lows of an NHL season have been smoothed over by the veteran defenseman whose consistency sets an example for his younger teammates to follow.
“Most older players develop that, and most of them [are] able to play longer because of that,” Darryl Sutter said of consistency. “It’s like talking about somebody Muzz’s age to Rob’s age. Well, maybe in 10 years you’ll say, ‘How about Muzzin? He’s pretty consistent right now, isn’t he?’ It’s experience.”
The nebulous characteristics of Scuderi’s veteran leadership are a challenge to define. On the ice he plays well without the puck. He blocks shots and is a steady counterweight to a more aggressive defensive partner. More importantly than that, the results from the team-wide defensive effort have been trending upwards. Entering game action on Wednesday, following Monday night’s win against the Ducks, the Kings have held seven consecutive opponents below their seasonal scoring average. The team has won six of seven contests, limiting the opposition to seven total goals in those victories.
Personally, he’s a plus-eight over his last four games. His two assists in Calgary last Wednesday marked his first two-point game since January 19, 2010.
Off the ice, it’s impossible to measure intangibles such as “leadership” and “consistency,” though the Syosset, New York native appears to set a strong example towards game preparation. Steadiness is surely a characteristic of an approach chiseled out by watching and observing the veterans when he was in a similar position as players like Muzzin and Campbell.
“It’s kind of strange, because a lot of what you do is natural for you,” Scuderi said. “I don’t have a lot of offensive talent, but putting yourself in the right position, just knowing where to be, knowing where to put your stick, trying to drive a guy in a certain direction – a lot of those things kind of happen naturally that you develop over the course of your life, and you hope that maybe it’s hard to explain, but hopefully a guy just sees it and sees how you do things. I know that’s how I picked up some things – not necessarily through conversation, but just through observation and trying to pick up things to help myself.”