For young players in Final, getting back no certainty
Between Adam Henrique scoring two series-clinching goals and Dwight King notching several big goals in the Western Conference Finals, youth has served both Stanley Cup Final teams well. But for players who have made it to hockey's grandest stage early in their careers, getting back there is far from a guarantee.
"Things happened so quick. It felt like this is what we're supposed to do, be in the Final every year," said Rob Blake, who played in the 1993 Cup Final with the Kings in just his third NHL season. "Ten years later, I realized quickly that that doesn't happen. I can share with young players that you need to take advantage of the opportunity when you can."
Both the Kings and Devils have players on their roster who can speak to that experience. And for a rookie like Henrique, it can only help playing alongside veteran winger Dainius Zubrus. After reaching the 1997 Stanley Cup Final as a rookie with the Flyers, Zubrus has waited 15 years to get back.
"That moment didn't last as long as I wanted and didn't end the way I hoped," Zubrus said of his first Cup Final appearance, in which the Flyers were swept by Detroit. "Fifteen years later, here I am back in the Finals. Obviously, you're lucky to be on a team that gets to this point. You just don't know. You could be traded or going to an organization that might be in a so-called rebuilding process. You just don't know."
It may be easy to take that first Cup Final appearance for granted, but young players can learn from a veteran who has been there before and may not have been sure when they would be back.
"When you're young and naïve, you think, 'We'll get there next year.' It doesn't work that way," said Warren Rychel, a rookie on Blake's 1993 Kings team. "I said to myself, 'Don't worry, we'll get back next year.' It never happens [that easily]. We didn't make the playoffs the year after."