was one of those players for the 2003 New Jersey Devils
, a big, young forward who spent most of the season in the AHL.
"I played in Albany for 2 1/2 years, and they gave me a call in January," said Rupp, picked in the third round by the Devils in the 2000 Entry Draft. "I played in 26 [NHL] games and felt good. I kind of thought that was it until next season. I never thought I would get into the Stanley Cup Finals."
But with center Joe Nieuwendyk
unable to play in the finals against the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim due to injury, Rupp finally got a chance in Game 4.
"We always kept an eye on him. We know the guy has talent," coach Pat Burns said. "We just have to force him to be able to use all his attributes every night."
Rupp said he was just happy to get the chance to play.
"I thought I might get into one game," he said. "I wanted to contribute any way I possibly could, maybe by winning a big draw. It didn't have to be on the score sheet."
Rupp had just one assist in his first three appearances as the Mighty Ducks battled back from losing the first two games to force Game 7 in a series that saw the home team win each of the first six games. Burns opted to dress Rupp again in the deciding game and play him on a line with Jeff Friesen
and Jamie Langenbrunner
The 6-foot-5 Rupp had a feeling something good was going to happen.
"I felt really good when I woke up," he said. "I was probably the most calm I've been in an NHL game this year. The leaders, the veterans on this team, kept us very calm, they keep you laughing all the way to game time."
But there was little laughter at Continental Airlines Arena once the puck dropped; the game remained scoreless through the first period as Jean-Sebastien Giguere
, whose goaltending had sparked the Ducks to the brink of their first championship, matched saves with Martin Brodeur
. Just 2:22 into the second, though, Rupp made Burns look like a genius by beating Giguere to open the scoring, Ten minutes later, Rupp fed Friesen, who scored to give the Devils a 2-0 lead. And with 3:44 remaining in the third period, Rupp assisted on another goal by Friesen as the Devils rolled to a 3-0 victory and their third Stanley Cup in nine years.
"I played in Albany for 2 1/2 years, and they gave me a call in January. I played in 26 [NHL] games and felt good. I kind of thought that was it until next season. I never thought I would get into the Stanley Cup Finals." -- Mike Rupp
The victory gave Brodeur his third shutout in the Final, sent 20-year veteran defenseman Ken Daneyko into retirement with a third Stanley Cup ring, and made Rupp one of the unlikeliest players ever to score the Cup-winning goal.
"Two weeks ago, I would never have thought this could happen," he said after earning the game's first star and adding his name to a list that includes some of hockey's immortals. "Coach Burns put me into this situation and showed he believed in me, and I've been blessed."
For his part, Burns said Rupp simply made the most of his opportunity.
"I kept telling him, 'You know what you have right now. You know the opportunity you have.' I kept on reminding him and he definitely took it."
Every team that goes deep into the playoffs carries a few extra players, guys who might have spent most of the season in the minors but are on hand in case someone gets hurt or the coach feels the team needs a spark.