The fantasy of playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs lives in every youngster who grows up playing hockey.
Of course, not every child realizes that dream. Sure, they may play for the in-house championship at their neighborhood rink. If they’re really lucky, they’ll play for a bigger prize in travel, junior or college hockey.
Two Sharks rookies – center Logan Couture
and defenseman Jason Demers
– are beyond all of that. They’re getting the opportunity of playing in their first Stanley Cup Playoffs. And both players know the stakes.
“You’re playing for the biggest trophy in all of hockey,” Couture said. “You’re going to do whatever it takes to win.”
“It’s a bigger stage,” Demers said. “You do play harder, that’s for sure.”
The 21-year-old Couture has played in the playoffs as a professional. Last year, he appeared in 12 games with Worcester in the American Hockey League. Couture scored two goals as he tried to help San Jose’s top development affiliate win the Calder Cup.
Demers, 25, also played in 12 postseason games with Worcester last year, recording four assists.
Both players made their National Hockey League debuts this season while being part of the Worcester-San Jose shuttle. In 25 games with San Jose, Couture scored nine points (five goals). Demers, who was named PlayStation “Sharks Rookie of the Year,” had 21 points (17 assists) in 51 games.
In San Jose’s quarterfinal series against Colorado, Couture recorded his first National Hockey League two-goal game in Game Five. He’s averaging close to 10-and-a-half minutes of ice time on a line with Dany Heatley and Manny Malhotra. Demers is getting 14 minutes a game, which is a significant amount for a rookie. He’s been paired with Kent Huskins, who won a Stanley Cup in Anaheim.
The quarterfinals gave the pair some valuable experience.
“Your first thoughts are, ‘We’re going to win this,’” Couture said. “But then you realize it takes 16 wins to get the Cup and four wins to take a series.”
“I played with Worcester last year, so I had an idea of how the playoffs go,” Demers said. “But I didn’t know it was going to be this intense.”
Of course, lessons have been learned quickly. “You try to approach it the same as any game,” Couture said. “In your first couple of shifts, you don’t think like that because the fans are going crazy. But after that, you settle down and realize it’s just hockey and just play your own game. You eventually get calm on the ice and think that you’re just chasing a puck.”
“It’s all about getting the upper hand and winning all of the battles,” Demers said. “You can have the skill but if you don’t work as hard as the guy next to you, skill doesn’t mean anything. If the guy in front of you is outworking you and he has less skill than you, he’s probably going to win the battle. If you work as hard as him and you have more or the same skill, you’re come out on top more often. It’s really all about details and intensity.”
The Stanley Cup Playoffs have been just part of a memorable rookie season for Couture. While at Worcester, he scored 20 goals and 53 points in 42 games, represented the Sharks at the AHL All-Star Game and was named to the AHL All-Rookie Team.
In March, Couture was called up from Worcester. He scored four goals in San Jose’s last 13 games. Couture’s performance kept him in Silicon Valley for the second season.
“I really had no idea what was going on,” Couture said. “I had heard a couple of times during the year that there would be a chance I’d be up here for the playoffs. When I got called up the last time, I did whatever I could to stay up.”
Couture’s simple approach has helped him be part of the line combinations.
“I’m just working hard and creating some offense in my own end,” Couture said. “I’m just trying not to get scored on, make some plays and create space for my line mates and help the team any way I can.”
Both freshmen have also benefited from having veteran players around to guide them. Couture gets advice from Manny Malhotra. Demers has been counseled by a future Hockey Hall of Famer.
“Rob Blake is always checking to see how I feel and how I’m doing,” Demers said. “That helps me stay in the right state of mind and not become overwhelmed with this experience.”
Which is the ultimate stage for any NHL player.