Editor’s note: This is part of an occasional series of stories checking in with college hockey personalities, past and present.
BOSTON — When you mention the two words together, Torey Krug’s eyes light up, and an omnipresent smile runs from ear to ear. Indeed, when you bring up “Michigan State” around this Boston Bruins rookie defenseman, you are bringing up something near and dear to his heart.
After all, it’s the lessons he learned in three memorable seasons with the Spartans that have prepared him for life in the NHL and an unbelievable rise through the ranks in one of the deepest organizations in the league.
Krug, in fact, was busy trying to help another set of Bruins — the ones in Providence, R.I., the ones who play in the AHL — win a championship last month when the call came from the big club. Yes, Boston was hurting on the back line with three veteran defenseman — Andrew Ference, Wade Redden and Dennis Seidenberg — nursing injuries. And Bruins coach Claude Julien needed some fresh troops in a hurry or else the New York Rangers — Boston’s second-round opponent — might run right through his club.
Krug was one of the names Julien, general manager Peter Chiarelli and assistant general manager Don Sweeney pegged, and the rest is history. The 5-foot-9, 180-pound native of Livonia, Mich., all of 22 years old, took the trip down to Beantown, and all he did was score a goal in his first playoff game.
Three weeks later, with the Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins now dispatched, he finds himself in the Stanley Cup Finals, living the dream and loving every minute of it. He went on a scoring spree through the Eastern Conference playoffs, and took four goals and six points into this round vs. Chicago.
Now, knee deep into the series with the Blackhawks, Krug talked to USCHO about the past, present and future. Here’s an edited transcript of that conversation:
USCHO: With both teams in the playoffs at the time — Boston and Providence — and players in a game frame of mind at all times, were you even aware that a promotion from the AHL was coming when it actually came?
Krug: No. I was so focused in our playoffs in Providence, I didn’t really worry about coming up. You saw a couple of guys here get hurt, and you don’t really think about it. But then, after the game, you understand there is a possibility that you get a call from Don Sweeney … and I did. Ever since then, I’ve just been so excited. And all I want to do is help this team win.
USCHO: So, then comes the series against the Rangers. You score a goal in your first game, and suddenly you’re the talk of the town. Even New York coach John Tortorella called you out as one of Boston’s top performers in that series in his final news conference. Has any of that sunk in yet? Can you believe you’re here?
Krug: It’s been amazing. When I scored my first goal in my first playoff game, I came out to my family members and they were almost speechless. I think that’s kind of the feeling I have, too. It’s unbelievable to be in the situation that I am, and to have the opportunity to just contribute to this kind of team. It’s an amazing feeling.
USCHO: You scored 26 goals in three seasons at Michigan State. You were a decorated Spartans player and you easily have memories that will last a lifetime. But in terms of where you are now, how did your stay in East Lansing help to prepare you for what you are experiencing now?
Krug: Everything about Michigan State has prepared me to be where I am today. You start off as a kid, going into college, and you don’t understand everything that goes into being a hockey player, being a student and just maturing as a person in general. You’re living on your own for the first time. It was an unbelievable experience. I was so glad I was able to be there.
USCHO: Have you heard from former teammates, students, just people around the Michigan State community as you’ve advanced through the playoffs?
Krug: Well, they say you bleed green, and you’re a Spartan forever, and that truly is the case. I get texts from Spartans almost every day, saying ‘congratulations’ and ‘keep it going,’ and ‘bring the Cup back to East Lansing.’ And being from there, it’s important for your development, too. You go back in the summer, work out and use it as gauge to see where you are at compared to the other pros. I’m lucky to be a part of that.
USCHO: One of the things you always hear about with this group of Bruins is the depth, and how Claude can throw line after line at you. There aren’t many superstars on the roster — if any — but just waves of talented players. Most of them have also won Stanley Cups already. Do you feel a sense of comfort knowing these types of players — Jaromir Jagr, Brad Marchand, Milan Lucic — are on your side?
Krug: Yes. I think for everybody, the guys who went through it a couple of years ago, they understand how rare it is to get back to the Stanley Cup Finals. For everybody, you understand how lucky you are to be in the position you are. And for a guy like Jags, you see the work ethic and the commitment he has to the game, you want to get a championship for him. It’s important for us to come together as a team.
USCHO: You turned the puck over at a crucial time in the third period of Game 1 that led to a Chicago goal, trimmed your lead to 3-2 and set the stage for a Blackhawks comeback. It’s a team game, and obviously, you guys played three overtimes after that and still could have won the game. But do you have regrets? Would you make the pass again at the blue line?
Krug: I’d probably try it again in the future. I would just execute it differently. For me, playing that way, you have to have a short-term memory. I think the best players do. I’ll quickly forget about it. I’ll learn from it. You have to make sure that you’re taking care of business to be risky. I think defensively, you know, if you can’t recover from those risks, then you’re not going to be able to take those risks and get ice time. For me, it’s about becoming more reliable, more accountable.