Chris Bauman makes a catch at Viking football practice Monday. (TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN)
Four wins are all that separate Brandon’s Bryce Salvador from realizing his childhood dream.
"It’s surreal to know that you’re playing for the Stanley Cup," said Salvador, who plays for the New Jersey Devils and will suit up on home ice for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final against the Los Angeles Kings tomorrow (7 p.m., CBC). "It’s a great feeling and one of those things that doesn’t happen too often, so it’s nice to be where we are."
Salvador might also be the latest addition to a long list of unlikely National Hockey League playoff heroes. Not known for his offensive prowess, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound defenceman finds himself on the first page of playoff scoring leaders, registering three goals and eight assists in 18 playoff games, while logging more than 22 minutes of ice time per game. While the individual success is well deserved, it’s something the heart-and-soul player chooses to downplay.
"It’s a great feeling to score some big goals in the playoffs, but you only get to enjoy that success because the team is winning," Salvador said. "You have to remember what you bring to the team and it’s important to not get individualistic. Everyone will have individual success if the team has success."
What Salvador brings to the Devils is something that has never been measured on the scoresheet. The 36-year-old prides himself on being an honest, two-way player that brings some sandpaper to the rink each and every night.
As a rookie with the St. Louis Blues, Salvador went to the conference semifinals before losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche. If his 11 years in the NHL have taught him anything, it’s that opportunities like this don’t come around too often.
"You realize how fast time goes in the league," Salvador said. "You think that you are always going to go deep in the playoffs ... It’s a humbling experience to go from 2000 to 2012 and not really have a legitimate chance to win it all."
What that Avalanche team had that year that the Blues didn’t have was a veteran goaltender in Patrick Roy, who had already won multiple championships as a member of the Montreal Canadiens. It’s also why Salvador is confident in the Devils’ chances this year with Martin Brodeur as the team’s backbone in net.
"We feel pretty confident, but the games during the regular season don’t mean anything," Salvador said about sweeping the two-game regular-season series against the Kings. "For us to have Marty (Brodeur) in net, with all that he has won, to still see that compete level and want to win. It’s one of those things that is good for the locker room and good for the team."
This year’s run to the Cup, which has included series wins over the Florida Panthers, Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers, is extra special for Salvador, who was forced to miss all of the 2010-11 season due to a concussion he suffered in a pre-season game.
"Making the Stanley Cup is a dream come true and it’s tough to beat," Salvador said. "It’s come full circle from where I was this time last year and it makes it feel all the more better."
The long playoff run has also given friends and family plenty of time to text, tweet and email "Good luck" to Salvador, something he said he’s grateful for. But for now, his focus remains solely on lifting the most treasured trophy in hockey.
"I probably feel the furthest away I ever have from winning (the Stanley Cup)," Salvador said. "When you’re more removed from actually winning a cup, the more of a chance you think you have to win it. And then as it gets closer and closer, it gets harder and harder ... We’ve had a great playoff run, but we’ve got one more hurdle and it’s the hardest one."
No matter which team is victorious, the Stanley Cup will be hoisted by a Brandonite. Ron Hextall, who grew up in Brandon and played his junior hockey with the Wheat Kings, is the assistant general manager and a vice-president for the Kings. The Kings also feature former Wheat Kings trainer Darren Granger, who is now the head equipment manager for L.A.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 29, 2012