He may not be as celebrated as Kopitar, Brown or Quick but after paying close attention to the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals, I was ecstatic when the Los Angeles Kings signed him that summer.
Playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins in said Cup Final, defenseman Rob Scuderi was all over the place frustrating the reigning champion Detroit Red Wings who were stacked with a lineup that included Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Niklas Lidstrom as well as pesky forwards Tomas Holmstrom and Johan Franzen. Unlike Crosby or Malkin, Scuderi didn’t find his name on the scoresheet often but his contributions in that series and for the entire playoffs that spring paid dividends as the Penguins won their first Stanley Cup since 1992.
I was mesmerized by the play of this unknown defenseman who had actually played three full seasons in Pittsburgh. Hearing that Rob Scuderi would become an unrestricted free agent that summer, I became giddy. When the calendar turned to July, I had one player on my radar (assuming I had any say at all).
I didn’t care if he amassed a combined two goals and 30 assists over his previous three years. Just because Scuderi wasn’t a goal-scorer didn’t mean he couldn’t earn his keep – and he proved that during the 2009 Finals. He even proved that during the 2008 Finals even though the Penguins lost. For someone with Scuderi’s skills, however, it doesn’t just make the team in front of him better but it makes the job of his goaltender, whether it’d be Jonathan Quick or anyone else, that much easier.
In hockey, like any sport, if a player doesn’t produce offensively, then they get little to no recognition outside of their own fanbase. I don’t know how appreciated he was in Pittsburgh but that is certainly the case in Los Angeles as Rob Scuderi is adored just as much as anyone else. He even drew a crucial penalty in Game 6 of last spring’s Cup Final against New Jersey that sent Los Angeles to a five-minute major power play. The Kings scored three times on the man-advantage and clinched the championship that night. As for Scuderi himself, he was driven face-first into the boards but being the warrior he is, returned to the game a few minutes later.
Even working with a depleted defensive unit thus far, Scuderi’s efforts make it look as if the Kings have all their holes filled on the back end and this was especially evident last night.
En route to their come-from-behind win against the hated Canucks, Scuderi went all out keeping his team not only in the game but out of the loss column. While Jeff Carter contributed offensively and Jonathan Quick did his part in goal, it was the unsung Scuderi who made some key plays to save his team’s neck. While he made a quite a few important defensive plays, two most notably stuck out. In the third period with Vancouver up 2-1 and trying to put that final nail in the coffin so to speak, the Canucks were able to get Quick out of position where they found themselves with an open net. On the surface, you’d think that’s an easy goal but not when Scuds is on the ice as he slid across and reached out his stick to block the puck, watching it bounce right out of harm’s way. The Kings were grateful for that stop as defenseman Slava Voynov was able to score in the final minute of regulation to send the game into overtime.
In the overtime session, the Canucks had another glorious chance as in the final minute of the extra frame, a Kings’ mistake found the puck turned over to a Canuck who could have ended the game but Rob Scuderi was right there to help out and bat it out of harm’s way. The seconds ticked off, the game went into a shootout and the Kings won. End of story, end of game, fans go home elated – and none of that would have been possible if it wasn’t for the man in silver-and-black with the big Number 7 on his back.
While it’s immediately appealing to cheer on the player who scores 40+ goals every year, it’s the blue-collar work ethic of guys like Rob Scuderi that really make the difference (not that the goal-scorers don’t, of course). I don’t know how many will agree that defense wins championships in hockey but the 34-year-old Scuderi has twice proven that defense can and do win championships on the ice.
Outside of Los Angeles, he may not be as appreciated or as valued as the more notable stars but that’s okay. Heck, I’m sure even Rob Scuderi doesn’t mind. After all, what he contributes to the Los Angeles Kings is invaluable and Scuds knows that his impact on the team is second-to-none.
He may be doing it quietly but Scuderi has become a staple in the Kings’ organization and I can tell you this: as important as the aforementioned Kopitar, Brown and Quick are in addition to Richards, Carter and even Dwight King, it’s reasonable to argue whether or not the Los Angeles Kings would be Stanley Cup champions without the services of Rob Scuderi.