BOSTON — Torey Krug carries himself like the tallest five-foot-nine man on the planet.
Head high. Chest puffed. Speech assured. Beats cranked.
When he gives interviews, the shortest member of the Boston Bruins makes himself perfectly perpendicular, like a kid doing his damnedest to be high enough to get on this roller coaster.
And, oh boy, what a ride it’s been.
A small defenceman making big-time plays in XXXL moments, then scrambling right in his larger opponents’ grills to tell them all about it.
“It comes from growing up in a house with four boys where it was survival of the fittest,” says Krug, never drafted, always doubted.
“Ultimately being a smaller player on every single team I’ve grown up playing on, you have to do something to make yourself special and unique, otherwise teams are just going to pass up on you and go with the safer route, which is a bigger player.
“Specifically being a defenceman, I’ve had to make myself unique — and that’s what I bring to the table, that swagger, and hopefully it bleeds through our locker room and the rest of our lineup.”
Oh, it does. Pulses through the dressing-room sound system, too.
Patrice Bergeron takes care of the inspirational speeches, Zdeno Chara controls the dial on the work-ethic thermostat, and Krug mans the iTunes.
The locker room DJ is open to requests, occasionally adding to the soundtrack of Boston’s Stanley Cup push, but all submissions must be Krug-approved if they are to be added to the same playlist he’s been bumping for months.
“It’s been working for us,” Krug says.
Explicit versions of big, boasty, live-your-best-life rap anthems like 50 Cent’s P.I.M.P., Eminem’s Not Afraid, and Linkin Park and Jay-Z’s Numb/Encore greet reporters and trainers like a noisy dorm party at morning skates.
“Classic college kid, right? Jokes around and stuff,” smiles David Pastrnak, beneficiary of many a Krug pass. “But he’s awesome. A great kid with heart.
“When he’s on his game, he’s unbelievable.”
On Wednesday in Boston, Krug, 28, will have a chance to cap the most productive regular season of his career (53 points in 64 games) with the greatest moment of his life. That is, until his Michigan State University sweetheart, Melanie, gives birth to his first child next week.
“My wife will be not moving around too much, and extended family has gotten the message to steer clear, and I think that’s the approach a lot of us will have,” says Krug ahead of Game 7. “It’s about staying in the moment and playing this next game. Just doing whatever it takes. Be selfish.
“I mean, to be honest, family’s the most important thing in this world, for sure. It’s kind of allowed me to relax and just play hockey. Obviously worried and excited and nervous with all that comes with your first kid.”
The Bobby Orr comparisons are, of course, a quantum leap, but Orr — or any other Bruins blueliner, for that matter — never did score four points (all primary) in a Cup Final match, the way Krug did in Game 3. He now has six in the series, 18 in the post-season and, were it not for Tuukka Rask’s excellence, would have some Conn Smythe buzz.
“Bobby Orr is probably the greatest influencer in the game of hockey itself. You really can’t compare yourself in any way shape or form to him,” Krug says. “Ask me again in a couple weeks.”
The rabid locals want their hockey served like their chowder — as many lumps as possible, please — and they gobbled up Krug’s Game 1 helmet-free demolishing of Blues phenom Robert Thomas. (“No penalty,” Thomas said. “I’m fine with the hit.”) Side-by-side images of Krug’s flying hit and Orr’s flying Cup-clinching goal in 1970 were shared online. And after Krug steamrolled Thomas, he glided directly to the Blues’ crease to deliver a death stare, pupils in full bloom.
“I don’t know if he’s on something, but he was pretty fired up,” Jordan Binnington said.
“It’s a bit of an iconic moment because the hair is flying and the way he fell,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “It’s good for hockey.”
So is Krug.
While the Blues’ D corps is big and burly and safe, Krug exemplifies the compact but quick modern D-man.
“They have probably a few more bigger guys, bigger bodies to where they’re finishing checks, where we check with our feet. We’re a team that skates really well so we force you into bad areas,” Krug says. “We might not always put you through the glass, but we skate so well that you have no options with the puck and we kind of funnel you into an area where you’re going to make a turnover.”
Krug is fearless on puck retrievals, slick with a good first pass, and comfortable quarterbacking the deadliest post-season power play (32.9 per cent) in history. Since Cassidy, too, was an undersized D-man in his playing days, he and Krug speak frequently about the intricacies of his role.
“I take a lot of pride in being a very knowledgeable hockey player, so once I do get on the half wall, I know what’s available. Butch gives us a lot of cues, when the opposing team does a certain thing to look for this or that,” Krug explains.
“That’s when you can be more creative, and that’s the fun part of hockey for a guy like myself, being able to move and not having to worry about the X’s and O’s part of it. It’s just the creativity and guys stepping into certain roles, certain spots and we fill for each other. When we’re on and we’re in sync, we’re a really dangerous unit.”
Regardless how Game 7 unfolds, keeping that unit intact should be of high priority for GM Don Sweeney come July 1.
That’s the date Krug is eligible to re-sign an extension. He’s worth much more than his current $5.25-million cap hit and would have a parade of suitors were he to reach free agency in 2020.
Boston has a pattern of identifying and locking up its stars before they get that far.
The Michigan-born Krug loves being a Bruin. The former finance major also knows his worth.
“You’ve got guys like Bergy and Krej and Zee and Pasta taking discounts — that’s expected around here. If you want to try and make every dollar you can, then unfortunately it’s not going to be with this group. We want guys who want to be here, want to win, and you’ve got to sacrifice some things,” says Marchand, speaking generally.
“At the end of the day, if you lift a Stanley Cup and take a little less money, it’s worth it every single time. That’s the culture around here in this group, and its why we’ve been able to be a successful team.”
What’s made Krug successful, individually, is that permanent chip on his shoulder, the one that propels him to get up in the face of Alex Steen and Zach Sanford and David Perron and whoever else wants it, while still generating offence.
“That’s a line that I flirt with on a nightly basis,” Krug says. “If I’m not playing with that swagger, then I’m not making those high-end plays.
“If I don’t have that and I’m not being a special player, I wouldn’t blame a GM for going a different route and taking a bigger guy. That’s what I bring to the table.
“I’ll always need it, and I’ll always have it.”