Mike Rupp was in his early 20s when he made his post-season debut with the 2003 New Jersey Devils. At that point he’d only had a small handful of NHL games under his belt — not nearly enough to put a rookie forward at ease.
Rupp was encompassed by a host of grizzled veterans in the Devils locker-room during that playoff run. Look up in one direction and there’s Martin Brodeur and Scott Stevens. Glance the other way and Scott Niedermayer and Ken Daneyko are standing there. Then, seated in the stall next to him is Joe Nieuwendyk.
It was an experience not lost on Rupp, who eventually scored the Stanley Cup-clinching goal against the Anaheim Ducks.
“If you have any nerves, you look as far as those guys are and see the way they carry themselves and it’s just ‘Ho-hum here we go.’ I think that really settles the nerves,” Rupp told The Starting Lineup on Sportsnet 590 The FAN Tuesday morning. “Having those guys to gauge in different situations — when things are going bad you just give a peek up between periods at these guys and see Scotty Stevens acting the exact same way he would if things are going really good. Kenny Daneyko would crack jokes and keep it light in the room and do it before arguably the biggest period of the season.
“I think those things are really important for young players. If it wasn’t for that, you start feeling the nerves a little more.”
Rupp thinks the youthful Toronto Maple Leafs should see something similar with Brian Boyle in the fold as they chase a playoff spot. The forward, acquired in a deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday, has 100 career post-season games on his resume, including two trips to the Stanley Cup final.
The retired Rupp, who now works as an analyst for the NHL Network and Root Sports Pittsburgh, played with Boyle for parts of two seasons on the New York Rangers.
“His locker-room presence is great,” said Rupp. “I think you saw that fairly quickly down there in Tampa; he was wearing the A. He’s just one of the most well-respected, charismatic guys in the room and I think that goes a long way, especially for a Leafs team like they are this year with the youth.”
Jeff Marek, Sportsnet host and analyst also joined the The Starting Lineup on Tuesday and offered his thoughts on the Leafs’ acquisition of Boyle, saying the 32-year-old looks like an example of a team bringing in the right type of veteran.
Marek said it’s in contrast with moves by the Edmonton Oilers, who in years past surrounded younger players with established NHLers Ryan Smyth and Andrew Ference.
“The one thing we’re learning with young teams right now in 2017 — and maybe you call it the Oilers rule — if you’re going to have a young team, if you’re going to have a lot of kids, a lot of rookies in the lineup, you need to have veterans around to sort of shepherd them. To show them the way,” Marek said.
“But they can’t be out of touch with the kids. That was the Oilers’ lesson. They would bring in Ryan Smyth and bring in Andrew Ference and in no way could Jordan Eberle or Taylor Hall relate to these guys who have different life experiences, [and are in] different places in their life. You still need to have players that A) they can be in the lineup consistently and play five-on-five and B) can still relate to players and young kids.
“I get the impression that Brian Boyle is that guy, more so than a Ryan Smyth was to a Taylor Hall.”