Posts Tagged ‘rangers’
By James MacDonald
Hastings native Derek Stepan off to stellar start in New York
Seen from one perspective — say, that of a casual New York Rangers fan — Derek Stepan became an overnight sensation on Oct. 9, 2010. From another perspective, as is the case with so many “overnight sensations,” Stepan earned every step he took on the long and challenging road to the National Hockey League. Even at the young age of 20, Stepan, who burst on the Broadway stage with a hat trick in his first NHL game, has a long history of long hours and hard work on and off the ice. It all started in Hastings, where Stepan grew up as a hockey nut. In the summer, Stepan would strap on his roller blades and head over to a buddy’s house, where a gang gathered near a cul-de-sac for five-on-five street hockey games with a goalie in each end. In the winter, Stepan was logging hours and hours on a friend’s backyard rink. They’d wind up skat-ing well past dark and into the next day, much to the consternation of his friend’s mom, who had to pull them off the ice in the wee hours. “There were days when his mom would wake up at 2 o’clock in the morning and we were still out there shooting pucks against the boards,” Stepan said. “Then, in the morning, we’d go right back out there.” Stepan also grew up playing base-ball and football in Hastings, but by ninth grade had left both to concentrate on hockey. And by his junior season, he was playing for Tom Ward at Shattuck-St. Mary’s. Ward recalls a “lanky, gangly” player, who was very skilled but not always engaged. “He was a typical Bantam kind of player,” said Ward. “Didn’t hound the puck much. Kind of was happy to stickhandle and shoot, that kind of game.” Stepan rounded out the corners of his game in Faribault. He was training, pushing himself, working with his coaches and starting to play with an edge. He was making friends, earning respect and leaving impressions almost everywhere he went. “[He] was a good player when we got him, and he just kind of blos-somed,” Ward said. “He did all the work. He was a guy who was lifting weights and shooting pucks and practicing hard and learning to be a leader. He’s a coach’s dream kind of a kid. He’s willing to keep pushing and turning over stones to try to get better. He has a ton of friends around here.” For Stepan’s next challenge, after scoring more than 80 goals in two seasons, he chose the University of Wisconsin. Playing for Mike Eaves, who charges his players with an honest defensive effort, isn’t always the easy choice. Stepan saw it as another learning opportunity to take yet another step. “The coaching staff, what they were saying to me, those were exactly the things I needed in my game,” Stepan said. “Obviously, being an offensive guy, you always want to be able to work on defense.”
By the winter of 2009, he’d been drafted by the Rangers and had a yearand-a-half of college hockey behind him. He was also being considered by USA Hockey for the U.S. National Junior Team. Though he privately worried he wouldn’t even earn a spot, he was named the team’s captain. From there, he started to feel a pretty good tournament coming to him.
Stepan wears leadership rather naturally.
“I’ve always had that in me, from Day 1,” he said. “I’ve always been one of those guys to say something to someone, to say, ‘Knock that off, that’s not right.’ Or the guy that organized a group of guys to make sure we got up and got something done during the day instead of being lazy.”
Stepan turned the World Junior
Championship into his national coming out party, leading the tournament with 14 points on four goals and 10 assists.
“I had a hot stick, as some hockey guys like to say,” he said.
Team USA went on to win its second-ever gold medal, beating rival Canada with a storybook overtime win in Saskatoon. Stepan
returned to Wisconsin, finishing the 2009-10 season with every expectation of returning for a third season in Madison.
Then he got the call.
He’d just come back from a workout in Hastings. The Rangers wanted to talk. They thought Stepan might be ready. A 90-minute conference call later and Stepan was ticketed to the big city. “Throughout my career, I’ve gone on instinct,” he said. “From choosing Shattuck, choosing Wisconsin, it was something that felt right, and this just felt right.” He went to camp with no guaran-tees and without any idea about where he’d live or how he’d get around. Still, he impressed the team’s brass. As the regular season neared, the Rangers told Stepan to look for a place to live in New York. Stepan saw it as an invitation to tackle a challenge.
“OK, I made it, but now the work begins because it’s twice as hard to stay here,” Stepan said.
Stepan could hardly have made a better case on opening night. Earlier in the day, he was told to treat it as another game on the schedule.
“Just relax and play,” he was told. “Who would have thought I’d have a horseshoe strapped around my neck before the game?” Horseshoe or not, Stepan was credited with goals at 10:53 of the first, 15:08 of the second and 18:20 of the second. And while not all of them will last on his per-sonal highlight reel, the question “How many?” has always been more important than “How?” Stepan became only the fourth NHL player — and the first in Rangers history — to record a hat trick in his first game. In addition to immediately becom-ing a trending topic at Shattuck, Stepan led stories in The New York Times, the New York Post, the Daily News and New York Magazine, though he says he didn’t look at the papers. “He’s just a humble, hardworking kid from Hastings, Minnesota,” Ward said. “I think he’s significantly more worried about being a contributing member to a good team and helping his team win games than he is about any notoriety he might get.” Stepan is also settling into life as a professional hockey player. “I’ve worked very hard and I feel like this is something that I have to continue to work at,” he said, “but it’s not something that knocks me com-pletely off my feet.” Still, no matter where Stepan’s career carries him, his perspective will remain that of a Minnesotan. “I’m still a Minnesota guy, for sure. That won’t change.” MHJ
A Night Of Firsts • Stepan is the first player in the 85-year history of the Rangers organization to score three goals in his NHL debut. • He became one of only three players to score a hat trick in his first NHL game, and the first-ever American.
Positive reviews for Stepan after top-line performance
The 20-year-old center found himself centering the first line, between right wing Marian Gaborik and left wing Alexander Frolov, during the Rangers’ 4-3 preseason victory against the New Jersey Devils at Madison Square Garden.
Stepan looked calm, sharp and comfortable with the talent around him while picking up an assist on Gaborik’s first-period power-play goal.
“I don’t think he gets too uptight about who he’s playing with and I thought he did a pretty good job,” said Rangers coach John Tortorella. “That’s what I like about him. I think he’s able to handle these situations and not really get blown away by it.”
“I knew that was going to happen,” Stepan said of the line switch. “I said from Day 1 I’m just going to control what I can control and just play the game.”
Stepan made the most of his first NHL preseason game right away. With the Rangers on a power play, Stepan found himself with the puck on the left wing near the half-boards. He darted to the middle and drew Devils defenders to him before sliding the puck down to Frolov in the left corner. Frolov whipped a pass across the crease to Gaborik at the far post, who slammed it home to give Stepan his first NHL point, albeit a preseason point.
“It was good. It was a special feeling with a power-play opportunity,” Stepan said. “I just handed it off to Frolov and he did the rest. He finds Gabby back door. I’ll take that all day. It was a good atmosphere and I had a lot of help from my linemates.”
“For his first year in camp, he’s showed a lot,” Gaborik said. “He still has a ways to go, but he had a very good first game.”
Pro contract something Skinner likes
Mike G. Morreale – NHL.com Staff Writer
Jeff Skinner has fun on the ice, and the Hurricanes have so enjoyed watching him so far, they’ve signed their first-round pick to an entry-level contract. READ MORE ›
Stepan, a native of Hastings, Minn., captained the U.S. team that shocked Canada at the 2010 World Junior Championship. He had 4 goals and 10 assists in seven games during the tournament, including a third-period goal in the gold-medal game against Canada. Stepan, taken in the second round of the 2008 Entry Draft by the Rangers, signed his first professional contract in July.
“It’s much faster, for sure — bigger, stronger guys,” said Stepan, who was comparing his World Junior experience to his first preseason contest. “You just got to learn what you can and can’t get away with and play your game.”
The Rangers appear to have two locks at center right now — Christensen and Artem Anisimov. That leaves Stepan battling with Brian Boyle, who had a goal and played a terrific overall game Thursday, Todd White and Tim Kennedy for the final two spots. White is just getting back from offseason shoulder surgery, while Boyle’s game is more suited for fourth-line minutes. Kennedy has played primarily on the wing during his career.
Rangers captain Chris Drury will miss four weeks with a broken hand, which could give Stepan time early in the regular season to show he belongs. If Stepan plays well, Tortorella could move Drury to the wing, a position he’s capable of playing.
The door is open for Stepan, who has five more preseason games to show he can walk through it. He just wants to see himself improve in one area that’s pretty important for an NHL center.
“Faceoff circle. I have to get better at that,” said Stepan, who was 5-of-10 on draws Thursday. “I think it’s just the first-game jitters. It’s something I have to work on.”
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