June 1, 2011
Grand Rapids feels almost like a lifetime ago for Boston Bruins forward Chris Kelly.
In reality, it only has been nine years, but that can seem like an eternity to a professional hockey player.
"It was a great city," Kelly said during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon after the Bruins practiced in Vancouver.
Kelly will try to become the 14th former member of the Grand Rapids Griffins to have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup when the Bruins open the Stanley Cup finals against the Canucks tonight.
The 30-year-old Toronto native has come a long way since his rookie year with the Griffins.
Kelly appeared in 31 games during the 2001-02 season, finishing with three goals, three assists and 20 penalty minutes. He said older teammates such as Joe Murphy, Travis Richards and Jeff Ulmer took him under their wing and helped him learn how to be a professional.
Even Kelly’s coach with the Griffins that year, Bruce Cassidy, now is an assistant for Providence and has been helping Boston during its postseason run.
"The organization was great. Top notch," Kelly said. "That obviously shows in the amount of good NHL players they shell out. I can’t say enough good things about how well I was treated there. It was first class all the way."
That was the final year of the Griffins’ affiliation with the NHL’s Ottawa Senators. In 2002-03, the Griffins became the minor-league affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings and Kelly joined Binghamton.
He made his NHL debut with Ottawa on Feb. 5, 2004, and went on to score 75 goals in 463 games with the Senators.
Kelly even got a shot at the Stanley Cup in his second year in the NHL, but Ottawa lost in five games to the Anaheim Ducks in 2007.
"I think I didn’t truly experience it and enjoy every part of it," Kelly said. "I think that’s what I’m trying to do now, share with my teammates that this is a great opportunity and a special time, and truly try to enjoy each moment."
With the Senators mired near the bottom of the standings, it didn’t look as if Kelly would get another shot at the finals this season. But on Feb. 15, Ottawa dealt him to Boston for a second-round draft pick.
It looks like a potential steal for the Bruins. Kelly, who only had two goals and three assists in the final 24 regular-season games, has 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 18 playoff games, good for fifth on the team in postseason scoring.
"Obviously, getting traded is never easy, especially when it’s your first time. I think it made things a lot easier when I found out it was the Bruins," Kelly said. "Obviously, this is the ultimate goal, to get to the finals when you get traded to a new team, but that was like a far-off dream."
Kelly said Boston knows it will face a stiff test against Vancouver, the NHL’s top team throughout this season. But he wouldn’t go so far as to label the Bruins underdogs.
"We’re a confident group. We know we have a good team," he said. "We also know Vancouver is a good team as well, they’ve played extremely well all year long. I think we’ll try to come out and play hard for Game 1, and see where we lie after that."
If Kelly and the Bruins do knock off the Canucks, it will mark the fourth consecutive year a former Griffin has added his name to the Stanley Cup, and the sixth time in the past seven seasons.
Kelly’s teammate on the Griffins in ’01-02, Dmitry Afanasenkov, was one of the first, along with Darren Rumble in 2004 with Tampa Bay.
Kelly acknowledged he has thought about how different his life would be if he had remained with the Griffins and maybe played for the Red Wings one day.
But that little bit of daydreaming doesn’t mean he wants to trade out of his current situation. Far from it, in fact.
"You never know what could have happened if I played for the Red Wings," Kelly said with a laugh. "But you won’t hear me complain about the situation I’ve been dealt."
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