BostonBruins.com - Torey Krug used to frequent "The Joe."
Growing up in Livonia, Michigan, about a half hour outside Detroit, the Red Wings were his childhood team.
When he was six, the Wings won the 1997 Stanley Cup. A year later, he witnessed another. In 2002, at just 11-years-old, he watched the Winged Wheel hoist the third Cup of his childhood, with a 23-year-old Pavel Datsyuk on the squad.
"I grew up when the Red Wings were winning a lot of Stanley Cups, and got to see a lot of great players," he has said, and highlights Nicklas Lidstrom as a player he naturally looked to growing up.
When the Bruins made a visit to Joe Louis Arena to face the Red Wings in September, during the preseason, and Krug looked on as the Zamboni made its rounds, it marked his first time on the opposing side.
He had played plenty of college hockey games there, as a member - and eventually, captain - of the Michigan State Spartans, and had suited up as a minor hockey player there. But this was different.
Since 2012, Krug's allegiances have only been in Black & Gold. When he became a Boston Bruin, he started on a swift journey that would eventually lead him to his second NHL postseason, and a first-round matchup against Detroit.
"We're very confident," he said from his locker stall at the Bruins’ practice rink, fresh off a long skate in preparation for Friday’s puck drop. "We're excited for a challenge like this. To win the Stanley Cup, you've got to go through the best teams and we feel that Detroit is a great opponent. Moving forward, I think we're just going to stick to our guns and make sure we focus on ourselves."
Facing a hometown team could add distractions for a player, but Krug has taken hold of the approach that he and his teammates will be focusing on themselves, and nothing else.
"My family's done a great job of letting me remain focused," he said. "You want to come into playoff hockey and just concentrate on your team and nothing on the outside, so that's been great."
"But at the same time, you play the Detroit Red Wings in the playoffs, you grow up going to games, see the octopus come down from the ceiling, people are throwing octopuses on the ice and you know, it's a lot of fun, it's a cool atmosphere, nice tradition."
"And at the same time, I'm on the other side, and I'm looking forward to ending that."
Krug never did sneak an octopus into The Joe as a kid, but he's hoping that the fans don't even have a reason to throw any onto the ice in the first place.
"We've got to respect them, they're a great team, really deep and they have a lot of dangerous players," said Krug. "But we've got to play with that swagger, that confidence. That's what makes our team special, is when we rise up to the occasion and we use that confidence to our advantage."
The coming-out-party for the 5-foot-9 defenseman and that confident, "ice in his veins" mindset happened during the second round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when he powered in four goals in his first five NHL postseason games. "Kruuuuuuuuuug" chants rained down from the TD Garden crowd, and a fanbase took notice.
His offensive flair is what first caught their eyes.
Krug lights up when thinking about playing with speed, and space. It’s the part of his game in his arsenal, that he keeps locked and loaded.
Detroit's style could play into Krug's favor. Because of the Wings’ speed, the Bruins will look to dictate the pace by slowing them down through neutral ice, deploying strong breakouts, and forechecking hard in their zone. When Krug sees an opening, he can help create odd-man rushes.
"They're a team that has a lot of skill and a lot of speed, and you know, I like to play that game, so I think there's going to be times when we can take advantage of that," said Krug. "It's just going to be a fun style of hockey."
Krug is coming off of his first full NHL season in 2013-14. Through 79 games, he put up 14 goals and 26 assists for 40 points, with a plus-18 rating, averaging 17:30 in ice time per game. He finished in the top 25 of all NHL defensemen, fourth among all "rookies," (writer’s note: “rookies” is in quotes here, since you’ll never find Captain Zdeno Chara labeling a first year player with the moniker), and tops in scoring among first year blueliners.
His 19 power-play points (six goals, 13 assists) led the way among “rookies.”
But the offensive poise has always been there for Krug; it's the defensive side of his game, and learning to safely weigh the risk-reward part of his play, where he has made significant strides this season.
"He was very good for us last year in the playoffs and there were a few growing pains there along the way, but I think he was way more of a help than anything else and we really liked his game," said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien, reflecting on the young blueliner jumping into the 2013 playoffs last May. Because of injuries, Krug got the call for his first NHL playoff game after just three regular season games of experience.
"This year, he’s going in there with a little more experience. So whatever might have been a bit of a challenge for him, you hope he’s going to be coming in even better,” said Julien.
"He has an opportunity to play back in his hometown as well, and I’m sure he will be motivated from that."
While Mom and Dad have had the Wings jerseys packed away for a while ("Yeah, no worries about that," smiled Krug), he will likely be in the spotlight, with friends, former teammates, coaches and both fan bases dialed in.
“I've had a lot of people say, 'good luck to you, but hope the Wings win' and that's alright, I throw that out the window,” laughed Krug.
"It's just nice to be able to play in front of friends and family - I've got a lot of great people coming, but they're letting me focus on my game, and hockey, and not worrying about what's going on outside."
Krug was once just a young hockey player in Michigan, with dreams of playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. People would tell him that he was too small, that he wasn't going to be able to make it, that he won’t last. But there was never a doubt in his mind.
"It’s been a whirlwind," said Krug, fresh off turning 23 on April 12. "I wish that I was 23 and had a Stanley Cup already from last year. But it’s those experiences that make you stronger as a person.”
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