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Rob Scuderi's hockey roots grew on LI

A family photograph shows brothers Kenny, left, and

A family photograph shows brothers Kenny, left, and Rob Scuderi at the Mite level of hockey (ages 7-8). Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

Rob Scuderi's road to the Stanley Cup Finals began improbably on a frozen sump pond on Long Island.

Scuderi, a veteran defenseman for the Los Angeles Kings, doesn't come from a long line of hockey players like many of his NHL brethren. In fact, no one in his family had played the game before his newlywed parents moved to a house in Bethpage that backed up to a large sump. There, his father Bob would watch from the kitchen window as the neighborhood kids played hockey, using an overturned grocery cart as a goal.

"My husband thought if they could do it, he could do it and he started playing with them," Leslie Scuderi, Rob's mother, remembered. "At 30 years old, he got a pair of Canadian Flyers and taught himself how to skate . . . and then one thing led to another."

Where it ultimately has led the family is to Prudential Center this week, where they will all be cheering on Rob, their oldest son, and the Kings as they face the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Though Long Island isn't widely considered a hotbed of hockey talent, it does have six players -- Matt Gilroy (North Bellmore), Ryan Vesce (Lloyd Harbor), Eric Nystrom (Syosset), Chris Higgins (Smithtown), Mike Komisarek (West Islip) and Scuderi -- who were on an NHL roster this season.

Scuderi, 33, is the only one of them to have had his name engraved on the Stanley Cup. He's the only player from Long Island to play on a Stanley Cup-winning team, an honor he earned as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009.

"I am an answer to an interesting trivia question," he said with a laugh earlier this week, "but I don't think you can say that is what drives me."

One thing that drove Scuderi as a young hockey player is the friendly competition he had with his younger brother, Kenny. Bob Scuderi taught both of his sons to skate at an early age, initially using rolled-up newspaper stuffed in their socks as shin guards. They quickly advanced from the sump to the ice rink that used to be in a hangar at Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale.

Kenny, who played college hockey at Clarkson University in upstate Potsdam and professionally in the American Hockey League and East Coast Hockey League, sheepishly admits he was a Devils fan when he was a kid mostly because his brother was such a hard-core Islanders fan. Rob's favorite player was Islanders defenseman Denis Potvin. And Kenny's was the Devils' Scott Stevens. The one thing they agreed on?

"We all hated the Rangers," Kenny said.

Bob, a retired Nassau County patrolman, and Leslie, a retired chemistry teacher at Bethpage High School, said they never tried to force hockey on their kids. The closest they ever came was early in their youth hockey careers when Rob decided that he didn't want to play anymore.

"We're standing at the rink at Mitchel Field and Rob said he was going to quit," Leslie recalled. "I told him that was fine but he had to sit here with me while his brother skated. When Kenny got off the rink, he got a big soda because he was thirsty. Robbie didn't, because I didn't think he would be thirsty. That was it. Robbie was back on the ice."

When Rob started gaining a lot of notice as a teenager, his father said he felt a lot of pressure to get him "off the island" and send him to prep school, where he had a better chance of preparing for a big-time hockey career.

Instead, Rob attended St. Anthony's in Huntington and played with New York Apple Core, the new Atlantic Beach-based junior team. Apple Core won a national "Junior B" title with Scuderi in 1996, and Scuderi was offered a scholarship to Boston College. Despite being drafted by the Penguins in the fifth round of the 1998 draft, he stayed four years at Boston College and won a national championship in 2001.

Scuderi, who signed a free-agent contract with the Kings three years ago, knows how lucky he is to have won championships on every level he has played on. One thing that he finds so exciting about the season the Kings are having is that it reminds him a lot of the Penguins when they won it all in 2009.

Both teams are loaded with young talent and led by a handful of veteran players. Both teams went through coaching changes in the regular season and started coming together at the end of the season.

"When we got to the last 20 games, I could really feel something starting to happen here," Scuderi said. "It's similar to the feeling we had in Pittsburgh."

Scuderi, who has played in all 15 playoff games for the Kings and averages 21 minutes of ice time and a plus-8 rating, said that hockey players generally aren't the type to sit down and have "heart-to-heart" talks, and he generally tries to lead by example. He has, however, talked to his teammates about what it is like to play in a series of this magnitude.

"I think it's all about striking a balance," Scuderi said. "You're excited to play. It's the Stanley Cup Finals. But you also realize that it's a real hockey game to be played, and we just can't run out like a bunch of chickens with our heads cut off. It's a big spectacle, but I don't think it's very hard to get zeroed in on what you want to do and how you want to play."

Scuderi had his own private cheering section at Prudential Center for the opener Wednesday night, including his wife, Courtney, his brother, sisters and other friends and family. It will be a far cry from watching him skate on the sump back behind the house, but Bob Scuderi said it's not really all that different.

"Hockey for us was always about the family, about having fun," Bob said. "I'm proud of what he's done as a hockey player, but to tell you the truth, he has three children now and I'm more proud of what he's done as a father. For us, it's about family."

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