EL SEGUNDO AND LOS ANGELES, CA — Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past four months, you know that the Los Angeles Kings won the 2014 Stanley Cup Championship last June.
The Kings spent this past summer enjoying the fruits of their labor, celebrating their second Stanley Cup win in the last three seasons, and like the rest of his teammates, defenseman Jake Muzzin got to spend a day with hockey’s version of the Holy Grail.
“This summer was an exciting one, that’s for sure,” said the 25-year-old, 6-3, 213-pound native of Woodstock, Ontario. “It was pretty busy. We had a lot going on. The day with the Cup was pretty special.”
“We did a lot,” added Muzzin. “I was a busy man that day. We brought it to both sides of the family, my Mom’s side and my Dad’s side. We had a parade through Woodstock, we had a key to the city ceremony, I signed [autographs for] the public for two-and-a-half hours or so, we had a reunion with the old team I played with in Woodstock, and we had a party that night.”
“It was a busy day, a long day. It was a lot of fun, though.”
Looking back at the Kings’ 2013-14 season, one of the now-distant memories is that Muzzin was often the target of many fans’ scorn because of mistakes, both real and perceived, that he made.
The complaints were pervasive on social media and web sites whereever the Kings were being discussed, so much so that Muzzin essentially became a scapegoat whenever the Kings lost a game. Fans even created a Twitter hash tag for tweets criticizing Muzzin: #MuzzKill.
But as the season progressed, especially after the Olympic break, Muzzin’s game hit a big upswing and until that fateful night in June when he and his teammates hoisted the Stanley Cup, Muzzin never looked back, at least, not until this past week, when he spoke exclusively to Frozen Royalty.
Muzzin knows all too well that he is very, very lucky to be a Stanley Cup Champion so early in his National Hockey League career.
“It’s crazy,” he said about his name being engraved on the Stanley Cup after just two full seasons (his first full season was abbreviated by the 2012-13 lockout) in the NHL. “We had time to reflect this summer and kind of go over what happened, and what’s taken place these last couple of years. I’m very fortunate, lucky and excited for the future.”
As well as the 2013-14 season ended for Muzzin, it did not begin anywhere near as well.
“I remember, early in the season, I was making [mistakes]—you make mistakes when you play later in the season, [too], but [I was making] mistakes, [I wasn’t] feeling confident, [I was a] healthy scratch,” he added. “You go through ups and down, but at the end of the season, being one of the go-to guys and playing heavy minutes? That’s what you want. You want that. It’s what I wanted. I’m pretty fortunate and lucky to be on such a great team with some great players. That helped me as well.”
During the on-ice celebration after the Kings won the 2014 Stanley Cup Championship on June 13, 2014, at Staples Center in Los Angeles, Muzzin also talked about wanting to be a bigger contributor.
“I wanted to play well,” he stressed. “You want to play as well as you can and help the team. A couple of years ago, when I was part of the group [as a Black Ace, young players called up from the minor leagues during the playoffs to observe and learn, rather than play], it felt good. But I wanted to play a bigger role in winning this thing and to think, two years later, it’s here. It’s unbelievable.”
As many young players often do, Muzzin points to added confidence as a big reason for his improvement.
“Confidence is a weird thing,” he noted. “You build it through your play, experiencing highs and lows. It’s not all going to be good. You’re going to gain confidence and experience from making mistakes and being a healthy scratch. It build and it builds.”
But there are other reasons as well.
“It’s not one game [or] one play,” said Muzzin. “It’s just gaining that experience and maturity, feeling comfortable on the ice, and trusting your instincts. Playing with a guy like Drew Doughty always helps. The guy is unbelievable.”
Playing with a generational player like Doughty was a significant factor in Muzzin’s rise last season.
“When [Doughty and I] kind of got rolling, we had a lot of fun and we were just playing pretty good hockey,” Muzzin noted. “We fed off of each other, we fed off the team. We built from there.”
“Going into the playoffs, we were playing some pretty good hockey, and we just continued that through the playoffs, making big plays at big times, wanting to be difference-makers and take advantage of the situation that we had,” Muzzin added. “You may never get an opportunity like that again. A lot of that stuff just came together.”
“You have to trust your teammates. Everyone plays together. You just play solid[ly]. You do your job and everyone does their job and we end up winning hockey games. We ended up winning the Stanley Cup.”
A sign that Muzzin was getting his game rolling was that his physical play picked up significantly after the Olympic break, and perhaps reached its peak during the Western Conference Final against the Chicago Blackhawks, when he delivered a rather unforgettable open-ice hit on Blackhawks forward Marcus Kruger in front of the player benches during Game 5 in Chicago on May 28, 2014 (see video below).
“All those plays build confidence, and I think, for me, when I play physical I’m playing some of my best hockey,” said Muzzin. “It gets me into the game more. That’s what I’ve go to do. I’ve got to be physical. I’ve got to make those plays to be an effective player.”
As quick as his rise was during the latter part of the 2013-14 regular season and the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, culminating in winning the Stanley Cup, Muzzin has remained grounded. He knows all too well that he can’t allow success to get the better of him.
“When things are going good, you can’t get carried away with it,” he emphasized. “Mentally, [you have] to bring yourself down and not ride that high wave that you’re on.”
“What I found with myself, when I was playing well, then, I tried to do too much, and then I’d make mistakes,” he added. “So when things are good, [you have] to keep it simple and play the same way that made things good in the first place. It’s little things like that.”
With that attitude and knowledge, it is probably a safe bet that the #MuzzKill hash tag won’t be seen much on Twitter anymore.
Raw Audio Interview With Jake Muzzin
(6:16; Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
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