Once, Kings defensemen Matt Greene and Rob Scuderi and Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller were just like the young hockey players they skated with Thursday night in El Segundo.
Well, maybe not Greene.
“These guys are good. A lot better than we were,” Greene said while the Junior Kings peewee double-A2 team went through drills. “I don’t know about Millsie. He was pretty good when he was younger.”
Miller, who is married to actress Noureen DeWulf and spends his summers in California, and the two Kings made good use of their time during the lockout by going on the ice for about an hour to offer advice and hockey tips to kids on each of the three rinks. Being locked out meant they couldn’t wear their respective team’s uniforms, so Greene and Scuderi wore black warmup jackets and pants and Miller wore a gray hoodie and his Sabres glove.
The NHL Players’ Assn. has helped arrange visits by NHL players to kids’ hockey teams around North America, and Thursday’s session in El Segundo was a good experience for both sides.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity for the the Junior Kings players to have exposure to these guys and it certainly adds to the energy and enthusiasm at the rink,” said Kelly Sorensen, executive director of the Junior Kings.
“Although these guys practice at this facility day in and day out, it’s not too often that we get a chance to have them come out on the ice and share their experiences and their skill sets with our kids. Our membership base is over 500 kids now and hopefully over the next couple of weeks we can get these guys coming out on the ice with as many teams to help out.”
The players enjoyed it as much as the kids did, patiently helping the future NHLers improve their skating, shots or puck-stopping skills.
“It’s fun. It kind of sends you back a bit,” Miller said. “It’s always good to get out there with the kids. It reminds you of why you play, for sure.”
Scuderi said he felt the same nostalgia.
“I think we all come from pretty humble backgrounds and it’s fun to get back to when you were a kid and it was fun to go to practice and you couldn’t wait to go,” he said. “We get to connect to that every time we’re on the ice with the kids.”
The three are part of a group that has been skating three times a week and working out together nearly every day. Greene listed the other regulars as Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, Kyle Clifford, Trevor Lewis, Jarret Stoll and Brad Richardson of the Kings, as well as former King and Duck George Parros. Greene said other players have been in and out of town, such as Dwight King and Kevin Westgarth.
Greene said they’re all following the labor talks closely and that the union remains “very solid,” even though many players have gone overseas to play during the lockout.
“I don’t think guys going over to Europe affects anything. Guys want to play,” Greene said. “For some guys, they’ve been off since April. It’s what you do.
“It’s not like guys are going over there for the money right now. It’s guys just going over there to play. That’s what they want to do. They’re ready to play and want to stay in shape and when we settle things, I’m sure they’ll be coming back.”
He said he doesn’t expect to go to Europe himself. Nor does Scuderi.
“I don’t picture myself becoming a skill player if I go over to Europe,” said Scuderi, a superb shot-blocker and solidly conservative defenseman. “And with three young kids and family here I don’t think it would be a big option for me until maybe much later. And I think at that point all of the good jobs would probably be gone anyway.
“I don’t think it’s for me, personally, but other guys, if they want to go, I understand why they want to go.”
He also said he and the others in his practice group have managed to stay motivated to work hard despite the uncertainty over when the lockout will end.
“We enjoy the game,” he said. “We’d much rather be playing NHL hockey but I still enjoy the game. We enjoy getting together and playing, whether it’s just a practice or a quick game. I think that’s what keeps our spirits up and we try to stay optimistic about the situation.”