By Cleeve Dheensaw, Times Colonist (May 6, 2013) - When your resumé includes the Junior B Saanich Braves — as Matt Irwin's and Adam Cracknell's both do — you know you've arrived as Stanley Cup playoff rookies the hard way.
But the Island players have earned strong reviews for their roles in the 2013 post-season with the San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues, respectively.
Irwin's play might be eliciting conflicting emotions among his buddies back home as the Sharks look to sweep the home-province Vancouver Canucks in the opening round.
"It's been a tough decision among my friends who to cheer for — because like me, they grew up cheering for the Canucks — but I hope I've converted a few Canucks fans to Sharks fans," quipped Brentwood Bay's Irwin.
The Sharks are full value for their 3-0 lead heading into tonight's Game 4 in the Shark Tank.
"We've managed to put together a solid 60 minutes in each of the games so far and we have to stick to our game plan," said San Jose rookie blueliner Irwin, who has an assist in the three games.
"We're confident going into Game 4. But we know we're going to be facing a desperate hockey team that is just going one game at a time and simply wants to return home for Game 5. We know we're going to see Vancouver's best effort. Our goal is to take advantage of our home ice and make sure they don't get back to theirs."
Irwin's short but sharp breakout passes have been key in breaking down the Canucks' defence.
"The first pass out of the zone has always been one of my strengths . . . and on the power play I carry the puck up ice and find the open man," said the six-foot-one, 25-year-old former Nanaimo Clippers junior.
Cracknell's line, which includes Chris Porter and Ryan Reaves, has even been given the greatest honour that can be bestowed upon a line in hockey — a nickname. The Blues' fourth unit has become known as the CPR Line because of the energy it brings as St. Louis tries to knock off the defending Stanley Cup-champion Los Angeles Kings.
This is heady territory for the six-foot-one Juan de Fuca product, who last played in Victoria in 2006-07 and 2007-08 against his hometown Salmon Kings as a member of the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL, and whose previous greatest playoff feat was in scoring 22 points in leading the Wranglers to the Kelly Cup final in 2008.
While Irwin was undrafted, Cracknell was taken in the ninth round of the 2004 draft by the Calgary Flames.
Yet, after registering 42 goals and 93 points for the Kootenay Ice of the WHL in 2005-06, Cracknell's journey to the 2013 Stanley Cup has been anything but a straight line. After his two seasons in the ECHL with Las Vegas, the 27-year-old has spent most of his time in the AHL with the Quad City Flames and Peoria Rivermen, managing 46 regular-season NHL games with the Blues, 20 of them this season as a call-up with two goals and six points.
And now add to that Cracknell's first NHL playoff games and the instant notoriety of being part of the CPR Line, although he was a healthy scratch for the Blues in Game 4 on Monday night in L.A.
"We're very grateful of what we had to go through to be here," Cracknell recently told reporter Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
"Sitting on the bus in Peoria, you don't think you're going to be playing against the defending Stanley Cup champions. We'll never forget what it took to get here, but we have to live in the moment right now. ... That's why we're here."
Also in the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs, veteran defenceman Ryan O'Byrne of Victoria has dressed in two playoff games for the Toronto Maple Leafs, while Minnesota Wild blueliner Clayton Stoner of Port McNeill was injured in the first game against the Chicago Blackhawks and has yet to return.
Veteran rearguard Willie Mitchell of Port McNeill has missed the entire season due to a knee issue after memorably hoisting the Stanley Cup last year with the Kings and later in the summer bringing it to the Island to a rapturous reception.