Lee Stempniak has his hands full this summer and it has nothing to do with adjusting to his new team the Rangers or anything else hockey-related for that matter.
The raising of infant twins will most definitely capture one's attention and fill up one's days, and that is the case for Stempniak and his wife this summer. But that doesn't mean the newest addition to the Blueshirts' roster isn't looking ahead to the fall with excitement at the prospect of playing for the Rangers at Madison Square Garden in 2014-15.
"I have always liked playing at MSG because it always feel like a special event," shared the 31 year-old Stempniak in an exclusive interview with BlueshirtsUnited.com this week from his home in Boston. "For me I have always loved playing in New York, I have a lot of friends from college that live there; and there is just an aura at The Garden--a really cool atmosphere to play the game. So I am really excited to play for the Rangers and to now call The Garden home."
New York will be the sixth stop in Stempniak's 10-year NHL career -- one that began in St. Louis in 2005-06 and continued through last season when he split 2013-14 playing for Calgary and Pittsburgh. In between Stempniak also played with Phoenix and Toronto.
In each of the cities he has played, Stempniak has proven to be a reliable two-way forward that can play up and down the lineup -- from the first line in Pittsburgh alongside Sidney Crosby last spring to second and third-line duty over the years, as well. It is part of the reason why he should be a good fit with the Rangers, along with the fact that his strength is as a skater -- exactly the type of player that fits best in Alain Vigneault's preferred style of play.
"The style of play they play is well-suited to my game, and I think I can contribute, come in and help the team win games," stated Stempniak, who combined for 12 goals and 34 points last season. "I think this is a really good opportunity for me. I feel like this is a good fit for me. For me I try and skate and use my speed, get in on the forecheck, attack off the rush--speed is key to my game. But I also play hard, have a strong work ethic, and look to play a 200-foot game. That should fit in with this team's style, I hope."
Of course Stempniak got a real good look at that Rangers style of play last spring when over the course of two weeks he and the Pittsburgh Penguins squared off with the Blueshirts in an intense seven-game second-round playoff series in which the Rangers rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to oust the heavily-favored Pens and move on to the Eastern Conference Final.
"The thing that stands out to me from that series--as well as their great run last spring--is just how resilient the Rangers are," said Stempniak, who scored one goal in that series. "That and the fact that Henrik Lundqvist is one of the best, if not THE best, goaltenders in the world. Boy was he dialed in during Game Seven. They also have great depth, got contributions from everyone. I'm looking forward to joining them."
Stempniak will not be a complete stranger when he first walks into the team's dressing room later this summer. He was a teammate of Dominic Moore's in Toronto and Matthew Lombardi's in Phoenix (where Ulf Samuelsson was also an assistant coach). And Stempniak has twice been a teammate previously with Tanner Glass--first at Dartmouth College, where Stempniak was the team captain and two years ahead of Glass, and then with the Penguins last spring.
"(Tanner and I) are really good friends, so it's a really nice coincidence that we both ended up here this summer," offered Stempniak. "He's a great guy, a really great teammate. You're not going to find anyone who has played with him that hasn't liked him. Lombardi and I actually played together on the same line for a while in Phoenix...and I know Dominic Moore really well, first from off-seasons in Boston since college and then we played together in Toronto. It'll be nice to know a few guys going in."
Before he gets to reunite with his friends in New York--not to mention begin his Rangers tenure--Stempniak will continue to work out in Boston and devote his energies to spending as much time as possible with the twins.
Then come late August, early September, it'll be time to become a Ranger.
"There's definitely something a little different about playing for an Original Six franchise, and I think it's something as a player where you get caught up in all of that," stated Stempniak. "It was a great experience to play in Toronto..it's something I'll never forget. Now it'll be real cool to be part of the Rangers history."