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Tampa Bay Lightning's Teddy Purcell reaches new heights

Teddy Purcell, who has five goals in the series, celebrates one in the second that puts the Lightning ahead 3-2. He also scores 36 seconds into the game.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Teddy Purcell, who has five goals in the series, celebrates one in the second that puts the Lightning ahead 3-2. He also scores 36 seconds into the game.

TAMPA

The growth marks on the wall began low, but the boy always dreamed large.

Even when he began high school back home in Newfoundland at 114 pounds. Even when he went undrafted the first time. And the second. And the third, too.

It took a long time for the marks on the wall to grow to the size of a man. And it took even longer for the hockey world to seem to notice.

Today, the growth chart is complete.

And Teddy Purcell seems larger than Tampa Bay itself.

The skinny, little kid that no one wanted has finally caught the attention of the entire NHL with a burst of scoring in the Eastern Conference final, including two more goals in the Lightning's 5-4 victory against the Bruins on Wednesday night.

"I was such a late bloomer. I always dreamt of playing in the NHL, but I really didn't think I ever would," Purcell said after Game 6. "It seems like yesterday I was living at my parents' house playing street hockey every day after school.

"Hopefully, those memories stay with me a long time."

Purcell has five goals in six games against the Bruins, but that doesn't come close to telling the story of his impact.

It was Purcell who rescued the Lightning at home in Game 4 when he cut a 3-0 deficit to 3-2 with goals just 63 seconds apart.

With the Lightning facing elimination in Game 6 on Wednesday, Purcell showed up again with two goals, including the go-ahead score in the second.

"Teddy is certainly one of those guys who's learned a lot this year," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "He's put a lot of effort into it. It's not something that's just happened. He's worked really hard at it."

This is not the story of a grade school prospect with scouts parking their fancy rentals in the family driveway. And this is not the story of a kid waiting around the phone waiting for an NHL team to call on draft day.

Purcell, 25, is the same age as Boston's Patrice Bergeron but has about 100 fewer NHL goals. He attracted almost no attention in high school and very little when he moved to Iowa to play in the United States Hockey League.

The University of Maine showed some interest but not enough to offer him a full ride when he was first eligible. They told him to grow a little in juniors. So he played a year in the Saskatchewan league and two more in the USHL.

By the time Maine came through with an offer, he was already 21 years old.

"His freshman year was my senior year, and the running joke is that he actually committed to Maine before I did," said Lightning defenseman Mike Lundin. "They wanted him to improve and put on a little more size. They said they didn't have room or scholarships or whatever, so they kept telling him to go back to juniors."

To hear Purcell tell it, the problem wasn't just that he wasn't big enough. He also wasn't quick enough. And wasn't tough enough either.

By the time he reached Maine, Purcell had grown to slightly over 6 feet, but the NHL still seemed like the longest of long shots.

"When I got the scholarship, I was thinking, 'I can help my parents. I can get a free education and have a good American degree to fall back on,' " Purcell said. "I figured after four years, who knows, I may get an NHL tryout and see where it takes me."

It didn't take that long. Purcell lit up the net as a freshman and, suddenly, he had multiple NHL teams offering him a free agent deal because he was no longer draft-eligible.

He eventually chose the Kings, figuring it was the quickest path up the depth chart.

Purcell had eight goals in 91 games during parts of three seasons in Los Angeles, and the Kings eventually lost patience with him.

Even in Tampa Bay, it took Purcell time to understand the rigors of the NHL. He was up and down for much of this season before finally graduating to play on Tampa Bay's top two lines.

"He's been through a lot. We sat him one time in the stands. After that, he had a tendency to understand faster," Boucher said. "I always knew he had the skill, and I always knew he was a really good payer. I don't think he knew how good he was."

There has never been much reason to recall former GM Brian Lawton with anything but dread. His time in Tampa Bay was mostly chaotic and almost entirely depressing.

For once, however, he is owed a bit of thanks.

The trade for Purcell looks brilliant today.

Lawton dealt an aging Jeff Halpern to the Kings for Purcell and a third-round pick. The pick was used to select Brock Beukeboom, and Steve Yzerman would later deal him and a third-round pick to bring Eric Brewer to Tampa Bay.

Halpern, by the way, never scored a goal for the Kings before leaving as a free agent.

That trade, like Purcell, is growing larger every day.

Tampa Bay Lightning's Teddy Purcell reaches new heights 05/25/11 [Last modified: Friday, May 27, 2011 6:36pm]
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