It’s the college alums vs. the college crowd.
The defending champions vs. the 16th seed. The Steel City vs. Smashville.
A compelling Stanley Cup Final matchup is filled with storylines for the NCAA fan, as Pittsburgh and Nashville prepare to open their best-of-seven series Monday in Pittsburgh.
The Penguins boast the most former college players of any team in NHL history, with 16 appearing in the playoffs. The Predators counter with only four alums in the lineup, but an environment that resembles an on-campus arena and a former college captain as general manager.
Each team boasts a 2009 NCAA champion, as Pittsburgh’s Nick Bonino faces former Boston University teammate Colin Wilson of Nashville. Former Wisconsin teammates Justin Schultz and Craig Smith will also face each other.
Massachusetts will have a former player’s name on the Stanley Cup for the fourth time in six years, as Conor Sheary and Matt Irwin represent the Minutemen.
UMass Lowell has the most alumni in the final, with Ron Hainsey, Chad Ruhwedel and Scott Wilson all on the Penguins. The River Hawks could join Boston College (2009 Penguins), Minnesota (1995 Devils) and North Dakota (1999 Stars) as the only schools to have three former players win the Cup as players in the same season.
The head coaches of both teams played college hockey, with Mike Sullivan (Boston University) facing Peter Laviolette (Westfield State). It marks just the second time that two NCAA alumni have matched up behind the bench in the Stanley Cup Final – Laviolette won the first, in 2006, against Craig MacTavish (Lowell).
Both front offices are heavily influenced by college hockey. The Penguins’ former associate general manager – now the general manager in Buffalo – is former Michigan star Jason Botterill, while the Pens’ assistant general manager is Bill Guerin (Boston College). The team’s scouting staff is led on the amateur side by Randy Sexton (St. Lawrence).
Longtime NHL general manager David Poile, a former captain at Northeastern, heads to his first Stanley Cup Final with the Predators. His staff includes assistant general manager Paul Fenton (Boston University), director of hockey operations Brian Poile (Boston College) and chief amateur scout Jeff Kealty (Boston University).