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Bolton's Hainsey Finally Gets A Shot At Stanley Cup

This is how Ron Hainsey's NHL record for most regular-season games played without a playoff appearance really started.

"We used to bring Ronnie to Whalers games in his pajamas from baby on," Hainsey's mom Kerry said Friday.

Kerry's parents were Whalers season ticketholders. Later, she and her husband Marty bought their own. Marty was an Ulf Samuelsson fan. Kerry was a Ron Francis fan, although she admits, "I personally loved the New York Rangers' Ron Duguay.

"Anyway, we'd bring Ronnie home to Bolton and he'd slide around the kitchen playing hockey. He'd sing 'The Star Spangled Banner.'"

Unlike Nashville Predators captain Mike Fisher's wife, Carrie Underwood, earlier in the playoffs, Hainsey won't be making any surprise appearances to sing the national anthem if the Stanley Cup Finals return to Pittsburgh.

Hainsey has more pressing matters. The Penguins defenseman, who played 907 NHL games before finally, mercifully appearing in the postseason this spring, suddenly is two victories away from having his name engraved on the Stanley Cup.

That's right. The kid who began skating at Bolton Ice Palace at age 3 after a flier came in the mail and Marty said, "Well, he seems to like hockey," is two wins away from reaping the greatest reward for his resilience.

"I would have loved to have played 100 playoff games and have three Stanley Cups by now, but it's just not how it's worked out for me," Hainsey, 36, said on media day before the start of the series.

He said he ordinarily is playing golf and playing with three kids this time of year.

"Those are pretty much my only two activities at this point," he said.

Not this June.

Drafted in the first round by Montreal in 2000, Hainsey played mostly for the Canadiens' AHL affiliates for four years, getting to the Calder Cup finals with Hamilton in 2003. He did have that one taste of late-spring hockey. He played with Montreal in 2004, but didn't get into any playoff games.

Hainsey was claimed off waivers by Columbus in 2005 and it was with the Blue Jackets that he established himself as a full-time NHL player. In 2008, Hainsey cashed in on the hard work within a five-year, $22-million free-agent deal with Atlanta — a deal that Kerry said, "Totally shocked me." He moved with the franchise to Winnipeg before signing a one-year deal with Carolina in 2013 and followed with a three-year, $8.5 million contract extension with the Hurricanes in 2014.

Lots of teams, lots of transactions and no playoff games until the first round this spring against Columbus.

Francis, now Hurricanes general manager, traded Hainsey to Pittsburgh on Feb. 23 for a second-round pick and Danny Kristo. Or you can look at it this way, in need of defensive help because of a number of injuries, Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford, formerly Whalers/Hurricanes GM, acquired Hainsey in the final year of his contract.

Either way, it took some Hartford hockey history to break the longest NHL streak of individual frustration.

"A lot of connections there," Kerry said. "Ronnie felt bad when he had to leave Carolina, but it turned into this great opportunity with Pittsburgh."

Hainsey's last game with the Hurricanes was against the Penguins and his first after arriving in Pittsburgh was the outdoor game against the Flyers at Heinz Field.

"He has a house down the street from me in Bolton and he had a car there," Kerry said. "He asked us to bring the car to Pittsburgh. It was a good excuse to go to that game. It was like something I'd never seen before. And the Penguins organization, you could immediately tell is something special."

The Penguins have the chance to become the first team to win back-to-back Stanley Cups in the salary-cap era. They also have done this without their best defenseman, injured Kris Letang. Hainsey is averaging 21:04 ice time in the playoffs, second on the Penguins defense.

This all has got to be pretty cool for mom.

"It really is," Kerry said. "In the past, I always felt a little bad he didn't make the playoffs, but to be honest, when we watch the playoffs, those games are rough. Way rougher than I expected and sometimes I'd say 'thank goodness.' He's older now. He seems to know how to avoid the big hits better than when he was younger.

"He has a family of his own now, two girls and a little boy. He is so proud to be doing this for them. His older daughter [Alexa] has gone there a few times [from Carolina]. The twins [Jaxon and Melana] are only 3, so that's harder. He's excited. He's constantly on FaceTime. The kids are all dressed in Penguins garb. When he was traded they sent them baskets full of stuff."

Hainsey played for ECHO in Bolton until he was 8. His parents could see his talent. They signed him up with the late Gary Dineen's Springfield Pics program in Enfield. Hainsey played there for several years.

"He went to Gary's camp every summer, too," Kerry said. "Bill Guerin was one of Ronnie's camp counselors."

Guerin, a former Pics player and first-round pick, went on to an outstanding NHL career and became friends with Hainsey. Guerin is assistant Penguins GM under Rutherford.

"I liked his fit for our dressing room because he's got a good personality," Guerin told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette after the February trade. "He's a funny guy. He's got a little grit to his personality. He's not quiet."

In 1997, Hainsey played for Dineen's junior team known as the Junior Whalers. That's the year the NHL Whalers left for Carolina. That's the year Hainsey left for Ann Arbor to play two seasons for the U.S. national team program. He went on to play two years at UMass-Lowell. After his freshman year, he was drafted 13th overall by the Canadiens.

"Montreal came to our house before the draft," Kerry said. "They brought a doctor, sat and talked. I was kind of surprised he went in the first round, but not surprised it was Montreal."

From Bob Gainey to Don Waddell to Ron Francis, Kerry said she has nothing bad to say about the team decision-makers on her son's long, trying path that has brought him to the cusp of the Stanley Cup.

She was not at the first two games at Pittsburgh, nor is she in Nashville for the Games 3 and 4. Marty, daughter Katie and her husband Gui have been on the road supporting Hainsey.

"I've got to work," she said.

Kerry's parents once owned a larger construction company and her mom Helen Churchill opened a side company West Reach Construction in 1987. Kerry took over ownership. She has 20 employees. And if you're wondering, yes, Ron worked some construction in his youth.

"If [the series] goes back to Pittsburgh, I'm going to go to that game," Kerry said. "I've watched the games mostly by myself. I've lived in the same house for 60 years and I've never had so many people texting, calling and pulling for Ronnie. The whole town of Bolton, all our friends and family, I watch the game and keep looking at the texts."

"My husband is way calmer than me. That Washington series and the [double-overtime] seventh game with Ottawa, they almost killed me."

Hainsey is a Yankee fan. He loves to golf (late note to Travelers Championship for Celebrity Pro-Am). He has places in New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Bolton and Kerry said he spends time at each during the offseason. Hainsey has known teammate Nick Bonino, from Farmington, for some time. They have worked out together at Pete Asadourian pro summer camp.

Penguins fans who reaped the benefit of one of the most lopsided trades in NHL history and even Whalers fans still angry Francis and Samuelsson got traded in 1991 will get a kick out of this 2002 quote from Hainsey bemoaning the downward spiral of his childhood team.

"After [Francis and Samuelsson] got traded and John Cullen started jumping around and diving on the ice and Zarley Zalapskiwas doing whatever the heck he was doing, well. ... Then they took away Brass Bonanza and changed the uniforms."

Sounds like the lyrics of a song. He deserves to win the Stanley Cup for that quote alone.

"I know what player I want to be at the pro level," Hainsey told The Courant before he was drafted in 2000. "I don't know what player I'll turn out to be. If I can have a 15-year career in the NHL, I'll be happy."

So he's happy. He also is two wins away from ecstatic.

"To tell you the truth," Kerry Hainsey said, "I'm kind of in shock."

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