HAMDEN - Loyalties are often divided in a community described by its own mayor as a strong hockey town.
But as the Stanley Cup Final plays out this week, Hamden is turning its collective attention to the West Coast. One of its own is wearing a Los Angeles Kings uniform, turning an entire town into fans of a franchise bidding to win its first title in history.
"Yes, we have a ton of Los Angeles Kings fans now," Hamden Mayor Scott Jackson said Thursday. "We're really proud."
Jonathan Quick, born in Milford and raised in Hamden, isn't just any player for the Kings. The 26-year-old goaltender has been the driving force behind the team's improbable run through the playoffs, climbing from the eighth and final seed in the Western Conference to the cusp of a title.
Although the Kings lost to the Devils in Game 4 of their championship series Wednesday night, they remain one victory away from the coveted Stanley Cup. And if they complete the task Saturday night in Newark, Quick is among the favorites to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player in the playoffs.
Quick, among the best goaltenders in the NHL, has stopped 475 of 501 shots (.948 save percentage) in winning 15 times in 18 playoff games. He has a 1.39 goals against average, allowing only 26 goals in the playoffs.
He would be just the third American to win the Conn Smythe Trophy, following Brian Leetch of the Rangers in 1994 and Tim Thomas of the Bruins in 2011. Leetch was raised in Cheshire and is among the great athletes produced by the state.
Quick, though, is building an impressive resume.
"This town has produced a lot of great hockey players," said Hamden High assistant coach Todd Hall, who was drafted by the Whalers out of the school in 1991 and later played in the minor leagues. "But to be doing it in the spotlight he's in, it's tremendous. ... He's been absolutely amazing."
Hall starred at Hamden High before playing for Boston College and the University of New Hampshire. His professional career ended in 2001 after playing for the Hartford Wolf Pack, and he immediately joined his high school alma mater as an assistant coach.
One of his first tasks was testing a sophomore goaltender by peppering the youngster with shots. Hall began by going easy on the kid.
"That lasted for like two seconds," Hall said. "[Quick] was so determined to stop the puck."
Eleven years later, Hall sees the same focus and determination. And wherever he goes in Hamden, the conversation is the same.
"It's, 'Kings this, Kings that,' " said Hall, a Hamden firefighter. "This is a great hockey town. People are excited."
On the block where Quick grew up playing street hockey, the allegiance is obvious. There's a Kings banner hanging from one house on Tanglewood Drive, a Kings jersey dangling from a garage door and a good luck sign draped from a window.
A few blocks away, Rainbow Cleaners on Whitney Avenue displays a "GOOD LUCK, JON QUICK LA KINGS" sign in front. The family-run business, where Quick worked as a teenager, is owned by Hamden High hockey coach Bill Verneris.
Verneris played at Hamden and was a longtime assistant coach before taking over the program in 2001. He coached Quick as a freshman on the junior varsity team and his first win as a varsity head coach was with Quick in goal.
"We're definitely proud of him," Verneris said. "It's the talk of the town. Doesn't matter where you go, he's on TV. It's like any hometown hero. And this is a great hockey town. There's so much history here."
Hamden High has won 17 CIAC titles and has a long history as one of the best programs in the state. The town produced Bob McVey, a member of the 1960 U.S. Olympic gold medal team, and a stream of college players has passed through the town's youth hockey program.
Jackson, elected mayor in 2009, played football at Hamden High. He is quick to boast about the town's many virtues and its athletic residents, from former UConn and NBA player Scott Burrell to light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson.