BOSTON -- When Nathan Horton came to the Bruins from Florida back in June of 2010, he instantly became known for this ear-to-ear smile that seemed to be on his face 24/7.
Fast forward through this 82 game regular season, three playoff series, while now being on route to the Stanley Cup Finals -- and a possible Conn Smythe nominee -- the 25-year-old is still grinning, still having fun.
"It's been really a lot of fun to play here, being in front of these fans in this situation," Horton said this morning after practice at the TD Garden. "Not only going to Stanley Cup Finals, but the whole year has been unbelievable.
"When you you do think of growing up and being a hockey player, this is how you want to think about it. It doesn't getting any better than this."
Horton has been a huge addition since donning a spoked-B, particularly this post season -- his first-ever post season. Never really ever coming close to the playoffs after five NHL seasons with the Panthers, Horton feels just as fortunate today to be a Boston Bruin as he did since being acquired on June 22, 2010.
"It's been a change from what I was used to. It's a hockey market and it's exciting," he said. "I haven't been through it so I always knew I had more in me.
"Always keep with it and stick with it. When you're involved in such a good situation like I am with a great teammates that we have, its exciting to be in this spot with them."
Scrutiny has surrounded Horton for several years. Beginning in Florida, he was known to be a streaky player, followed by questions of his heart, efforts, and desire to play -- or lack thereof. Many people threw caution into the wind when the Bruins shipped their lump sum of assets to the Sunbelt for Horton.
Horton used the negativity not as a distraction, but as motivation to prove what he can do.
"I think it would motivate anyone. A lot of things were said," Horton recalled. "Just coming in to the year I wanted to prove people wrong and really show what I can do. There's been some tough times. It's not easy all the time, but if anything, you keep working through it and know in the end its gonna pay off -- your hard work."
Horton has not only proved his worth for the Bruins team and organization, but the hype that surrounded him before entering the league. Standing a hulking 6-foot-2, Horton was selected third overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. And now he's being able to showcase his talents and skills on the biggest of stages.
So far through 18 playoff games this year, Horton is nearly a point-per-game player; his 17 points (8 goals) is tied for first on the squad. Of those eight goals, his three game-winners -- double-overtime winner in Game 5 against Montreal, Game 7 OT series clincher versus the Habs, and most recently Game 7's one-and-only goal against Tampa Bay -- will be in the Bruins highlight reels forever.
"It does feel good. You want to contribute as much as you can to your team to help your team win," he said. "It's definitely special to do that and help my team win. There's nothing like scoring in overtime and the game-winner to move on to the next round. It's definitely hard to describe how good of a feeling it is."
Throughout it all -- from 10 points (5 goals) in the first 10 games of the regular season, to posting just one goal in 20 games from Dec. 15, 2010 - Jan. 26, 2011, and now being a possible MVP of the post season -- Horton's heroics have injected some life back into not only the Bruins team and organization, but to the city of Boston and its fans as well. His game-winners have helped make this Stanley Cup showdown with the Vancouver Canucks all possible.
"Hopefully we can win it for ourselves, win it for for fans, and the for history of the Boston Bruins."
If it weren't for goaltender Tim Thomas, as this blogger has mentioned more than once, this Bruins team would be hitting the links by now.
I think it's time we start putting Horton's name in that same sentence as well.