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Stepan, Chorney face off in NHL playoffs

New York Rangers center Derek Stepan (21) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the first period in game five of the first round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden. Photo by Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports1 / 2
Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Taylor Chorney (44) checks New York Rangers left wing Carl Hagelin (62) in the corner during the third period in game three of the first round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Photo by Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports2 / 2

Hastings hockey fans were treated to a unique Stanley Cup Playoffs first-round matchup over the past two weeks. The matchup featured two former Hastings residents competing against one another.

Taylor Chorney took the ice for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Derek Stepan suited up for the New York Rangers.

Stepan and the Rangers ended up winning the best-of-seven series, four games to one.

“They were pretty business-like,” said Taylor Chorney’s father Marc. “I asked Taylor and he said they didn’t chat a whole lot until the series was over. They kept it real business-like.”

Chorney is four years older than Stepan and for many years, Stepan followed Chorney’s path.

“Derek has looked up to Taylor for so long,” said Derek’s father Brad Stepan. “Derek really, for the most part, followed Taylor’s footsteps through high school. He really enjoys the competition and playing against Taylor. It was really fun for Derek to compete against him in the playoffs.”

While Chorney was at the University of North Dakota and Stepan was at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the two players met up on the ice one year, but Stepan was a freshman and didn’t get to play much.

“So this was a really special deal for both of those boys,” Brad Stepan said.

Taylor’s route

For the Chorneys, the playoff series was a new experience that came as a reward to Taylor for a long road to professional hockey.

The family moved to Hastings in 1993 when Taylor was about 6 years old. He came up through the system here and eventually decided to play his high school hockey at Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault. He competed collegiately at the University of North Dakota from 2005-2008 and was drafted by the St. Louis Blues with the 36th overall pick in the 2005 draft. He started his professional career in 2008-09 with the Blues’ minor league team in Springfield, Mass., in the American Hockey League. He has gone back and forth between the AHL and the NHL since then. Then, in July, he signed a contract with the Penguins and was called up to the NHL for two games on Dec. 22-23. With just five games left in the regular season, the Penguins called up Chorney, a defenseman, and he fared well, earning himself a spot on the team’s playoff roster. During those last five regular season games and the five playoff games he competed in, he wasn’t on the ice for a goal against his team.

Chorney’s parents Marc and Lynn were able to travel to New York City to see a game last week at Madison Square Garden. They then traveled to Pittsburgh to see another game.

“That was quite a thrill, being at Madison Square Garden to see him,” Marc Chorney said. That crowd – they’re so vocal. It was a lot of fun watching him play and fun to see him do well. Unfortunately, they lost – they just had trouble scoring goals.”

Marc Chorney was a professional hockey player himself, having suited up for more than 200 NHL games, the majority of which were played for the Penguins between 1980 and 1984.

“That was my first time back in 30 years,” Marc Chorney said. “It was kind of fun going back and seeing the city again. They made a pretty big deal out of it. They had pictures of both of us playing. It was fun seeing some of the old TV and radio guys, who were just starting out when I was there.”

Following the conclusion of the playoff series, Chorney was sent back down to the Penguins’ farm team in Wilkes-Barre, Penn. They are in the middle of the Calder Cup Playoffs and Chorney is a key part of that team. He has four goals and 15 assists in 62 games and had a team-high +/- of 26.

The timing for all of this came at a good time for Chorney – his contract expires at the end of the season and he will be a free agent.

“He had a good year,” Marc Chorney said. “We’ll see what happens for next year. This was a good opportunity for him to show he could play in the NHL. He’s worked hard. It’s hard to get an opportunity and he finally got it. It’s nice that he took advantage of it. I think this will help him, hopefully, get a contract for next year.”

Stepan’s season

Stepan and the Rangers open the second round of the NHL playoffs against the Washington Capitals at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 30. The series continues Saturday, Monday, Wednesday, Friday and then Sunday, May 10.

Through the first five games of the playoffs, Stepan had two goals and one assist.

During the regular season, he was the Rangers’ third-leading scorer with 16 goals and 39 assists for 55 points in 68 games.