30 Games in 30 Nights Fan Visits “The Rock”

Recently, a fan from Edmonton has undertaken a plan to visit all 30 NHL arenas in the last 30 days of the NHL season. He recently made his stop in Newark for the Devils-Ducks game last Sunday, March 29th.

Rob Suggitt, who works as the co-president of an Edmonton magazine publisher, had had a dream for many years that involved visiting each NHL city and seeing a game in each team’s home rink. His trip, which is chronicled on his website (www.30games-30nights.com) has been in the works for years. According to his site, Suggitt originally began to plan the trip for the 2004-05 season (the one that was cancelled due to the work stoppage). Over the years, it had been start and stop for one reason or another, but ten years after he had first planned to do the trip, he is finally going through with it.

Although Suggitt is doing this for fun, a sort of “bucket list” check off, he is also doing it for a good cause. He is taking helping to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation through donations on his website as well as other means. For instance, the Devils donated a Patrik Elias signed authentic jersey that he will be auctioning off (he did something similar with other teams including Arizona, Calgary and Montreal).

Suggitt mentions on his site (as well as in two interviews on the Devils’ website) that he grew up a Montreal Canadiens fan in Edmonton and became a fan of the Oilers upon their arrival in the city. However he did not see his first game live in person until he was 20 years-old in the 1980s. This is one reason why this trip has been a dream of his for some time. He settled on the last 30 days of the season because he felt that this is the most exciting time of the year to watch a game, with playoff races going on in each conference and division. He decided on this season because of the NHL’s intent to expand in the next few years. After all, “32 games in 32 nights” just does not have the same ring to it, he notes on his site.

He began the trip on March 13th at the Nassau Coliseum to take in the Islanders versus the Senators and will conclude on April 11th in Toronto to see the Maple Leafs take on the Canadiens on Hockey Night in Canada. In between, he has and will watch a game from each NHL rink. He actually saw the Devils play twice, as game/day number 16 was in Raleigh to see the Devils and the Hurricanes followed by game number 17 at Prudential Center to take in the Devils-Ducks game.

Along the way, he will travel by plane most of the time (his shortest flight is from Pittsburgh to Buffalo, while his longest is Nashville to San Jose), will make a few trips by car and made one trip by train (from Madison Square Garden to Philadelphia). He hit the Florida teams in succession (Florida was stop number 7, Tampa number 8), as well as the Western Canadian teams (Edmonton was 11, Vancouver 12, Calgary 13 and Winnipeg 14) and the California teams (San Jose will be number 20, Los Angeles 21 and Anaheim 22). In total he will travel a total of 23,521 miles.

He has stated that the biggest highlights of his trip have been and will be seeing the Original Six teams (he was especially impressed by the Garden) and seeing the Bruins play on St. Patrick’s Day. As he states on his site, he had never been to Boston and what better time to see the Bruins play than on St. Patrick’s Day?

Teams have been treating him well wherever he has gone. In addition to teams donating items for him to auction off for charity, there have been other perks. The Tampa Bay Lightning made him their “social captain” for the night and gave him complementary tickets for the game he saw against Detroit there. In thank you to the Bolts, he donated the face value of the tickets to Make-A-Wish. In New Jersey, the Devils donated $3,354 from their nightly 50/50 towards his goal of $30,000. As of his game in New Jersey, Suggitt said that he is at $17,000 in his efforts for Make-A-Wish, on pace to make his goal. At the Devils game, Colin White was on hand to help introduce him and his cause to fans live at the game.

Although Suggitt is an Oilers fan, he says that he has become more of a fan of the game over the years. He says on his website that, since players change teams so much and teams are always moving up and down the standings each season, he always finds himself rooting for a new team each year, especially in the playoffs. In an interview with Gordy Stillman on the Devils website, he mentions that his favorite Devils player is Patrik Elias.

Suggitt mentioned that one of the things he has liked the most about his trip is participating in fan customs in each city. From cheering and making noise during the national anthem during a Blackhawks game to sampling food in each arena (he is trying to keep healthy by eating right for his first two meals of the day and working out in his hotel’s gyms) to trying to stay at a downtown hotel in order to get some of the “local flavor” of the city that he is in despite his limited time in each city.

Not only is this a great “once in a lifetime” trip for a hockey fan, Rob Suggitt has been able to make it into something more than just a great time for a fan. He has turned his lifelong dream trip into something that is giving back to the community.

Devils Officially Eliminated From Playoff Contention

The Devils have been mathematically eliminated from being able to make the playoffs following a 2-1 Boston Bruins overtime victory over the Carolina Hurricanes. The victory came Sunday afternoon, March 29th while the Devils were busy with the Anaheim Ducks.

According to MSG­+, the Devils are currently on pace to finish with the lowest season point total (in a non-locked out, full season) since 2010-11, a season in which the Devils also missed the playoffs, yet which was a dreadful season for the team. New Jersey would have to win the rest of their 14 games remaining in order to surpass the 81 points that team accumulated.

But while that might make things seem like this season was a total disaster for the Devils, it really was not. As Steve Cangialosi pointed out on the Devils broadcast that afternoon, the team never went through that long losing streak that you would associate with that kind of low point total.

They had a rough stretch for about a month or so from the loss in Calgary in mid-November up until Pete DeBoer’s firing in late December, but they never went on an extended losing streak. As they sit right now, through 75 games, they are 31-32-5, one game under NHL .500. While that record is not particularly impressive, the fact that they were in the thick of things for so long really is. They did not fold up and they have played out their schedule with pride, the way they should.

Will it hurt them in the Draft? Maybe. They will not have a really high 1st round pick, yes, and many experts have been saying that this year’s Draft falls off a lot once you get out of Connor McDavid/Jack Eichel territory. But the Devils have thrived in finding diamonds in the rough. They consistently find unsigned, untouted college players who fly under the radar of other teams. Players like Andy Greene and Brian Rafalski, guys who have gone on to become stalwarts for the Devils and the NHL as a whole. There may have been some missteps over the years in the Draft, but overall, the Devils scouting team have a pretty good track record when it comes to this.

The other important thing to remember is that the Devils have a great foundation for the next few years. Cory Schneider really came into his own as a starting goaltender for the first time in his career, being that it was the first time he has gotten the chance to be a full-time number one. After serving his “apprenticeship” in Vancouver with Roberto Luongo and here in New Jersey under Martin Brodeur for the first part of his NHL career, he has emerged as a true big time goalie in the league.

The other thing the Devils really have in their favor is their defensive corps. From young guys like Adam Larsson, Seth Helgeson (currently playing in Albany, but has gotten some time with the big club), Damon Severson and Jon Merrill to the veteran leadership brought by Andy Greene, the Devils are in good hands on the blueline.

Up front is where things have been a little bit dicey. Free agent acquisition Mike Cammalleri has been everything he was advertised to be and has provided most of the scoring for the team (leading the Devils with 25 goals). Adam Henrique leads the team with 40 points while guys like Scott Gomez and Jordin Tootoo have found their game again, especially Gomez, who has once again become a threat on the ice and has 7 goals and 24 assists for 31 points over only 62 games played. Guys like left wingers Reid Boucher and Stefan Matteau represent the future for the Devils, but they may need to look at the free agent market to see if they want someone who can help them get back into the playoffs next year.

The Devils will need some work to be done on the roster in order to get back to competing in the NHL. They have a great foundation to get there; it will just take some fine-tuning. So, as fans whose teams are in the playoffs begin to dream about their Stanley Cup victory parade, Devils fans need to remember one thing: New Jersey has the building blocks to be great again and with some work, the team will get back to the elite of the NHL sooner rather than later.

Devils Lose in OT Despite Great Late Effort in DC

The Devils playoff hopes, as dim as they are at this point, took a big hit on Thursday, March 26th against the Washington Capitals. Despite a huge push late, the Devils fell in overtime to the Caps. Their “tragic number” for being eliminated from playoff contention going into the night was 9 points (either 9 lost by the Devils or a combination of points gained by those higher than them in the standings). With the Capitals being a divisional rival and a wildcard team that the Devils are chasing, leaving one point on the table like this hurt the Devils more than it helped. However, you cannot blame their effort when the chips were down.

Things got off to a chippy start in the game at Verizon Center when Tom Wilson and Mark Fraser went off for coincidental minors for roughing at 1:45 of the first period. With the teams going four-on-four for the next two minutes, Washington took advantage of it. Karl Alzner beat Cory Schneider at 2:51 (with Matt Niskanen getting the primary assist – his first of two on the night – and Marcus Johansson getting the secondary) to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead.

Washington would double their lead early in the second period when Eric Fehr scored unassisted at 1:35. With the Devils now down 2-0, things looked pretty bleak for New Jersey when Jon Merrill was whistled for closing his hand on the puck at 14:08. With the Devils now down a man, the team’s penalty kill unit was called into action against the number one power play in the NHL. With about 1:30 left to kill on the penalty, Patrik Elias skated the puck out of the Devils zone. Elias moved just inside the Caps’ blueline as Travis Zajac broke to the net. Patty shot and Zajac snuck in behind the Washington defense, poked the rebound home behind Braden Holtby and just like that, the game was 2-1. Adam Larsson had the secondary assist on the goal. For the Devils, it was a shorthanded goal at 14:41 that allowed them to cut the lead in half, but they still had to kill off the remaining part of the power play. They did and the game went into the third with the Capitals up 2-1.

The third period would see two sets of coincidental minor penalties (at 2:49, Jacob Josefson went off for roughing while Brooks Orpik of the Caps went off for unsportsmanlike conduct and then, at 14:10, Washington’s Tom Wilson and Jordin Tootoo each went off for roughing) sandwiched around a Devils power play. Nothing happened in those instances and the game remained 2-1 Caps when the Devils pulled Cory Schneider with roughly two minutes left in the game.

With the extra attacker on, the Devils made the most of it. Mike Cammalleri worked the puck out of the corner to Scott Gomez behind the Washington goal cage. Gomez quickly threw it to Steve Bernier stationed in front of Holtby and he hammered it behind the Capitals netminder to tie the game at two with exactly 30 seconds left in the game.

The Devils had battled back and, once time expired, would head to overtime with the Capitals. After a Devils chance, the play headed back towards the New Jersey defensive zone. The Caps won a battle in the corner and it was sent cross ice to Alzner at the right point. He moved it across to Niskanen at the left point who fired a slap shot that was tipped by Evgeny Kuznetsov past Schneider to win the game for the Capitals, 3-2. Washington would take the season series against the Devils with that win and help shore up their playoff hopes while dashing those of their Metropolitan Division rivals.

New Jersey made a valiant effort and it shows that this team is not quitting on the season. They are playing until they are told to stop. Unfortunately for them, that call will come sooner than later, as their hopes for a playoff berth are all but done. New Jersey outshot the Capitals 31-24 in the game and were able to keep Alexander Ovechkin off the scoresheet, which is always a good thing. It is just that the Capitals had too many weapons for the Devils to overcome.

Washington will be a tough first round opponent for whoever draws them, most likely the Rangers, who are first in the Metro Division (and who, in a double whammy for Devils fans, became the first team to qualify for the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs the same night with their win over Ottawa).

The upcoming schedule for the Devils is kind of up-and-down. They meet Carolina on Saturday, March 28th on the road and then Anaheim the following night at home. The Hurricanes are a weaker team, but a divisional rival, while the Ducks are, of course, one of the top contenders for the Presidents’ Trophy as best team in the overall standings. Again, effort from the team will go a long way here. It was a longshot that they would come back to make the playoffs, but if they continue to put in an effort, that is all you can ask for at this point. Looking at the Anaheim game, they are not expected to win, but if they put in the effort then maybe they can beat one of the strongest teams in the West and in the whole league. That is why the games are played, after all.

While the Devils season ticks away, it is always good to know that the team keeps playing. If they can keep putting up efforts like they did in DC for fans the rest of the way, then it offers a little bit of consolation. Even if the team will be just good enough to be out of the running for Connor McDavid in the Draft, but just bad enough to miss the playoffs, effort, and not rolling over and playing dead (or tanking) is always appreciated.

Devils Working Hard in the Community, Helping to Inspire Kids

The Devils have made a commitment to New Jersey since the time they arrived back in 1982. That goes beyond bringing on-ice glory (such as Stanley Cups) to the Garden State and into the realm of community outreach. The Devils players and staff have been busy in the local communities of New Jersey lately and that has led to some inspiration to young fans.

An article recently posted to the Devils official website by Gordy Stillman chronicles the Devils helping to bring hockey to Newark public schools. Stillman’s article noted that the program brings kids in Newark a chance to try hockey as an after school activity. The program tries to do more than just develop new Devils fans although Stillman does say that that would be “icing on the cake.” What the program is really offering is a chance for kids who may not get the opportunity to develop an interest in the game. Stillman notes that the program is a partnership between the Devils and Newark’s Mayor, Ras Baraka, and his office. It is an aspect of the Mayor Baraka’s “seasonal ‘Fun in the City’ initiative” according to Stillman. The program was created by Devils senior vice president of community investment, Jim Leonard and is run by Leonard and volunteers.

While the after-school program is for street hockey and learning the basics of hockey, there is the “Hockey in Newark” program, which helps to get kids and teens in the Newark area on the ice and learning how to play the game in a more organized way. Recently, Hockey in Newark goaltender Austin Verissimo was announced as a recipient of the NHL/Thurgood Marshall College Fund scholarship. According to an article on the Devils website also written by Gordy Stillman, Verissimo is the first player from New Jersey to win this award since it was created in 2012. Verissimo has already been accepted to Boston College, Villanova and UCLA. Stillman also noted that he could end up going to Ivy League school Cornell. No matter where he ends up attending college, he told Stillman that he will continue to play hockey at the club level, much like former Hockey in Newark goalie Kevin Lopez, who now plays for the club team at Princeton University.

One of the amazing things about Austin Verissimo’s achievement is that, while he did learn how to skate as a child, he did not play hockey as a young kid. He grew up playing soccer (where he is a goalie as well) and heard that Hockey in Newark was looking for a goalie, which led to his hockey career, according to Stillman.

In addition to that, some of the Devils players recently appeared at a public school in Jersey City to help promote reading. The event was documented by the MSG+ TV cameras in a package prior to the Devils game against Washington on March 26th. Among the players who appeared were Jordin Tootoo, Jon Merrill and Andy Greene as well as mascot NJ Devil (who is always a hit with the kids). The players read books by Dr. Seuss and other children’s favorites to a first grade class. All of the players stressed the importance of reading, and Tootoo mentioned that it really hits home for him, as he was an avid reader as a kid and now has his own autobiography in print. The kids also received Devils hats from the players, helping to make a connection for life. As the students’ teacher remarked in the piece, some of the kids grow up wanting to be professional athletes, so when an actual professional athlete comes in and tells them how rewarding reading is, they listen and take it to heart.

Part of the reason for the Devils’ community outreach is, of course, to help create new fans for the team. It is also to give back to the community, though. Through Hockey in Newark, we could be seeing future NHL players in action. Kids who might not otherwise get the chance to play or even have interest in the sport, now get to play at a competitive level and the program could end up producing NHL-caliber players down the road.

More importantly than that, the Devils are promoting learning and education through this and helping to give kids a chance to go to college and have a good career in something other than professional hockey. No matter what, though, the Devils are helping some great kids reach their full potential through these programs.

Report Says Kovalchuk Could Return to NHL

According to a news post on NJ.com by Charles Curtis, who cited Finnish website Iltalehti.fi and Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski, Ilya Kovalchuk could return to the NHL by 2016-17 at the earliest should he act on his desire to come back to North America.

Kovalchuk retired from the Devils and the NHL in 2013 only to resurface in the Kontinental Hockey League with SKA St. Petersburg almost immediately. All of this after he had signed a huge 15-year $100 million contract, itself a pared-down version of the 17-year $100 million-plus contract that got the Devils in trouble for circumnavigating the salary cap and violating the then-current collective bargaining agreement due to the contract being extremely front-loaded at the expense of the later years of his deal, when he would be a lot older and less effective.

This deal came after the Devils spent a lot to acquire Kovalchuk from the Atlanta Thrashers at the 2010 trading deadline. The Devils gave up Johnny Oduya, now a member of the Chicago Blackhawks – he won a Cup there in 2013, Niclas Bergfors, Patrice Cormier and the Devils’ 1st and 2nd round choices in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. They also received Anssi Salmela and Atlanta’s 2nd round pick in 2010 (Jon Merrill) in addition to Kovalchuk.

Now, per the report, Kovalchuk could be on his way back to the NHL. Stan Fischler, in a segment during the Devils-Islanders game on Saturday alluded to this as well. According to the Finnish site, a source close to Kovalchuk says that he “has had discussions with SKA management about returning to the NHL for the 2016-17 season, with one more year on his (KHL) deal.”

Should Kovalchuk try to return for that season, he would require approval from all 30 NHL clubs (which, of course includes the Devils) because he officially filed retirement papers with the league. Should he not receive permission from all 30 teams, he would have to sit out a year and then get the Devils permission to come back into the NHL. His other option is to wait until 2018-19 (at which point he will be 35 years old), when he could return to the NHL without the approval of the other teams (including the Devils).

If the Devils were to bring him back, he would certainly help the team’s scoring up front. There is no question that the Devils with Kovalchuk are much better than the Devils without Kovalchuk. The problem not only lies in the red tape that it would require for him to come back, but in whether the Devils would even want him back with the headaches that his contract caused and the lurch they were left in when he retired from the team.

It was clear at the time the Devils initially signed him to his 17-year contract that this was a decision made by then-owner Jeff Vanderbeek with less input from General Manager Lou Lamoriello. Add new ownership to this equation and the fact that he may have “burned bridges” in New Jersey and the chances of Kovalchuk returning to the Devils seems rather slim.

On the other hand, this is a business where the ultimate goal is to win games and the Devils have been having problems putting pucks in the net. They have missed the playoffs in three of the last four seasons (and it is looking more and more like that will be upped to four times in the last five seasons) and, if he is the same Kovalchuk – and his numbers in the KHL (137 points in 135 games and 12 points in 20 playoff games according to Wyshynski) certainly say that he is – then he is certainly someone the Devils could use.

Kovalchuk’s current SKA St. Petersburg deal is going into its third year and he is set to make about 15 million Euros, which are “tax free” (according to Puck Daddy) in Russia.

The question is: do the Devils feel they are desperate enough to bring Kovalchuk back. Also, what would the fan reaction be? Would he return a conquering hero, or be booed mercilessly at the Prudential Center? He did help the team reach the Stanley Cup Finals in 2012, helping to defeat the Flyers and Rangers along the way. He did seem to be suffering from back issues late in those playoffs, which is part of the speculation as to why he bolted to the KHL (a bigger ice surface and less physical play). But he will be coming back older and with more wear and tear on his body.

One thing is very certain, though. If Kovalchuk were to return to the NHL, there is no way a team will be willing to pay him the ridiculous contract that the Devils initially gave him and that he walked away from.

A Tale of Two Games

For the New Jersey Devils, the twenty-four hours from Friday, March 20 to Saturday, March 21 reflected the team’s strengths and deficiencies and may well have put an end to their slim 2015 playoff hopes.

It started Friday night in Buffalo at the First Niagara Center when the Devils took on the Sabres. The Devils knew where they were in the standings and that games and points were at a premium. The Sabres, currently last overall in the NHL, would have to be beaten in order for New Jersey to gain ground on the Boston Bruins for the final wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference. Beating a weaker team such as Buffalo has not been easy for the Devils this season, thinking back to the game against Edmonton in February at Prudential Center. Indeed, the Devils had not won a game in Buffalo since about 2013. They were looking to sweep the season series with the Sabres (the other two previous games having been played at Newark).

What the Devils got was a great game from Steve Bernier (two goals); Jordin Tootoo, who scored a highlight reel goal, played well; and Keith Kinkaid, who started in place of Cory Schneider, also continued the recent trend of great Devils goaltending. Adam Henrique and Scott Gomez also had two assists on the night.

After a scoreless first frame, Steve Bernier put the Devils on the board at 9:08 of the second when Henrique’s outlet pass sprung Scott Gomez who fed Bernier on the ensuing two-on-one the other way. It was Bernier’s 99th career goal, one away from a milestone. That milestone goal would come about four or five minutes later at 13:53 when the puck was freed up along the boards, moved by Bernier to Henrique on the far boards, who quickly fed it to Bernier in the slot. Bernier deposited the puck behind Buffalo goaltender Anders Lindback to give the Devils a 2-0 lead. Gomez had the secondary assist on Bernier’s 100th career goal.

In the third period, Tootoo would score on a magnificent individual effort for the Devils. With the faceoff deep in the Devils zone, the draw was won by Buffalo and moved back to Mike Weber at the left point. Weber’s shot was blocked by Tootoo who then took possession, turned on the jets and started his rush up the ice. With only Weber to beat, Tootoo slid the puck under Weber’s stick and moved to his forehand, beating Lindback on his glove side. The goal was unassisted and the Devils now had a 3-0 lead.

Buffalo’s Matt Moulson would score his 11th of the season at 11:41 of the third on the power play to break Kinkaid’s shutout bid. Tyler Ennis had the primary assist, while former Devil Brian Gionta had the secondary assist. Brian’s younger brother Stephen Gionta also played a good game for the Devils. With all of that, the Devils came out on top with a much-needed victory in Western New York.

The next night, the Devils would return home to play another New York-based team, the playoff-bound Islanders. The Devils were coming in having won three straight while the Isles were losers of four straight coming into the Saturday night showdown at The Rock.

And as well as they played in Buffalo, the Devils, despite the outcome, retained that top level of play in this game. There was only one problem: the Islanders were getting back their brick wall in the crease on this night. Jaroslav Halak made his return and was superb. He made 26 saves in the Islanders’ shutout win over the Devils.

The Isles got the scoring started off when Ryan Strome scored from Nikolay Kulemin at 7:37. The game remained 1-0 through the second and for more than half of the third. At 10:15 of the third, Stephen Gionta took an interference call while trying to break up a Matt Martin scoring chance and the Islanders went on the power play. The Devils actually killed the man advantage off, but at 12:19, just as Gionta was stepping back on the ice out of the penalty box, Travis Hamonic scored from Strome and Brock Nelson to give the Isles a 2-0 lead. Kyle Okposo would add an empty netter (with assists from John Tavares – which ended a point drought for him – and Hamonic) to give the Islanders a 3-0 win.

The Devils had many chances all throughout the night and kept the pressure on in the Islanders zone most of the night. Perhaps the play that summed up the night for New Jersey was when Travis Zajac hit the post with a wide open net when the game was still 1-0. The Devils just could not solve Halak. Meanwhile, Cory Schneider, back in the net after the night off in Buffalo, played well enough to be named the night’s third star by attending media. He made 27 saves and, again, kept the Devils in a game they had no business being in. Cory is a top tier goaltender in the NHL and will give the Devils a great foundation for years to come. The game was fast paced and the Devils kept up with the sometimes fire wagon hockey style of the Islanders. Only two penalties were called all night, the aforementioned Gionta penalty and a Travis Hamonic hooking call that put the Devils up a man early in the second.

While losing to a team that is better than them at this point is not the end of the world, it may spell the end of the Devils playoff chances. With Ottawa now gaining ground in the playoff race, the Devils and Flyers are being left in the dust, while Florida (with 80 points) is fading fast. The Senators are only a point behind Boston (as of March 22nd) and are making a push. The Devils are not officially eliminated yet, but the loss to the Isles did more harm to their chances.

The time is now to look to the future for the Devils and start preparing for the Draft and for next season. While the Devils put up a valiant effort, and never gave up, this season is pretty much a write-off and the team needs to start preparing to make a run in 2015-16.

Tootoo Having Comeback Year For Devils

It was announced on March 20th that Jordin Tootoo would be the Devils’ nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for the year-end awards. The Masterton Trophy is awarded to the “player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.” It is named for the late Minnesota North Stars player who died after sustaining an injury during a NHL game. Masterton exhibited the qualities that the award is given for, and the trophy was first awarded following the 1967-68 season. The players are nominated by their team’s chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association and the winner is chosen by a poll of the chapters of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association across all NHL cities. A grant from the PHWA is also awarded annually to the Bill Masterton Scholarship Fund, which is given in the name of the trophy winner.

The trophy was first won by a member of the Devils’ organization in 1981-82 when goaltender Glenn “Chico” Resch won it in the team’s final season in Denver. It was awarded to Resch for perseverance, “as he gave his young team more confidence while he served as goaltender” according to the “Legends of Hockey” portion of the Hockey Hall of Fame website. Ken Daneyko was the next member of the Devils to win the award (and the first to win when the team was based in New Jersey) in 1999-2000 when he returned to the team following his battle with alcoholism.

Tootoo’s story is similar to Daneyko in that he has had issues with alcoholism and has come back to revive his NHL career.

Born February 2, 1983 in Churchill, Manitoba, he grew up in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut and is the first player of Inuk descent to play in the National Hockey League. Tootoo played for the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League before being drafted 98th overall in the 2001 NHL Draft by the Nashville Predators. He would go on to play eight seasons for Nashville before becoming an unrestricted free agent in 2012 and signing with the Detroit Red Wings. His two years in the Motor City were largely unproductive and his contract was bought out following the 2013-2014 season. He was invited to the Devils training camp at the beginning of this season on a tryout basis and was signed to a one year deal just prior to the season beginning.

Since signing with the Devils, Tootoo has really come back, found his game and has produced for the team. With 57 games played, Tootoo has 9 goals, 5 assists and 14 points, with one of those goals coming on the power play and one game winner. He is also a plus-4 with 70 PIMs. But it is the intangibles that Tootoo brings to the team that have really shown what he means to the Devils. He knows when to pick his spots and some of his fights have helped ignite a Devils comeback, or get the team back from a lackluster performance. He skates very well and his speed was no more apparent than on March 20 versus Buffalo when he scored a beauty of a goal. He blocked a shot in his own end, only to carry the puck down the ice, slip it under the defenseman’s stick to himself and score on goaltender Anders Lindback’s short side, a true one-man effort that iced the game and gave the Devils the win.

For Tootoo, overcoming adversity is nothing new. In 2002, his older brother, Terence, who was a great hockey player in his own right and was playing for the Roanoke Express of the ECHL at the time, committed suicide after a drunk driving incident in Canada. Terence, who was about three years older and served as a role model for Jordin, was part of the reason Jordin wrote his recently released autobiography All The Way: My Life on Ice with writer Stephen Brunt. Terence’s suicide left Jordin with more questions and in part spurred him to get his story down on paper.

Jordin’s battles with substance abuse have also been well chronicled. In 2010, he voluntarily entered the Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program run jointly by the NHL and the NHLPA to treat alcoholism. He completed the program in time to participate in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs with Nashville and has been clean since.

Tootoo has been an inspiration to those watching, but he is more than that to his teammates. He is a leader in the locker room and knows exactly when to mix it up on the ice, be it physical or vocal: chirping with the other team or keeping the Devils loose on the bench. His Gordie Howe Hat Trick against the Arizona Coyotes a little while back is testament to his toughness, his willingness to get into the dirty areas on the ice and to his skill. The fact the Devils have given him power play time shows that they know that he can play the game well.

Jordin Tootoo has been an inspiration almost since the time first stepped on an NHL rink. Either as the first Inuk player to play in the league or overcoming his personal demons, he has shown the ability to be more than just a great hockey player, but also a very real human being who has persevered through some very tough times and has made good on his potential. We will find out in Las Vegas this summer when the NHL presents their annual awards show if he is voted the winner of the 2014-15 Bill Masterton Trophy.

‘Wearing of the Green’ Lucky For Devils Versus Pens

The Devils first brought back their retro-inspired 1980’s red, green and white jerseys for St. Patrick’s Day during the 2009-10 season and have not had much success in them since. They defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins that year, but have since lost the last four games they brought the jerseys out of mothballs. There was a defeat at the hands of Washington in 2011, a loss to Pittsburgh in 2012 and then two losses wearing them in 2014 (including a blowout by their arch rivals, the Rangers, outdoors at Yankee Stadium in the NHL Stadium Series and the St. Patrick’s Day game against Boston). They did not wear them in the lockout-shortened 2013 season.

This year, they would continue the tradition and face the Penguins for the third time in their old unis and would break through with a win for just the second time in six tries. New Jersey got a goal from Jacob Josefson in the second period that would prove to be the difference in a 2-0 shutout win at Prudential Center. Adam Henrique would add an empty netter to seal the deal for New Jersey.

The Devils have always looked sharp in their red and green third jerseys. The red, green and white colors being a rarely-used combination in the NHL (only the Minnesota Wild currently use the colors on a full-time basis) really makes for an eye-catching on-ice look from the red helmets to the green pant shells. And the Devils have been smart enough not to overdo it. With the exception of the Yankee Stadium game, the Devils have only worn them once a year – and wearing them at the Stadium Series game was a “lesser of two evils” situation for the team, since the other option would have been wearing a specially designed look (like the Rangers and Islanders did for the games) that could very easily have fallen flat. The league wanted them to wear something other than their normal home red-and-blacks and the Devils decided to go with their vintage look. While some fans scoffed back in the ‘80s when the Devils were actually wearing the uniforms on a full-time basis, calling them the “Christmas tree” colors, there is no doubt that the throwbacks are a hit with today’s fans.

As for the game itself, the story, as it has been a lot down the stretch for the Devils, was Cory Schneider. Although a lot of credit needs to go to defensemen like Andy Greene and, especially, Adam Larsson (who kept Sidney Crosby in check the whole game, frustrating the superstar for most of the game – Crosby finished with a -1 rating, four shots on net and 19:03 total time on ice), Schneider was brilliant at times in making 35 saves in his fifth shutout of the season. He was named the game’s first star by the media, something that he did on Saturday against Arizona, as well, and has done more than any other Devil this season. Schneider has kept the Devils in games that they had no business being in and could, due to his .929 save percentage and 2.16 goals against average, be a candidate for the Vezina Trophy come the end of the year, despite the fact that the Devils will most likely miss the postseason. You have to be thinking of him in the same category as league leaders like Montreal’s Carey Price and Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk at this point.

Michael Ryder was also back in the lineup due to Patrik Elias being a scratch (back spasms) and had the primary assist on Josefson’s goal. Ryder has been a healthy scratch along with Martin Havlat for most of the last month and a half or so, but he did suit up against the Coyotes on Saturday and played well, so with Elias missing another game due to injury, he got the nod.

The Devils also did not let Pittsburgh’s vaunted power play; with all of its firepower (although to be fair to the Pens, Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist, two important offensive weapons for the team were not dressed due to injury) get a chance in action. The Devils took one penalty (Mark Fraser for tripping Daniel Winnik at 1:26 of the second) which was nullified by Winnik going to the box for embellishment on the same play. Neither team scored on the ensuing four-on-four. The Devils did not take another penalty and, thus, kept one part of Pittsburgh’s success nailed to the bench. The Pens killed off both of the New Jersey power plays.

The Devils played a good game overall, helped by Pittsburgh missing key players in their lineup. However, they did neutralize Sidney Crosby (largely due in part to Larsson, who got under Crosby’s skin early and often) and if you can do that, then you will most likely have a successful night. The Devils earned this victory and, no matter how ugly, will take it.

Things don’t get easier for the Devils, as next up is three games in four days: New Jersey travels to Buffalo on Friday and then returns home to play the Islanders on Saturday, followed by the Los Angeles Kings coming east for a matchup next Monday. Since the team is not technically mathematically eliminated from a playoff berth, fans can take them one game at a time and hope for the best.

Devils Earn Three Points on Western Road Trip

The Devils spent the past week on a trip through the remaining Western Conference cities that they had not visited this season: Minnesota, Colorado and Arizona.

The trip kicked off at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota as the Devils rolled into town to face old friend Zach Parise and the Wild. The Devils were coming off of their 5-2 win over the Flyers at home where they celebrated the 1995 Stanley Cup Championship team. As thorough as that game was for the Devils, the Wild game was a complete blowout in the other direction.

Minnesota kicked off the scoring with a late first period goal by Sean Bergenheim. He scored at 18:57 and the Devils went into the first intermission down 1-0. The second period saw the Wild double their lead only 13 seconds in off a goal from Chris Stewart. The Devils would finally get on the board when Dainius Zubrus broke his scoring drought of 50 games to break the shutout and seemingly bring the Devils back in. He scored off assists from Steve Bernier and Patrik Elias at 10:03 of the second. The Devils were back in it until about three minutes later, when Minnesota got their three goal lead back off the stick of Thomas Vanek.

Going into the third, it was 4-1 Wild and it would not get any prettier. Jason Pominville notched Minnesota’s fifth goal at 1:18 of the new period and, exactly seven minutes later, at 8:18, Vanek got his second of the game on the power play (Mark Fraser had gone to the box for hooking). At 8:40, Scott Gomez scored from Bernier and Damon Severson to make the score 6-2 when the final buzzer sounded.

The Wild game was a total disaster for New Jersey. Minnesota ended up going 1-for-4 on the power play without having to kill one off one of their own. When a team plays that disciplined they are going to be hard to beat. Minnesota is also fighting for a playoff spot, battling Winnipeg for the final wildcard spot in the West. The Jets lost that night, meaning that the Wild did gain some ground in their race.

Shaking that loss off, the Devils traveled to Denver and the Pepsi Center to take on the Colorado Avalanche. The Avs have been having a disappointing second year under head coach Patrick Roy considering their success in the regular season last year. The Devils knew they could not allow an outburst like they did a few nights before in St. Paul.

All of the scoring in regulation happened in the second period. The Devils found themselves down early in the period as Jarome Iginla scored his 22nd of the year at 2:27 to give Colorado a 1-0 lead. The Devils responded via an Andy Greene slapshot at 14:12 off assists from Adam Henrique and Adam Larsson. The game was tied and would remain that way.

In the overtime period, the Devils got in some trouble late when Eric Gleinas was caught for tripping at 4:33 meaning the Devils would have to kill a 27 second 4-on-3 power play. But they were equal to the task and the game went to a shootout. In the dreaded “skills competition,” Ryan O’Reilly and Iginla connected for the Avalanche, while only Jacob Josefson was able to score for New Jersey. The Devils had earned their first point of the road trip, but had still left three on the table.

Next stop for New Jersey was Glendale, Arizona and the Gilla River Arena to take on the Arizona Coyotes for the second time in less than a month. In their last meeting on February 23 at The Rock, Cory Schneider and the Devils had come away with the 3-0 shutout victory. The Devils would look to have a similar performance in the desert.

There was no scoring in the first period; however, Jordin Tootoo did fight B.J. Crombeen about two minutes in in a spirited bout that would be Tootoo’s first step towards a “Gordie Howe Hat Trick” (a goal, an assist and a fight). Tootoo also drew an extra two minute roughing minor, putting the Devils on the penalty kill early. They were successful and the teams went into the first intermission with no score.

The breakthrough finally came late in the second, as Henrique scored his 15th of the year from Travis Zajac and Severson. The Devils took the 1-0 lead into the second intermission. In the third period, the floodgates would open on the struggling Coyotes. Stephen Gionta scored just 50 seconds into the period from Tootoo and Severson. Nineteen year Coyote Shane Doan would get Arizona on the board at 6:06 to cut the Devils lead in half. Then, at 6:25, Tootoo would complete his Gordie Howe Hat Trick when he fired one past Mike Smith off assists from Mike Cammalleri and Zajac. Cammalleri would finish things off when he scored at 9:25 off assists from Greene and Larsson. The goal, which gave the Devils a 4-1 lead, was Cammalleri’s 25th of the year and was significant because it marks the fourth franchise that Cammalleri has scored at least 25 goals in a season for. These include his stops in Los Angeles, Calgary and Montreal.

The Devils had earned a victory in their last game on their final Western road trip of the season. They would come away with three of a possible six points and get Cory Schneider’s record back to NHL .500. They also kept pace with all of the teams they are chasing for the last wild card spot including Boston, Florida, Ottawa and Philadelphia, who all won on Saturday.

For the Devils, it will take a lot for the team to make the playoffs. They have about thirteen games remaining in the regular season and need to make up a lot of ground points-wise. But one thing you can say is that while battling a team like Arizona (who is already mathematically eliminated from the playoffs) who never gave up and played like they had something to prove, the Devils stayed in it and beat a weaker team, a team that they should beat if they are going to remain in this thing.

There is still some hope (however little it may be) for the Devils. They just need to respond more like they did in Arizona and less like they did in Minnesota.

Devils Pay Tribute to 1995 Stanley Cup Champs on Twentieth Anniversary

The Devils organization took the opportunity to pay tribute to one of the greatest teams in franchise history and the current iteration of the team was able to capitalize on the electric atmosphere in a weekend that will never be forgotten amongst Devils fans.

Things kicked off with an alumni red versus white scrimmage on Saturday, March 7th. The game was held in the AmeriHealth Pavilion, the Devils’ practice rink at the Prudential Center, with a sold out crowd of mostly season ticket holders in attendance. There was a pregame question and answer session that featured Devils President and General Manager (and right now co-head coach) Lou Lamoriello and staff from 1995.

The game featured players from the 1995 team and included luminaries such as current Devils co-head coach (and ’95 team captain) Scott Stevens, “Mr. Devil” himself, Ken Daneyko, 1995 Conn Smythe Trophy winner Claude Lemieux, the recently retired Martin Brodeur, who spent time playing forward for two periods, scoring a goal and assisting on a Daneyko goal, and Hall of Fame defenseman Scott Niedermayer. The teams were coached by ’95 head coach Jacques Lemaire and ’95 assistant coach Larry Robinson. Fan favorites the Crash Line of Randy McKay, Bobby Holik and Mike Peluso also reunited for the game.

The game was a success for all involved and was a real hit with the fans. Fans who were there in 1995 loved seeing their heroes again, while younger or newer fans had a great time learning about the team that made the Devils a force in the NHL and really put Jersey’s Team on the map.

The festivities continued the next day, Sunday, March 8th. There was a special edition of the pregame 3D video montage that focused solely on 1995 instead of the usual entire history of the team.  The pregame ceremony included the unveiling of a special banner that would hang above the ice for the duration of the proceedings. Management from 1995 was introduced, including the family of late owner Dr. John McMullen, followed by the players from that legendary team. Everyone was present save for Neal Broten, Scott Niedermayer (who played in the red versus white scrimmage, but had to be back in California due to his coaching duties with the Anaheim Ducks), Kevin Dean and Stephane Richer who all had prior commitments. Captain Scott Stevens then spoke to the crowd about what the team meant to everyone, from the fans to the coaches to the players themselves. Following that, the ’95 team gathered for a team picture and then a victory lap around the Prudential Center rink to the strains of Bruce Springsteen’s classic “Glory Days.” Throughout the night, there were special video packages highlighting the playoff series on the Devils road to the ’95 Stanley Cup. The Stanley Cup itself also made an appearance on the platform in Section 3. The Conn Smythe Trophy was also in the building. Arlette then performed the “Star Spangled Banner” as the current Devils got set for their game against the current Philadelphia Flyers.

During the first intermission, members of the office staff who worked for the team in 1995 were all introduced, adding a real level of class and showing that the Devils of 1995 were a team from top to bottom and everyone was recognized in the effort no matter where they were in the pecking order.

Then it was time for the game that counted to begin. The Devils (in their white uniforms – the ones they won the Cup in back in ’95) were coming off of a rough loss to Columbus on the previous Friday, while Flyers were coming off of a tough overtime loss in Boston on Saturday and the Devils took advantage of it. Adam Henrique scored just 4:49 into the first with assists from Scott Gomez and Steve Bernier to put the Devils ahead early. Philly would tie things up about three minutes later when Ryan White tipped in a shot from Luke Schenn from the point at 7:45. The teams would head into the first intermission tied at one.

From there, however, it was pretty much all Devils.

Early in the second, Adam Larsson took a hooking penalty but about a minute into Philly’s man advantage, a turnover in the Devils zone led to a 3-on-2 odd man rush for the Devils. Stephen Gionta fired the puck just inside the Flyers blueline and Jacob Josefson pounced on the rebound for a shorthanded goal to give the Devils a 2-1 lead. Andy Greene had the secondary assist.

Late in the second, Philadelphia’s White took a tripping penalty and the Devils would convert on the ensuing power play. Eric Gelinas scored at 18:09 off assists by Gomez and Bernier (who each had their second assists of the evening).

The third period started with Adam Henrique scoring his second goal of the game on 2-on-0 give and go with Steve Bernier (who tallied his third assist of the night). It was now 4-1 New Jersey. The Flyers pulled to within two when Michael Raffl scored shorthanded after Sean Couturier had taken a hooking penalty. He got assists from White and Steve Mason. The Devils got back a three goal lead and put the icing on the night when Stephen Gionta scored on a breakaway from Patrik Elias and Greene. The final horn sounded and the Devils had a 5-2 win (as Steve Cangialosi mentioned on the MSG+ broadcast, the same score the Devils defeated Detroit by to clinch the Cup back on June 24, 1995 at the Meadowlands). Keith Kinkaid made 25 saves on the night and was brilliant at times.

All in all, in the game that counted, five Devils had a multi-point night including Henrique with two goals, Gomez with two assists, Steve Bernier with three assists, Stephen Gionta with a goal and an assist and Andy Greene with two assists.

Overall, the weekend was a success for the Devils. The AmeriHealth Pavilion was sold out for the alumni game. The Prudential Center was sold out for the real game. The number of fans in red far exceeded those in orange and there was a celebratory mood all weekend. For longtime fans, getting to relive history and see the heroes of our youth in person again was great. Though we may all be a little bit older, watching some of the great hockey played by the New Jersey Devils in the spring of 1995 brought a smile to the face of even the most cynical of fan. Although they were introduced as individuals in the pregame ceremony, any member of the 1995 Devils will tell you that everything about that team was just that: a team. To paraphrase NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman when presenting the Cup to Scott Stevens following the sweep of the Red Wings, the Devils organization epitomized teamwork and hard work. It is good to see that nothing has changed.