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.