Belarus Reaches Quarterfinals, Wheat Kings One Game from Elimination

Two Devils prospects have been on two different ends of spectrum as of late when it comes to victory and defeat. Artur Gavrus and his Belarusian squad have moved on to the quarterfinals at the IIHF World Championship in the Czech Republic while John Quenneville and his Brandon Wheat Kings have fallen behind the Kelowna Rockets three games to none in the WHL Finals.

Belarus needed one point to advance to the next round of the Worlds and got it when they defeated Norway 3-2 on Tuesday, May 12 at CEZ Arena in Ostrava, Czech Republic. They will now take on the winner of Group A, Canada, in Prague in the quarterfinals.

Belarus ended the Group B preliminary round with a 4-0-2-1 record with 14 points. Gavrus, a Devils 6th round pick in 2012 who is currently playing in the KHL in Russia, finished with two goals and three assists for five points in seven games played, good for fourth on the team. He tied for the team lead with 17 shots on goal.

For the Belarusians, Canada will be a tall order. However, this is a team that upset the United States earlier on in the tournament in Group B preliminary action, so anything can happen. Gavrus and his team should be primed and ready to take on another challenge.

On the other side of the coin, fellow Devils prospect John Quenneville and the Brandon Wheat Kings, who are currently playing a best of seven series against the Kelowna Rockets, are on the verge of being eliminated.

Brandon can stop Kelowna’s sweep on Wednesday, May 13 in Kelowna in Game 4. The Wheat Kings fell in Game 1 on May 8, 4-3; in Game 2 on May 9, 5-3; and on May 11 in Game 3, 5-3 to go down by three games. The first two games were at home in Brandon. Quenneville, a 1st round pick by the Devils in 2014, went into the series as the team’s leading scorer in the postseason. He has not had a point in the Finals.

With a win in Game 4, the Wheat Kings can force the series back on home ice for the final two games.

If Kelowna wins on May 13, they will punch their ticket to the Memorial Cup to be played in Quebec City from May 21-31 to crown the Canadian Hockey League champion. They will join the host Quebec Remparts, the QMJHL President’s Cup champion Rimouski Oceanic and the OHL champion (to be decided with the Oshawa Generals currently leading the Erie Otters two games to one) in the round robin style tournament.

Quenneville and the Wheat Kings, much like Belarus in the World Championship, have a huge obstacle to overcome on their road to championship glory. Whether they are able to come back or not, it has been a great run for John Quenneville, the Brandon Wheat Kings, Artur Gavrus and Belarus. If this is the end of the line for either team, they have played well and have nothing to be ashamed of, having left it all on the table.

Devils’ Changes Look to Restore Franchise to Winning Ways

In a recent interview with Mike G. Morreale of NHL.com, Devils co-owner Joshua Harris reiterated that all of the recent changes made to the organization are with one goal in mind: winning.

The Devils have made the playoffs once in the last five years (their run to the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals being the last trip they have made to the postseason) and in that time, their best divisional finish has been fourth. One of the things that Harris stressed in his interview with Morreale is that the naming of Ray Shero as the new General Manager on May 5 is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to getting this franchise back on track.

The team is looking for a new head coach and, like Morreale pointed out, they will have plenty of competition for the likes of Mike Babcock; the Detroit Red Wings headman was granted permission by the team to talk to other potential NHL employers. These employers include Edmonton, Buffalo, Philadelphia, San Jose and Toronto, all of whom are looking for a new coach, in addition to the Devils. Harris also said in the interview that money is basically no object. The team is willing to spend “if it makes sense for the franchise.”

Although some of the moves that the ownership duo of Harris and David Blitzer have made with one of their other properties, the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers, have left fans a little worried for the future of the Devils, a once-proud organization looking to reclaim glory, Harris has reassured loyalists that things are in control. As he told Morreale: “We’re committed to winning in New Jersey and building something here that Newark and the state of New Jersey can be proud of.”

He, like most fans, is very happy with the goaltending (telling Morreale that “…I’m excited about that with Cory and that was a great signing.”) and the defense, especially Andy Greene, who he feels is a player that the team can build around.

In a separate interview Morreale did with Lou Lamoriello, the former GM and current team President shed some more light onto what the team is trying to accomplish. He did acknowledge that part of the team’s downturn coincided with the loss of key players like Zach Parise (who left as a free agent for the Minnesota Wild in the summer of 2012) and Ilya Kovalchuk (who returned to Russia to play in the Kontinental Hockey League). To paraphrase Lou’s take, these are not players that you just replace overnight. Despite this, Lamoriello does not rule out making a trade “prior to or during the NHL Draft” this year in Sunrise, Florida.

What the organization is trying to get back to is the standard that Lamoriello has set: 22 playoff appearances from 1988 to 2013, a winning record every year from 1992-93 to 2009-10, seven trips to the Wales/Eastern Conference Finals from 1988 to 2012, winning five Eastern Conference championships and, finally, three Stanley Cup titles in 1995, 2000 and 2003.

In the interview with Lamoriello, Harris points out that, when Lou was hired, the team was regarded as a “Mickey Mouse organization.” By the time he stepped down, the team had been champions and was seen as a high-class, well run organization.

Although rumors still run rampant that ownership strongly encouraged Lamoriello to step down as team GM, and you can see their point in wanting to do so, to get some new blood into the Devils’ system, there is definitely a respect for Lou from the owners. Harris called Lamoriello the “heart and soul of it all” and hoped “he’s a Devil for life both figuratively and day-to-day [as team president].”

For the New Jersey Devils and their new ownership, while it is important to remember the past and build upon it, the goal is to get the current team back in contention for a Stanley Cup. They may know that is a long process with no “fix it now” approach, but they are truly in it for the long haul.

In closing, I would like to wish New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra a happy 90th birthday today, May 12. He was a good friend of original Devils’ owner Dr. John McMullen and a tremendous hockey fan who played the game in his native St. Louis. He was an early supporter of the Devils when they moved to East Rutherford. Happy Birthday, Yogi!