Meadowlands Arena to Close at End of January

As I am sitting here watching the Devils put a late night hurting on the LA Kings (it is 5-1 Devils as I begin writing here) at the start of their California road trip, something interesting came through NJ.com. After almost 34 years, the Izod Center is set to be shuttered at the end of the month.

Brent Johnson of NJ.com reports that the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority has reached an agreement with the Prudential Center that would move all scheduled events from the arena in the Meadowlands Sports Complex to the arena in downtown Newark.

Of course this is relevant to Devils fans for the fact that the Izod Center (known as Brendan Byrne Arena from 1981 to 1996 and Continental Airlines Arena from 1996 to 2007) was the Devils home from 1982 to 2007 and was partly responsible for the Devils even existing in the Garden State to begin with.

When Arthur Imperatore, Sr. bought the Colorado Rockies in 1978, his intentions were to move the team east to play in the Meadowlands. Unfortunately, the arena was not completed yet and with no suitable NHL-sized rink available in the state, that move would have to wait another four years. It was then, in the spring of 1982 that former Houston Astros owner, former New York Yankees part-owner and Montclair, New Jersey native, Dr. John McMullen would buy the Rockies and move them into the newly-opened Meadowlands Arena. The arena had actually opened the previous summer with a series of sold out shows by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and hosted the New Jersey Nets (now the Brooklyn Nets) of the National Basketball Association for a year. The arena would go on to host the 1982 NBA All-Star Game, the 1984 NHL All-Star Game, the 1995 Stanley Cup Finals, the 1996 NCAA Men’s Final Four, the 2000 Stanley Cup Finals, the 2001 Stanley Cup Finals, the 2002 NBA Finals, the 2003 NBA Finals and the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals in addition to thousands of other events over the years.

The arena was actually conceived by the NJSEA as a way to get the Rangers over the Hudson River (they were in a dispute with the Garden at the time and may have been looking to pull up stakes) to play in the Meadowlands. This was not something that was completely foreign at the time, as the New York Giants had moved to the Meadowlands in 1976 from Yankee Stadium to play in the newly-built Giants Stadium (the Jets would follow from Shea Stadium in 1984) and the Yankees were being courted to move from the Bronx should George Steinbrenner feel the need to alienate his hardcore fans and move from NYC.

But when the Devils and the Seton Hall Pirates men’s basketball team moved to Newark in 2007 and the Nets followed suit in 2010, the arena saw less and less events. Brent Johnson’s article mentions that competition from the Prudential Center, Barclays Center in Brooklyn and the newly-renovated Madison Square Garden in Manhattan to get events has made the aging arena obsolete and expensive for the state to keep open. The arena will remain standing, but closed for the next two years and then its future will be in doubt.

On a personal note, I have attended many events at the Byrne/Continental/Meadowlands/Izod Arena/Center (my first being Sesame Street Live in 1985 when I was three or four years old); including my first Devils game in 1991 against the Buffalo Sabres. The Devils alone have given me so many magical moments in that building that will last a lifetime. Although I will not miss the cramped concourses and the traffic jams leaving the parking lots, I will miss everything else about the arena. What I will miss the most and anyone who ever saw a concert there can attest to this, is that the arena had great acoustics and that translated over to hockey. When the Devils filled the place, especially during the playoffs and those Stanley Cup runs, the place could rock. I will also remember the moo’ing as we made the slow bitterly cold trek over the pedestrian bridge to the parking lot at Giants Stadium (used as the overflow lot when the arena was sold out).

The Prudential Center is superior in every way, but the Meadowlands Arena was old-school and had a charm all its own. I understand why the NJSEA needs to close the building. It is just too bad that the state could not find a private buyer to keep the place open (although that would likely cause the new owners to lose money too, which would mean that they would need to sell it). It is kind of sad to think that the day ground was broken for the Prudential Center; the clock was ticking on the Izod Center.

My only hope is that the state does not leave the building to rot. In Los Angeles, where the Devils are playing the Kings right now, the former home of the Kings, the Great Western Forum, was placed on the national register of historic places in 2014. Toronto turned Maple Leaf Gardens into a retail building and a college athletic center. The Montreal Forum is now a national historic site in Canada. Although I would be delusional to think that the Meadowlands is on the level of those great arenas, championships were won here (the Devils claimed the Stanley Cup on home ice in both 1995 and 2003) and great moments were shared by fans of all ages for many years.

To those who have control over these things: If the building does need to be torn down, please do not waste this opportunity. Turn it into park land, not a parking lot for MetLife Stadium or that monstrosity known as Xanadu. Build a baseball stadium on the land so New Jersey can have a Triple A team (the Mets need to move their team out of Las Vegas and the Meadowlands is much closer) or (and this is a pipedream) a major league stadium to bring Major League Baseball to the state of New Jersey.

Whatever you do, do not just let the building waste away. Too much good is tied up in those walls to let that go away. Hopefully we can give the rink that brought NHL hockey to New Jersey a proper sendoff.

Elias Nets 1,000 Career Points, Is Named to All-Star Game

Patrik Elias is one of the greatest players to ever put on a New Jersey Devils jersey. This is something that fans have known for many years (he has, after all, been with the team for his entire 19-year NHL career), but his importance to the team goes even deeper than that. Patrik Elias is the heart and soul of the Devils on the ice, especially now since Marty Brodeur has left. He is the last link, along with the returned Scott Gomez to the Stanley Cup teams of 2000 and 2003. He is the team’s all-time leading scorer. But more importantly, he is a true Devils great, yet he is still one of the most underrated players in the NHL.

Elias was born on April 13, 1976 in Trebic, Czech Republic. He was drafted by the Devils in the 2nd round, 51st overall in the 1994 Entry Draft. After playing for HC Kladno in the Czech Republic as a junior, a team which has strong ties to Jaromir Jagr (his father owns the team), Elias would come to North America to suit up for one game for the Devils in the 1995-96 season. He spent the majority of that season with the Albany River Rats of the American Hockey League, scoring 27 goals and 36 assists for 63 points. The following season, he again split time between the Devils and the River Rats (17 games for the big club, 57 for the minor league team), scoring his first NHL goal and point (he had 2 goals and 3 assists in the NHL that year). In 1997-98, though he did play 3 games in which he scored three goals, for Albany, he played 74 games for the Devils and was up in the NHL full time pretty much from there on out. That year, he scored 18 goals and 19 assists for 37 points total.

By 1998-99, Elias was a fixture in the Devils lineup, playing in 74 games that year and scoring 17 goals, 33 assists for 50 points. After helping the Devils get to the Stanley Cup Finals with a key goal in the Eastern Conference Final versus Philadelphia, Elias assisted on perhaps one of the most famous goals in NHL playoff history: Jason Arnott’s Cup-clincher in double overtime of game six at Reunion Arena in Dallas. Just about two or three years into his NHL career and Elias was already a Stanley Cup champion, something he would repeat in 2003.

Elias was well on his way to being the great Devil he is now known as; however, he became a Ranger. In the 2006 off-season, Elias decided to test the free agent waters, having been unable to reach an agreement with the Devils. He received notable offers from Chicago, Montreal and the Rangers. Although he had verbally agreed to join the Blueshirts, General Manager Glen Sather would not give Elias a no-trade clause in his new contract and he eventually worked with Lou Lamoriello on a contract to keep him in New Jersey for the next seven years. With Elias firmly back in the fold, the Devils would soldier on. He was named team captain in 2007, but relinquished the captaincy the following season, having never felt comfortable in the role as official team leader. Elias has worn the “A” since the 2005-06 season, however.

March 17, 2009 (St. Patrick’s Day, ironically enough) is known for two things in Devils lore. That game (a win against the Chicago Blackhawks) yielded a new NHL wins leader in net and the Devils’ new all-time leading scorer. While Martin Brodeur got the win in goal, 3-2, and with it, number 552 in his storied career, Elias registered an assist on a shorthanded goal by Brian Gionta, point number 702, pushing him ahead of John MacLean for the Devils record. The next season, on December 12, 2009, Elias scored his 300th goal in a game against the Flyers. He was now well on his way to becoming the all-time leading Devils goal scorer too.

That milestone would be reached in 2011-12, when Elias scored two goals on December 17, 2011 in Montreal to pass MacLean and become the Devils all-time goal scoring leader. That year, Elias made his fourth Stanley Cup Final appearance as the Devils made their surprise run to the championship series, ultimately losing to the Los Angeles Kings. That season would also see him play in his 1,000th NHL game on January 6, 2012 against the Florida Panthers (a game in which he scored a goal and two assists).

Then, last week against the Buffalo Sabres, Elias reached rarified air when he recorded his 998th, 999th and 1,000th points. His 998th point was a goal at 3:44 of the first, giving the Devils a 1-0 lead. Point number 999 came as the primary assist on Travis Zajac’s shorthanded goal at 14:39 of the first, giving the Devils a 3-0 lead. Point 1,000 came as the secondary assist on Mike Cammalleri’s empty net goal at 16:56 of the third. It was assist number eleven of the season, but put him in an elite NHL club. He was also named the game’s first star.

After all of that, late last week, Elias was named to his fourth All-Star Game appearance as the Devils sole representative in Columbus on January 25. Elias previously participated in the All-Star Game in 2000 (Toronto), 2002 (Los Angeles) and 2011 (Carolina).

Elias’s presence has been felt off the ice for the Devils too. His influence has brought other Czech players into the fold. Players like Marty Havlat (who has, mostly due to injuries, been unable to really get his Devils career off the ground – but is still a fine player), Marek Zidlicky and Jaromir Jagr. These men have played together internationally and all of them respect Elias. He had more than just a little bit of input when it came time for Lou to make the decision to sign them (or in Zidlicky’s case, for him to agree to be traded to New Jersey). It is partly because of Patty that Devils fans have been able to watch the brilliance that is Jaromir Jagr in person for the last two seasons and why we have Zidlicky’s greatness on the power play to help us when we have the man advantage.

Patrik Elias has been with the Devils for almost two decades. He has accomplished so much that we tend to take him for granted. But when you think about everything that he has meant to this team, you can see just why Elias is arguably the greatest Devil of all time.

Welcome!

I would like to welcome everyone to the new home of my New Jersey Devils writings. Before getting started, I would like to publicly thank Mr. Nate Fegan for everything he has done to get me here on my standalone website. In addition, I would like to thank my family for their support of my writing as well as their input along the way.

I have posted my backlog of work and would like to invite readers to poke around those for a while if they’d like. Also, please excuse the “work in progress” nature of the site, as that is exactly what this is! Hopefully I will be able to add photos and videos to supplement my posts in the future.

I hope to fully entertain Devils fans (and even some non-Devils fans) with this site and hope everyone has a good time when reading my posts.

Let’s Go Devils!

Devils Coaching Switch Yields Changes Everywhere

I had a completely different topic in mind for this post prior to the NHL’s Christmas break. Then the hammer came down on Devils coach Pete DeBoer the day after Christmas and everything changed. Not just for me and my ramblings here on this blog, but also for the Devils.

To say the first half of the Devils’ 2014-15 season has been a disappointment is an understatement. The team had a record of 12-17-7 with 31 points going into the break. At the time I am writing this, the team is roughly ten points out of a playoff spot (the Rangers would be the Metropolitan Division’s wildcard team with 46 points, the Devils have 35), so a playoff spot is not totally out of reach. It would just take a surge from the Devils and some luck in the form of a collapse from some teams in front of them to get there. When they axed DeBoer, General Manager Lou Lamoriello (who took over behind the bench along with former assistant coaches Scott Stevens – who will coach the defense and Adam Oates – who will coach the forwards) felt that the team needed to “get their identity back.” The team wants to get back to playing a more defense-first style and feels that that everything will fall into place from there. There have been some mixed results so far, but that is to be expected when you make a major change to the coaching staff.

The first game under the three coach system saw the team drop a 3-1 decision to the Rangers on December 27. While the score does not show it, due to the empty netter, the Devils were not really out of this game, which is a great sign early on under a new coaching regime against a team as strong as the Rangers. But with all due respect to our rivals in New York, the real test came that Monday, December 29 when the Devils took on Pittsburgh at Prudential Center. Though the Devils got behind early (1-0 after the first), they fought back to win 3-1. Jordin Tootoo had two fights against Robert Bortuzzo, who had given a late, high hit to Jaromir Jagr in a game at Consol Energy Center earlier in the month. To play as complete a game as they did against one of the NHL’s best (a team who, like the Devils and the Minnesota Wild, were hard hit by the recent NHL mumps epidemic) seemed to show that they were turning a corner and would finally get going. Then they met the Red Wings on New Year’s Eve and it had Devils fans everywhere shaking their heads again. After Joe Whitney scored his first NHL goal (with an assist from Tim Sestito, his first NHL point), it was downhill from there. The Red Wings scored three unanswered and won 3-1.

The Devils would face a fourth potential playoff team in a row on Friday, January 2 in their first game of 2015, in the Montreal Canadiens. The game was even through the first and the first 6:30 of the second until the Habs broke through for two. Down 2-0 in the third, the Devils gave up another one as Michael Bournival got his second of the game. The Devils would answer back with two goals in the third to make it 3-2 late, but Montreal added an empty netter to get the 4-2 win. P.K. Subban had three assists on the night.

After all of that, the Devils limped into the second half of the back-to-back for the weekend (and the second half of the season, with game number 41), facing the Flyers on Saturday, January 3. This was a breakout game in so many ways. Jaromir Jagr became the oldest player to record a hat trick in NHL history when he scored at 13:20 of the first (assist to Adam Henrique), 19:56 of the first (assists to Scott Gomez and Andy Greene) and 12:32 of the second (assists to Scott Gomez and Seth Helgeson). Patrik Elias added a powerplay goal in the first (assists to Martin Havlat and Travis Zajac) and Gomez (from Henrique and Adam Larsson) also added goals as the Devils won 5-2. The game saw four scraps, as Jordin Tootoo again got into it, this time with Zac Rinaldo. Tim Sestito fought Michael Raffl, while Mark Frazer fought Wayne Simmonds in the second and Sestito took on Brayden Schenn when Schenn took liberties with Andy Greene in the corner.

The last few games since the coaching change have been a tale of two teams: the Devils who showed up and fought against Pittsburgh and Philly, and the Devils who had a rough time against the Rangers, Wings and Habs. The team has shown it can compete with the big boys (the Penguins game) and that it can beat teams who are in a similar situation to what they are experiencing (the Flyers game). It is the games in between that they need to win in order to turn things around. They need to beat teams like the Rangers and the Capitals, who are on the playoff bubble behind the Penguins and Islanders. This will take time. The new coaching regime will need time to implement a system and revamp things, to mold things in their image.

Pete DeBoer coached the Devils for 253 games over three and a half years. He compiled a 116-96-41 record with the team (good for a .583 winning percentage). He took the team to the Stanley Cup finals in 2012, but did not make the playoffs in his other two full seasons. He was dealt a tough blow this season with so many players out with injury and the mumps outbreak. But in the end, management felt that he had not done enough. We will see if the new coaching staff can get things back on track and salvage this season or not. If the team plays more like they did against Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, things will be OK. If they play like they did against Detroit and Montreal, then it will certainly be back to the drawing board.

Pro Hockey’s Legacy In New Jersey Prior to the NHL

Today, New Jersey is a participant in the National Hockey League with Newark’s New Jersey Devils franchise. But it was not always that way. New Jersey has had its share of minor league hockey over the years and it truly was a long road that the Garden State traveled to get to the big leagues.

The state of New Jersey first attempted to get into professional hockey in the 1920’s when the NHL was first expanding into American markets. After the first expansion, which included the New York Americans, the first hockey tenants of Madison Square Garden, the NHL received applications from several American and Canadian cities, including Jersey City. Although the city was turned down and did not receive an NHL franchise, that was not the last of the NHL’s interest in the state. Later in the ‘20s, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Steel City’s first foray into the NHL, was struggling at the gate due to lackluster play and a dilapidated arena. The league’s original plan for the team was to relocate them to Atlantic City before the deal fell through. With nowhere else to go, the team was placed in Philadelphia and renamed the Quakers. The team was historically bad, losing 15 in a row at one point in their only season (1930-31) in the City of Brotherly Love. They folded after that single season. The NHL was not to return to Pittsburgh or Philly for almost another 40 years. Jersey would not get their chance at the NHL until the Devils arrived a little over 50 years later. Atlantic City would get their shot at pro hockey when the minor league Tri-State Hockey League’s Atlantic City Sea Gulls debuted in 1932-33 (the league’s only season). The Sea Gulls won the league’s only championship and competed against the Baltimore Orioles, Hershey B’ars (now the American League’s Hershey Bears) and Philadelphia Comets in the four team league.

Although major pro hockey was not in the cards for New Jersey at that point, there was minor pro hockey, which would go on to be centered in the Cherry Hill area in South Jersey throughout most of the 1960s and ‘70s. The Eastern Hockey League was a minor pro circuit that played from 1954 to 1973 and had teams based from New England to Florida in its heyday, including teams in Nashville (the Dixie Flyers), Long Island (the Ducks), Jacksonville (the Rockets) and Baltimore (the Clippers). In 1960, the Eastern Hockey League’s Washington Presidents moved to the Haddonfield Ice House and were renamed the Jersey Larks. The Larks lasted only one season in the EHL before moving to Knoxville, Tennessee to become the Knoxville Knights. They went 24-39-1 and lost in the second round of the EHL playoffs.

The next team to call New Jersey home played in the Cherry Hill Arena and was called the Jersey Devils. In August 1964, the Philadelphia Ramblers were replaced in the EHL by New Jersey’s second entry into the league after failing “to fulfill its financial obligations to the league” according to newspaper reports at the time. The Devils would eventually have an affiliation with Philadelphia’s new NHL expansion franchise, the Flyers. The first season (1964-65) the Jersey Devils, coached by Pat Kelly and playing in the EHL’s Northern Division went 34-34-4, but would lose in the first round of the playoffs. They missed out on the playoffs in their second season going 25-43-4 and being coached by Benny Woit. Their third season, 1966-67, they went 39-30-3 (the best record in team history) and lost in the EHL finals. That year, they were coached by Vic Stasiuk who would go on to coach in the NHL for the Flyers for two seasons, the California Golden Seals for one and the Vancouver Canucks for one. The team would play six more seasons in Cherry Hill and never make the playoffs again. They had five more head coaches, including Gord Stratton, Marcel Pelletier, Lou Jankowski, Wayne Kitchen and Jim Hay, but would not finish above .500 in those six years.

The Devils folded with the league in 1973, but the Cherry Hill Arena would not be vacant for long. The World Hockey Association formed in the early 1970s and one of their early priorities was to put a team in the New York City area. They were eyeing the newly-built Nassau Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum as a home for what they hoped would be the league’s premier franchise, the New York Raiders. However, in a pre-emptive strike, the NHL would grant the team that would become the New York Islanders to begin play in 1972-73 to owners that would put them in the building. With the Nassau Coliseum out of the question, the team would strike a deal that would see them share Madison Square Garden with the Rangers for the 72-73 WHA season. That worked about as well as you would expect and, despite changing their name to the New York Golden Blades for the 1973-74 season, they would move to Cherry Hill one month into the season, debuting in the rink on November 10, 1973 as the Jersey Knights. The arena was famously inadequate; with an incline in the ice surface and visiting dressing rooms that did not meet major league standards (the visitors had to change and shower in a motel across the street from the arena and take a bus to the rink in their uniforms). The Knights lasted the rest of the 1973-74 season in Cherry Hill before moving to San Diego to become the Mariners for the rest of their existence in the WHA.

Minor pro hockey would briefly reappear in Cherry Hill, as the Northeastern Hockey League’s Jersey Aces (who were sold to Philadelphia Phillies legend Mike Schmidt prior to their first season in 1978-79) would last at the newly-named Cherry Hill Centrum only a few months. On January 9, 1979, the Phillies star third baseman moved the team to Hampton, Virginia where they would split their games between the Hampton Coliseum and the Norfolk Scope in Norfolk. One player on the Aces was former Rangers and (briefly tenured) Islanders General Manager Neil Smith, the man who built the 1993-94 Stanley Cup champions who defeated the New Jersey Devils in seven hard-fought games (plus overtime) in the Eastern Conference Final.

The Cherry Hill Arena would eventually be torn down in the 1980s and replaced by a strip mall, but its place in New Jersey hockey lore is irreplaceable. It may not have been modern (or even satisfactory), but the building was the first to host big league hockey in the state of New Jersey until the Meadowlands Arena opened in 1981 (the Rangers and Flyers played in a preseason game a year prior to the arrival of the Devils). Finally in 1982-83, the NHL arrived in the form of the Colorado Rockies and the New Jersey Devils were born. Taking their nickname from the most successful of the teams to previously call Jersey home, the Devils are the heirs to a rich legacy of pro hockey in New Jersey that stretches back decades.

Scott Niedermayer to Join IIHF Hall of Fame

Scott Niedermayer will be joining another hall of fame this May at the 2015 World Hockey Championships in Prague it was announced on December 18 according to NHL.com. The former Devils’ star defenseman, who is already a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, will join the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2015. He is the only Canadian player to win every major North American and international championship.

Niedermayer, a native of Edmonton, Alberta who grew up in Cranbrook, British Columbia, is a member of the “Triple Gold Club”: having won an Olympic gold medal with Team Canada at the 2002 Salt Lake City games and the 2010 Vancouver games as well as winning gold at the 1991 World Junior Championship and the 2004 World Championship. He has also won four Stanley Cups (1995, 2000 and 2003 with the Devils and 2007 with the Anaheim Ducks) in the NHL and the 2004 World Cup of Hockey with Canada. His other accomplishments include winning the 1992 Memorial Cup with the Kamloops Blazers (who, like the Devils, have retired his number) of the Western Hockey League and was the 1992 Stafford Smythe Memorial Trophy winner as most valuable player of the Memorial Cup. He also won the 2007 Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the Stanley Cup playoffs. In 1991 he had been named the winner of the Daryl K. (Doc) Seaman Trophy (as WHL scholastic player of the year) and was named the Canadian Hockey League scholastic player of the year. He was also the recipient of the 2004 Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best overall defenseman. He also served as Devils team captain in 2004 and was Ducks captain for most of his time there, including when the team won their first and, to date, only Stanley Cup title.

Now Niedermayer can add IIHF Hall of Famer to his resume. Because of his accomplishments on the international stage, Niedermayer will join former Buffalo Sabres and Detroit Red Wings goalie and six-time Vezina Trophy winner Dominik Hasek, longtime Calgary Flame Robert Reichel, Swedish women’s Olympian Maria Rooth, Italian star Lucio Topatigh (who will receive the Richard “Bibi” Torriani trophy), and Luxembourg’s Monique Scheier-Schneider (who will be awarded the Paul Loicq Award). Joining them will be women’s international hockey architect Fran Rider in the Builder’s category.

Part of Niedermayer’s reason for induction was that he was a champion at every level, especially on the international stage. In the Olympics alone, playing 13 games over two tournaments in 2002 and 2010, he had 2 goals and 3 assists for 5 points he was also a plus-7 with 8 penalty minutes. But more importantly than stats, Niedermayer brought other intangibles to a team like leadership (he was captain of the 2010 Canadian Olympic team in Vancouver). As noted, he has won championships at every level from Juniors to the NHL to every type of international competition and those championships have made him one of the most decorated players ever to play the game.

Scott Niedermayer’s New Jersey Devils career began at the beginning of the 1991-92 season after being selected 3rd overall in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft (a pick the Devils acquired by sending 1988 playoff team member Tom Kurvers to the Toronto Maple Leafs). He debuted on October 16, 1991 against the Rangers. Known as a phenomenal skater whose mom, Carol, signed him up for figure skating classes and taught power skating to him and his brother Rob (who is also a former Devil and who he won a Stanley Cup with in Anaheim as well as faced in the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals when Rob was a member of the then-Mighty Ducks of Anaheim), he scored his first NHL goal on November 8, 1992 in a 6-1 rout of the San Jose Sharks. This season, 1992-93, was his first full NHL season and he was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team at the end of the season. His skating prowess was on full display in game two of the 1995 Stanley Cup Final when he scored against the Red Wings on an end-to-end rush, a goal that has been replayed in Stanley Cup playoff video packages ever since.

In 1997-98, he had his best year in New Jersey scoring 14 goals and racking up 43 assists for 57 points. He played in his first All-Star Game that year in Vancouver, where he scored a goal in the first period of an 8-7 North American All-Star win over the World All-Stars. That year he was also named to the NHL’s postseason Second All-Star Team. He also represented the Devils in the 2001 All-Star Game in Denver and the 2004 game in St. Paul, Minnesota (where he had the primary assist on Mark Messier’s final All-Star goal at 13:48 of the second period). That 2004 game was special for both Niedermayer personally and the Devils as a franchise: in addition to assisting on Messier’s goal, Niedermayer also won the Fastest Skater event at the annual skills competition with a time of 13.783 second. He also served as the East’s captain. For the Devils, the team lent players to the entire backend of the Eastern Conference’s starting lineup, as Niedermayer and Brian Rafalski were the two starting defensemen and Martin Brodeur got the nod in goal. Future Devil Ilya Kovalchuk, then of the Atlanta Thrashers, started at left wing, as well. Niedermayer’s Eastern Conference defeated the Western Conference, 6-4.

Although he would leave for the west coast in 2004 and add another Cup to his list of accomplishments, making the Ducks the first California-based NHL team to claim Lord Stanley’s Cup, his impact and legacy was still being felt in New Jersey. After his retirement at age 37, the Devils brought him back to honor him with a jersey retirement ceremony in 2011, making him the third Devil to be so honored.

Although all of these accomplishments are something to be proud of for certain for Niedermayer, it is the championship pedigree that he will forever be known for. A born leader and someone who could win with any team at any level, Scott Niedermayer is more than an NHL legend, he is also a legend of international hockey and is well deserving of his place within the IIHF’s hall of fame.

Devils Drop Shootout in Final Trip to Coliseum

The Devils played their final regular season game at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Monday, December 15, and fell to the hot New York Islanders 3-2 in a shootout. The Isles will move to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center next season. Although the Islanders will be losing the most when the Coliseum closes its doors later this year, some Devils history will also be lost with the old barn, site of the Devils’ first ever playoff win.

The arena, which is situated 19 miles east of New York City in Uniondale, New York, opened in 1972 and is now the second oldest arena in the league, behind only the current Madison Square Garden, which opened in 1968. Prior to the Devils arriving in East Rutherford, the Rangers and Islanders were the closest teams, geographically, in the NHL. The arena also hosted the 35th NHL All-Star Game in 1983 which featured Devils player Hector Marini, the team’s first ever midseason All-Star representative. Marini had an assist in the game (helping the Rangers’ Don Maloney at 14:04 of the third), as his Wales Conference team took the loss to the Campbell Conference, 9-3.

Keith Kinkaid, the Farmingville, New York native who (though I erroneously referred to him as a Devils fan in my profile on him – he was only a fan of Marty Brodeur as a kid, not the Devils) grew up a fan of the Islanders, having been raised 30 minutes away, got the start in goal for the Devils. He was once again fantastic, making 31 saves for a .939 save percentage plus three saves in the shootout. With that shootout loss, however, the Devils left the Coliseum the same way they entered it. That a Long Island native with ties to both teams got the start in net for the Devils, with his nervous family in attendance, says a lot about the Islanders impact on their community. Like the Devils and New Jersey, kids now grow up wanting to play hockey because they go to see an NHL team play. And it now pays dividends, as the areas are producing NHL-caliber players like Kinkaid.

The Devils moved to New Jersey and the Patrick Division right smack in the middle of the Islanders early-1980s Stanley Cup dynasty in 1982-83. The Isles would win their fourth and final Cup that year and the Devils were, simply put, doormats. The team’s first trip to their new division mates’ home arena (nicknamed in those days “Fort Neverlose”) was on October 30, 1982 in the second half of a home-and-home series (of which the Devils dropped the first game 4-2 on October 28). The outcome of the game at the old barn in Uniondale, New York was 8-5 Islanders, as they swept the two game series. It didn’t get much better from there. In their second trip to the Coliseum, the Devils got blown out 7-1 on December 11, 1982. And so it continued. Although the Devils found fair success against the Rangers and Flyers early on, they found the Islanders much harder to master. The Devils did not get their first victory over the Islanders until October 12, 1984 (the season opener of the 1984-85 season, the team’s third in New Jersey), a 7-2 win at the Brendan Byrne Arena. Their first win at Nassau Coliseum came on December 11, 1984, 7-5.

Times did change, though, as Martin Brodeur would attest to. The Islanders have been Marty’s biggest victims over the years – he owns a better record against Long Island’s team than any team in the league, which makes sense since the Islanders were bad for most of Brodeur’s time in the East and they have always shared a division, making them frequent adversaries. Marty even got a recent win in relief against the Isles as a member of the St. Louis Blues.

Although the Devils share a geographic rivalry with the Islanders, it has not been as heated over the years as their rivalries with the Rangers or Philadelphia largely due to the two teams only meeting once to date in the playoffs (which also makes sense as the Isles were in decline as the Devils were on the rise). That meeting came during the 1988 Patrick Division Semifinals. The Devils had just squeaked into the postseason by defeating the Chicago Blackhawks at Chicago Stadium on the final day of the regular season and were now going to faceoff with the New York Islanders in the first round. The Islanders still had much of their Stanley Cup mystique in 1988, but the Devils, the young upstarts that they were, came into the series paying little respect to this great and proud franchise, as related by John MacLean and Ken Daneyko in the MSG broadcast of the game against the Isles on Monday. The Devils earned the first playoff win in franchise history at the Nassau Coliseum on April 7, 1988 in game two of the series, 3-2, which also evened the series at a game apiece (the Devils having dropped the first game 4-3 in overtime). The Devils would go on to take the series in six games; finishing things up on April 14 with a 6-5 win at home in the Meadowlands. And so the Devils and Islanders playoff history began, and they have never faced each other again in the Stanley Cup tournament.

And it is likely to stay that way for now. The Islanders are once again on the rise, having a dream season as they currently stand second in the Metropolitan Division, behind only the mighty Penguins with a 21-10-0 record and 42 points, which ties them with Detroit and Montreal for third overall in the Eastern Conference. They will make the playoffs this year, barring a collapse. The Devils meanwhile stand at 11-15-6 and 28 points, good for sixth in the Metro Division and fourteenth in the sixteen team Eastern Conference. Barring a surge, they will not make the playoffs. Although the season is quickly deteriorating for the Devils, it is good to see the Isles healthy again. They are a model of a team rebuilding to get competitive again through the draft; something the Devils will likely model themselves after in the coming years. Hopefully the Devils rebuild does not take quite as long as the Islanders did, but if the team can improve through the draft, they can ultimately be competitive again. It will take some time, but Devils fans need to be patient and look to the Islanders for inspiration.

So, as we say goodbye to the Nassau Coliseum and celebrate the Islanders history there (rightly so as it is their home rink), we, as Devils fans, should remember that the Devils do have a little bit of history in the building. From that 1988 Patrick Division Semifinal, the Devils first playoff series and playoff series win to Martin Brodeur and his record number of victories, the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum has enough sentimentality to Devils fans to make us shed a tear at its passing from the NHL ranks.

Kinkaid-ing the Cause

The Devils had a tall order ahead of them: the second half of a back-to-back set of games against those offensive powerhouses the Chicago Blackhawks. The coaching staff (knowing that Cory Schneider had started all but one game for the team) was anxious to give the number one goalie a break. They decide to start the young guy who had never had an NHL start, but had come in in relief a handful of times. Keith Kinkaid then did nothing but dazzle.

Facing 39 shots, he made 37 saves, but more importantly, kept the Devils in a game that they had no business being in (though that is not entirely true: the team did play well in front of him, I say they had no business being in the game simply because the team had just flown in from Carolina the night before and were facing a rested Blackhawks team that is one of the top teams in the league). Named the game’s second star, he faced six shots on the Blackhawks two power plays (including a crucial hooking call on Jaromir Jagr in overtime) and nabbed all six of them, as the Devils penalty kill unit continues to roll. He finished with a .949 save percentage and made some solid saves, including stopping Patrick Sharp on a breakaway early in the third (a save similar to one he made against Steven Stamkos in his NHL debut in March of 2013 against Tampa Bay at Prudential Center) and two big saves each on Duncan Keith and Patrick Kane.

But beyond that, he had the building buzzing last Tuesday. Nobody is expecting the youngster to usurp Schneider as the Devils undisputed starter, but he is a reliable backup (much like Scott Clemmensen, who is a solid goalie and has experience, though Kinkaid is a lot younger – a direction the Devils need to go, desperately) who can give Schneider a much needed rest from time to time. You can ride the hot goalie only so long, eventually he is going to get overworked and his play will suffer. Although Cory will still get the bulk of the work, it is good to have a reliable goaltender waiting in the wings.

Should Keith Kinkaid become the Devils default backup, will the Devils deal Clemmensen? Should they move him, what could they get in return? Is there a team that needs a veteran backup such as Scott Clemmensen? These are tough questions to answer, but the Devils are in a good position if they can get, say, a lower draft pick from a team that does need goaltending. As mentioned, Scott Clemmensen is still a good, NHL-caliber goalie who could help a team out. But if Keith Kinkaid is the future, and the Devils do need to pull the trigger on a youth movement, up and down the roster, let him get his chance. The Devils have one of, if not the, oldest rosters in the league and will need to jettison some of the older players for draft picks. Much like the situation with Adam Larsson on defense, the Devils have taken time with their young goaltenders. Playing behind Martin Brodeur and, now, Cory Schneider, two superstar goalies in the NHL for sure is not going to be easy. But tucking their young guys down in Albany without giving them a whole lot of big league experience might end up hurting their game in the long run.

The former Union College Dutchman and Farmingville, New York native, who grew up a fan of Martin Brodeur and the Devils, is unquestionably ready for some experience in the NHL. Now is the time to keep him in New Jersey and give him some playing time. Again, Cory Schneider is going to (and should) get the bulk of playing time; I am not suggesting it be otherwise. He has earned it by paying his dues in Vancouver and dealing with the playing time “controversies” with both Roberto Luongo with the Canucks and Brodeur here in Jersey. He has played his way into the number one position and, if need be, it would be his to lose. But using Kinkaid a little bit more would do wonders for Cory’s workload and would take some of the wear and tear off of him.

Although I do know that goaltenders like Cory Schneider do thrive on pressure and work and that he is settling in as a number one goalie for, really, the first time in his NHL career, but the NHL season is a long one. Overwork can be dangerous for the team. Goalies need a break in their playing time every once in a while. If Keith Kinkaid can keep up his level of play, I see no reason why he cannot be used a little bit more.

Devils Back on Track After Win Versus Leafs (Hopefully?)

As we are now firmly within the holiday season, and roughly about a quarter through the NHL schedule, I figured I’d take some time to look back at the Devils win in Toronto on December 4 that got them off of a five game losing skid and give some thanks, wishing that it leads to bigger things later in December and into the new year. Now, granted, two of the games (the Calgary game on November 22 and the Detroit game on November 28) were games in which the Devils lost in a shootout, so they did pick up one point for each of those games. The problem was that they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory: losing a two goal lead in the Flames game and a one goal lead in the Red Wings game late in the third periods, setting up their shootout losses and ended up losing two games that they could have won against good teams. Limping into Toronto, the Devils were not in a good way (and some of them were literally limping, as the injury bug hit the team hard – as I had mentioned in my post last week).

The Devils came into Toronto having dropped a tough 1-0 decision two days earlier in Pittsburgh. The Leafs had been on the rebound since their disastrous week which culminated with being blown out by Nashville (not that the Predators are a bad team, it’s just that things are… different in Toronto as far as hockey coverage goes and this was certainly fodder for the papers’ “the sky is falling” mentality). The Devils were missing Jaromir Jagr who was supposedly fine after the illegal hit he took from Pittsburgh’s Robert Bortuzzo on Tuesday, but missed due to the flu. Defenseman Adam Larsson also missed due to the flu. Other injuries included: Patrik Elias (lower body), Martin Havlat (lower body), Travis Zajac (lower body). Ryane Clowe (head) and captain Bryce Salvador (lower body). Stephen Gionta was back in the lineup after leaving the Pittsburgh game when he took a puck to his foot. He returned to the ice very briefly in the morning skate and was able to go. Michael Ryder returned after being a healthy scratch against Pittsburgh.

The Devils struck first when Toronto’s Cody Franson was called for interfering with Ryder. Eric Gelinas connected on the ensuing power play (assists to Jon Merrill and Damien Brunner) and the Devils jumped out to a 1-0 lead. The Leafs would tie things up 5:37 into the second period when Mike Santorelli scored from Joffery Lupul and Jake Gardiner.

The Devils would retake the lead just about two and a half minutes later when Gionta buried one from Steve Bernier and Merrill. At 9:42 of the second, Franson took a hooking call against Tuomo Ruutu that put the Devils back on the power play. However, the Maple Leafs again answered back after a New Jersey breakdown in their own zone as Nazem Kadri capitalized and potted a shorthanded goal with assists from Santorelli and Stephane Robidas. The Devils would get things right and regain the lead when Lupul was called for boarding against Andy Greene late in the second and the Devils power play converted. Mike Cammalleri scored a beauty from the left faceoff circle (assists to Gelinas and Ryder) and the Devils went into the final frame with a 3-2 lead.

The third was really all Devils, despite taking two penalties in the period. Bernier scored at 6:12 with helpers from Marek Zidlicky and Dainius Zubrus. Adam Henrique capped the scoring for the Devils, putting them up 5-2 at 11:58 (assists to Ryder and Zidlicky). That was not all for the scoring, as Ruutu was called for tripping against Daniel Winnik, putting the Leafs on the power play at 17:56. Toronto pulled goaltender Jonathan Bernier for the two man advantage, and Phil Kessel was able to get on the scoresheet with a goal with 35 seconds remaining on the clock off a mad scramble in front of the New Jersey net, in which Cory Schneider made the initial save but could not corral the rebound (assists to Tyler Bozak and Middletown, New Jersey native James van Riemsdyk). When the final horn sounded, the Devils had broken their losing streak and had taken the game 5-3.

The good news is that the Devils were able to survive without a lot of their offensive firepower (most notably Jagr, their leading scorer) and played a pretty much complete game. The bad news is the schedule does not get any less forgiving for the team in the next few weeks. Saturday, December 6 sees the Devils faceoff with Alex Ovechkin and the always-dangerous Washington Capitals. Then on Monday, the 8th and Tueday the 9th, the Devils play a back-to-back set with a game in Carolina on Monday and then the high-flying high-octane Chicago Blackhawks visit “the Rock” on Tuesday. A home and away back-to-back is hard enough. When you are returning home with the Blackhawks waiting for you, well, that is just brutal. December also sees the Devils take on teams currently in playoff position including: a game at the Islanders on December 15, which, barring a meeting in the playoffs would be the Devils final appearance at the Nassau Coliseum. A game at home on Friday, December 19 against Tampa Bay, which sets up a weekend back-to-back with the backend against the Capitals. The Devils also face the Rangers at the Garden two days after Christmas and then come home that Monday to face the Penguins. They end the month with a game on New Year’s Eve at Joe Louis Arena against the Red Wings. As you can see, it does not get much easier. December may even be more of a challenge for the Devils than November was. In addition to the meet-up with Chicago (which is a huge test), the Devils will also face Philly on the 11th at Wells Fargo Center, a rivalry game that gets the teams up and the Flyers are a much more improved team than they were at the start of the season when the Devils narrowly escaped with a victory on opening night. Add in a game with Ottawa, who always play the Devils well and you do not exactly have an easy slate through the month.

How the team responds the rest of this month will go a long way in deciding whether or not this is a playoff team. The Devils’ schedule has been very road heavy, including the trip to Western Canada last month and, of course, there have been the injuries. But championship teams are able to win despite roadblocks like that being thrown in their way. Can the Devils capitalize on the success they had in Toronto, or was that just an aberration? Hopefully for Devils fans, this team has a run left in them; otherwise it is going to be another tough spring being on the outside looking in.

Devils Fans Dealing With Changes, Injuries

In just about a week, it would seem that Devils fans’ worlds have been turned upside down. Martin Brodeur, the rock of the franchise, the all-time games played, shutout and wins leader for the team and the NHL is now playing for a different team. Scott Gomez, a player once booed for his defection to the hated New York Rangers, is now a Devil again. And injuries have overtaken the team to the point where some games seem like wars of attrition. It is a changing landscape for the Devils. The only question is how everyone around the team will adjust to them.

First up came the news that Marty Brodeur had been brought in to practice with the St. Louis Blues. The thought was that St. Louis general manager Doug Armstrong and head coach Ken Hitchcock would take about a week to look at Brodeur and decide whether or not to sign him. With injuries to number one goalie Brian Elliott and an inexperienced backup in Jake Allen, the Blues were certainly in need of some reinforcement in the crease. Earlier this week, Brodeur was offered a one year contract with bonuses based on how many points he earns the team and signed, meaning that he will now be chasing NHL win number 700 as a member of the Blues. His first start for the team is projected to come Saturday, December 6 versus the Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum. For Devils fans there are some pros here: number one, he is in the Western Conference and as such, the Devils will not be in direct competition with him and, number two, the Devils have already seen the Blues for both of their games, when they dropped both games of a home-and-home back in early November. Another pro for Devils fans is that the Blues are a likeable, young team and if Brodeur can contribute to them winning their first Stanley Cup in franchise history, I am sure most fans would have no problem in rooting for them. Should the Devils remain out of a playoff spot and, ultimately not make the playoffs, I, for one, would have no problem in rooting for St. Louis. Here’s to wishing Marty all the best as he starts this next chapter of his career.

The real question with Brodeur is what happens once Elliott does come back. Will he remain a number one, or will Elliott take back his spot? This move may seem exactly what the doctor ordered for St. Louis now, but things do have a chance to get kind of sticky later on. After all, Brodeur “losing his spot” to Cory Schneider is part of what led to him and the Devils parting ways in the first place. Brodeur still wants to play, and that is great. If he feels he can still go, then he deserves to continue to play. The story will be if he will wow St. Louis management enough to supplant the much younger Elliott as the Blues’ number one goalie. Time will tell, but for now, Brodeur gets to play and St. Louis gets a superstar and real NHL legend to mind the nets for them while they wait for reinforcements.

After that bombshell dropped, Devils fans learned that an old friend would be returning to the fold. Scott Gomez, who had been practicing with the club, but had not been permitted to travel with them, was signed to a contract. He was immediately put in the lineup for Tuesday’s game against Pittsburgh, a 1-0 loss, and had about 22 minutes of ice time. The signing of Gomez came after a rash of injuries that has included Adam Henrique being in and out of the lineup, Ryane Clowe dealing with a head injury, defensemen Jon Merrill and Bryce Salvador dealing with injuries and Travis Zajac being put on injured reserve. To add to that, Patrik Elias, Stephen Gionta and Jaromir Jagr all left the Penguins game with injuries. Jagr’s injury was of special significance since it came on a late hit to the head from Penguins defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, for which he was handed down a two game suspension, though no penalty was called on the ice on the play.

The Gomez signing is, however, a bit of a stopgap. The Devils have the oldest roster in the league and will need to get younger. Also, Mike Cammalleri has been taking on the bulk of the scoring. Other guys will need to step up to distribute the scoring all around. Relying on one guy for the bulk of your scoring is dangerous because, should Cammalleri (who just came off the IR) get hurt again, there is no one there to fill the gap. Since the end of November and their Western Canadian roadtrip, the Devils have had a rough go of it. Especially dropping leads in the games at Calgary and at home against Detroit, only to lose in the shootout. Hopefully, with the right maneuvers and roster changes, the team can tinker its way into winning some games. We will see, but as the saying goes: the waiting is the hardest part.

I would also like to say a few words about the recent passing of Montreal Canadiens great Jean Beliveau. Although I am too young to have seen him play, Mr. Beliveau was someone that I enjoyed reading about as a kid. As many have said since the news broke, he was a class act all the way, similar in a way to New York Yankees great Joe DiMaggio (which is interesting since, as was reported on the NHL Network, Beliveau was just as much a baseball fan as he was a hockey fan growing up – his idol was Ted Williams). Former Devils coach and fellow Canadiens great, Jacques Lemaire wrote a piece on the Devils official website where he eulogized Beliveau and described what an honor it was to have played with a man as great as him. Even for a Devils fan born ten years after he retired, the impact of Beliveau’s career could be felt by me. Merci Mr. Beliveau and Godspeed.