The Devils held a season ticket member event honoring Patrik Elias that I was fortunate enough to be able to attend.
Patty retired at the end of this past season and will be heading back to the Czech Republic for the rest of the summer. He had wanted to give something back to the fans before leaving, however, and the result was the nice Q&A session that was held at Prudential Center.
The event was hosted by Devils legend Ken Daneyko and touched on a number of topics regarding Elias’ career. It kicked off with Daneyko asking some questions of Patty and much reminiscing about their Stanley Cup championship seasons together in 2000 and 2003. They talked of heated ping-pong battles in the locker room (including how Krzysztof Oliwa got injured during one, leading to management taking the ping-pong table away) and how practices for the team back then were often more physical than the games.
The floor was then turned over to the fans. Elias was asked questions ranging from what his favorite off ice memory of his time with the Devils was to what he felt when he assisted on Jason Arnott’s goal in double OT of game six of the 2000 Stanley Cup Final. He was asked which Stanley Cup he cherished more and which team he hated to play the most.
An interesting story to come out of that last question was that Lou Lamoriello could not stand losing to the Rangers. Elias mentioned that if they did not know the schedule going to the game, Lou’s pacing in the hallway would tip off to him that they were facing New York. Although he did concede that he disliked playing the Flyers more, since the road to the Stanley Cup always went through Philly in those days and they were just a more physical, grinding team to play.
On the subject of the current Devils, Elias spoke very highly of number one draft pick Nico Hischier. He had recently taken him out for a meal and gotten to know him and could not say enough about him, not just as a hockey player, Patty feels he is extremely talented, but also as a human being. Very high praise from a very respected source.
He also talked about how he kind of wished the Devils had gone with a youth movement earlier than they did. He said that when Lou was here, he wanted to win every year and felt that veterans would give the Devils their best chance at that. Elias said that he would have liked to get some time to almost “mentor” the youngsters the way he has given advice to Pavel Zacha and Hischier and the way the older guys like Bobby Holik did for him.
Patty addressed his coming back from illness to become the Devils all-time leading scorer, overtaking John MacLean. He felt that it was kind of a karma deal, where he went through so much with his illness and then came back to become the franchise’s leading scorer. He also discussed how his time with the Albany River Rats of the AHL prepared him to be a full-time NHLer. He mentioned that when he came over from the Czech Republic and did not speak any English, he knew he needed to do something to impress the Devils’ brass to get noticed and a spot in Albany or New Jersey.
On a side note, Elias told a funny story about how he learned to speak English. It was Polish tough guy Oliwa who taught him the basics (since Polish and Czech are very similar languages) and the rest he owed to daytime talk shows.
Daneyko told a story about how he did not want to be drafted by his hometown Edmonton Oilers in the early 1980’s because they would be winning Stanley Cups and would not have a spot for him. Patty felt differently in coming to an organization that drafted him the year before the AHL team won the Calder Cup and the NHL club won the Stanley Cup. He said that he was excited to be coming to the top organization in the world and knew he would have to work hard to make the roster. It was an injury to Hall of Famer-to be, Dave Andreychuk that got him a spot in New Jersey and the rest, as they say, is history.
Elias and Daneyko also did confirm that the Devils will be retiring his number 26, but the date has not been set in stone yet.
After the event, both former players took the time to sign autographs and take pictures with the fans, which capped off a great tribute to a real legend. It is nice to hear that Patty will be having his number retired, becoming the first forward to join three defensemen and a goalie.
Patty was, in many ways, the offensive heartbeat of the Devils in their glory days. Here’s wishing him and his family the best in his retirement and looking forward to honoring him in the future.