First off, I know that this is a little bit late, but I have an excuse as I was in the hospital for a week. Nothing serious or major but something that will greatly make quality of life much better for me. A big thank you to the Wall Township Police Department, the staff and doctors at Jersey Shore University Medical Center and, of course, my family, all of whom played a key role at one time or another in getting me back in the game!
Now on to business. As training camps across the NHL started last week, Travis Zajac found himself in a strange situation. The Islanders were not keen on resigning him, it seemed, and he did not really want to leave the area where his kids were growing up and his family was being raised to play hockey in another city.
As Zajac told Sam Kasan of the Devils’ official website, he “took some time off, and then took some more time off. I realized that I didn’t have that fire in me to keep going. I never fell out of love with the game of hockey itself, but I did fall out of love with what it takes to keep playing – the time, the commitment, the conditioning, the sacrifice.”
That is when Zajac knew that it was time to hang up his skates for the final time in the NHL.
Last Monday, September 20, Zajac signed a one-day contract with the Devils and then promptly retired a Devil to put a cap on his 15-year NHL career, spent all with the Devils save a month or two (13 games according to the Devils’ PR team) with the Islanders.
Zajac will work as an on/off ice-player development coach and in a consulting role with the Devils. He will also work with the team’s “youth hockey initiatives” in trying to grow the game even more in the state of New Jersey.
Zajac’s statement to family, friends and fans read: “I was drafted in 2004 and played my first game in 2006. As I stand here nearing the end of 2021, I can only be grateful to sing one last time, and retire as a New Jersey Devil.
“As a kid playing hockey on the outdoor rinks in Winnipeg, I dreamt of playing in the NHL. Growing up the oldest of four boys, it was the perfect hockey environment. Thanks to my parents unwavering support in our lives, that dream became a reality. Then, I got to live that childhood goal for 15 years with the Devils.
“I want to thank the New Jersey Devils organization for giving me the opportunity to play in the best league in the world. To the past and present ownership, managing partners, managers, coaches and trainers, your hard work has not gone unnoticed – thank you. And thanks to my agent, Kurt Overhardt, for always believing in me.
“I have to acknowledge all my teammates who helped me throughout my career. I will cherish all the memories made and I hope that I’ve impacted your life the way you’ve positively impacted mine.
“Now, to the fans, you are the reason this game is so special, and I leave the game knowing I enjoyed every moment I got to play in front of you.
“Lastly, I want to thank my beautiful wife Nicole and our kids Zenon, Veronika, and Anya. We have deep roots in New Jersey now. My wife went to graduate school at Montclair State, our three children, were born in Jersey and raised right here in this rink at Prudential Center. They know no other home and no other community like the Devils. It’s now time for me to embed myself into this same community where I grew into adulthood. It is where my heart is, my home, and I’ve never felt otherwise.
“Born in Winnipeg, Made in Jersey.”
After being drafted out of the University of North Dakota of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, where he played two years from 2004 to 2006 (and playing in an NCAA Championship Game in 2004 – his freshman year and the Frozen Four as a sophomore), Zajac arrived in New Jersey.
He played in a total of 1,037 NHL games, collected 203 goals and 349 assists toalign 552 points over his career. The 36-year-old center played in his 1,000th game last season. Fans were not in the building for that milestone, due to COVID-19. However, the team announced that this season, on March 10, 2022 – fittingly against the Winnipeg Jets at Prudential Center – Zajac will be recognized by the Devils and fans will have a chance to give him a proper sendoff.
Thank you to Travis Zajac for the many years of stellar hockey (the 2012 Stanley Cup Final run will never be forgotten, nor will his OT winner in game six against the Panthers that kept the Devils’ postseason light flickering. Who can forget his Running Man Zajac celebration on that goal either?). Good luck in retirement!