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The Essentials: New Jersey Devils Edition

Greg Wyshynski
Puck Daddy

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(This month, Puck Daddy asked bloggers for every NHL team to tell us The Essentials for their franchises — everything from the defining player and trade, to the indispensable fan traditions. Here's David Sarch of the Talking Red podcast, with an assist from John Fischer from In Lou We Trust, giving us the essentials for the New Jersey Devils.)

By David Sarch, Talking Red

Player: Martin Brodeur

I think it says it all that on July 1 this year, a lot of Devils fans would have been more upset to lose Martin Brodeur than Zach Parise.

Simply put, Brodeur is the most accomplished goaltender of all-time and arguably a top-three goaltender of all time in terms of pure talent. He's been at the center of the team's success for more than two decades. Some people (mostly Rangers and Flyers fans) will say that it's because the team played so defensively, but it's his unique skill set which allowed the team to play such a suffocating style.  No other goalie has been so effective at moving the puck out of the zone. In fact, they had to change the rules so he couldn't do it anymore from the corners. Just for some perspective, Brodeur has more wins than every other goalie in Devils history combined.

Season: 1994-1995

The 1993-1994 season didn't end kindly for the Devils. They blew a 3-2 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals (including a double overtime game 7 loss) to their "big brother" rivals, who went on to win the Stanley Cup. As the team was preparing to bounce back, the NHL had a work stoppage to begin the season, and it wasn't until 1995 when they would start playing games again. After battling through the regular season, they lost just four playoff games in route to winning the franchise's first Stanley Cup. This included defeating their second biggest rivals (the Flyers), and won the Stanley Cup Finals with a sweep of the Detroit Red Wings while setting the NHL record for road wins in a playoff year.

It also helped the organization shed the Mickey Mouse tag given to it by Wayne Gretzky.

Game: May 8, 2000, Devils vs. Maple Leafs, Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals

This game was literally everything every person hated about the pre-lockout Devils. After splitting the first four games of the series, the Devils won a hard fought Game 5 to travel back home with the chance to eliminate the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Devils scored on the first shift of the game and proceeded to absolutely dominate the Maple Leafs. Over the course of the game, the Maple Leafs accumulated 6 shots. Yes, SIX shots in a playoff elimination game. The Devils were just simply that good on the night.

Patrik Elias described it best, "we just played a perfect game."

**note for Puck Daddy readers: this wasn't against the post-lock out Maple Leafs, it was when they were an actual regular playoff team**

Goal: Jason Arnott vs. Dallas Stars, 2000 Stanley Cup Finals Game 6

While John MacLean scored the goal that put the Devils into the playoffs for the first time in franchise history in 1988, every Devils fan still visualizes Arnott's double-OT Stanley Cup clinching goal in 2000. Patrik Elias retrieved the puck in the corner, he fired a no look back hand pass to the front of the net, Arnott came crashing down the center of the ice and lifted the puck over a sliding Belfour. It's seemingly on every Stanley Cup playoff highlight reel, it was a brilliant goal, and it will always be that goal to Devils fans.

Trade: Ilya Kovalchuk, Anssi Salmela and 2010 2nd round pick for Johnny Oduya, Niclas Bergfors, Patrice Cormier, 2010 1st round draft pick  and 2010 2nd round draft pick.

Although the trade of Tom Kurvers to the Maple Leafs for the draft pick which would eventually turn into Scott Niedermayer was more important, acquiring Ilya Kovalchuk will ultimately be the one that is remembered by most fans.

Despite what people want to say about Kovalchuk's contract, he's been a great, albeit expensive pick up for the Devils. (Note: I don't acknowledge the John MacLean coaching era.)  In this past season, he was arguably the team's most important player, even earning regular penalty kill duties.

While Kovalchuk has been a great addition, it's also a trade that has shaped the franchise for the future. The rumors are that Atlanta had the choice between Patrice Cormier and Adam Henrique.  Heading into next season, Cormier has two fewer NHL goals than Henrique has overtime playoff series clinchers.

Unsung Hero: Sergei Brylin

Five players won three Stanley Cups with the New Jersey Devils. Most people around the league can name three (Brodeur, Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer), and the fourth has his number retired by the organization (Ken Daneyko).

The one remaining member of this group is Sergei Brylin.

Known to the fans as "Sarge," Brylin was a career New Jersey Devil. He played in 765 regular season games and over 100 career playoff games with the team. Brylin only broke 20 goals twice in his career but was still a fan favorite as a utility player. On any given night he could (and did) play on any line and in any situation, doing whatever the coaching staff asked of him without complaint and doing at least a decent job of it.

After the 2007-2008 season, he signed a contract to play in the KHL and it seems that every year he pops up in New Jersey around training camp time. At this point it's just assumed that when he is ready, he'll join the organization in some sort of coaching or consulting position.

(An honorable mention has to be given to Devils fan independent arbitrator Judge Edward Houston, who awarded the Devils Scott Stevens, Randy McKay and Dave Barr as compensation for losing Brendan Shanahan and Troy Crowder.)

Franchise Villain: Sean Avery

Tie Domi gets some serious consideration here but he was great at tormenting everyone, as would Scott Gomez if he were actually good after leaving the Devils. With Sean Avery it always seemed like he brought his "A" game when playing Martin Brodeur and the Devils (while he was a Ranger - not as a Star, of course). Devils fans have never booed anyone louder than Avery - not even Scott Gomez - mostly because whenever Avery played the Devils, we would just see the team completely unravel. David Clarkson couldn't control himself, Brodeur couldn't save a puck, and, heck, even Mike Mottau dropped the gloves to go with him.

Besides, did anyone even call Brodeur fat before Avery did?

Fight: Scott Niedermayer vs. Valeri Kamensky

It took me a while to figure this one out because the fight itself isn't spectacular. As the fight begins, John Davidson commented that he's never seen these players actually fight before. During the fight though, Kamensky's jersey comes off and covers Niedermayer's face like a ski mask. You can see a young Martin Brodeur laughing from the bench. After the fight, the players are separated and removed from the rink. While Niedermayer is being escorted off the ice he gives the Rangers jersey a twirl and proceeds to punt it. If a goon had done this it would be worth a laugh but because a young Scott Neidermayer did it, it will never be forgotten.

(Honorable mentions go to this past season's Devils-Rangers line brawl as well as a 60-plus-year-old Flyers fan throwing up backwards dukes 2 years ago in the top row of Prudential Center.)

Coach: Jacques Lemaire

Lemaire brought a system back from the 1970s that many have copied but few perfected like those mid-90s Devils teams: the neutral zone trap. He also got the most out of a team that wasn't necessarily impressive on paper but had them perform this system as a unit. It was ruthlessly effective and led the team to a Stanley Cup. What's more is that while he was unceremoniously dismissed in 1998 after a first round loss the playoffs to Ottawa, it didn't prevent two other returns to the team: a successful 2009-10 season, and a salvaging of about half of the 2010-11 season.

Not only will he be remembered for winning the franchise's first Stanley Cup, but also for being a great teacher of the game. You won't hear a player talk about him without explaining how much Lemaire taught him.

Broadcaster: Mike "Doc" Emrick

Mike "Doc" Emrick served as the voice of the New Jersey Devils for 22 seasons before joining NBC full time this past season. During his tenure Devils fans learned of the sing-song chant, the waffle board to the corner, and the unseen hand. On top of being a great broadcaster he has always been great with the fans. Not only did he go out of his way to allow us to interview him this past season but regularly spoke in front of the Devils fan club and to anyone wandering abut the arena that approached him before a game. He truly was as passionate about the game as he makes it sound on the microphone.

Arena Behavior/Tradition/Trend: Goal Song, "Rock and Roll Part 2"

Although it's not my favorite part of Devils arena behavior, it has to be the Devils goal song "Rock and Roll Part 2."  The song isn't particularly great and yes, other teams do use it. Devils fans have made the goal celebration so Jersey though. When it gets to the part in the song when you yell "hey" it's followed by a "you suck" with everyone pointing right to the opposing teams goalie. As the song continues, the fans then continue to chant "<opposing team> sucks" or "<opposing goalie> sucks". While Gary Glitter, the song's composer, served jail time the Devils changed the song up. The crowd couldn't get behind Zombie Nation so the organization let the fans choose.

Even though a popular vote picked New Jersey's own The Bouncing Souls rendition of "Ole!" it just never felt right; and a large segment of the fanbase wanted the song held over from the Colorado days. When Glitter was released from jail, the Devils' traditional goal song resumed normal service.

Arena Food: The tailgate

This is toughest question on this list because I'm not sure anyone ate at the arena before the Devils moved to the Prudential Center in 2007. A big part of that is the food was terrible there. Growing up and going to games with my parents, they'd only let me have ice cream there. But for those not from New Jersey, the arena and stadium complex at the Meadowlands were always defined by their tailgate, no matter the event.

Before Devils games at the old Brendan Byrne Arena you'd see a parking lot full of people, their grills and their coolers…and Rangers and Flyers fans.

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Swag (jersey, hat, shirt, gear, etc.): The Red, White and Green jerseys

Let's be honest, when the Devils wore green, the team was a joke. It wasn't until the team switched to black did the organization achieve any sustained success.  Every year since the introduction of the "third jersey", fans have begged for the team to bring back the Christmas tree colors as a third jersey. A few years ago, the organization gave in and gave it to the fans once a year for St. Patrick's Day. The actual jerseys were in so much in demand that I ordered mine two weeks before the game and didn't get it for a month. The best part was that the replica jerseys were old style cut and stitched, not the new Reebok jerseys with iron on name plates.

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