[Ed. Note: Some lists chronicle the best in hockey. Others the worst. Others the most memorable or greatest or essential. What Puck Daddy’s 2016 Summer Series seeks to do is capture those indefinable, quirky, oddities that occur every season. Moments that defy prediction or, in some cases, logical explanation. Welcome to WEIRD NHL.]
By: Greg Wyshynski, editor at Puck Daddy
Before we begin, let it be said that the New Jersey Devils have several levels of weird in their history. Playing in a swamp? Weird. Having banners that depicted a Ringling Bros. circus mural in the rafters of that arena? Weird. Having Joe Piscopo as your most famous fan until Kevin Smith came along? Weird. Winning a Stanley Cup in half a season using the neutral zone trap? Weird. That Kovalchuk contract? Weird.
But here are five moments of NJD weirdness that this lifelong fan (and your humble editor) would like to spotlight for Weird NHL:
1. The 334 Club
On Jan. 22, 1987, the Devils and the Calgary Flames were going to play a rather inconsequential regular-season game. Then two feet of snow fell. So a crowd that was expected to be around 11,000 fans ended up being one of 334 fans who braved the elements (and absolutely terrible roads) and watched a 7-5 win for the home team.
Said Peter McNab of the Devils: “We found out later an 18-wheeler had turned over right in front of the Lincoln Tunnel. There was nowhere to go and I could see I was not going anywhere. I could see the rink. It was a couple of miles away. So I just walked. A [New Jersey] State Trooper was on the other side. He said, ‘What are you doing?’ I said I played for the Devils and am trying to get to the rink. He said, ‘Give me your keys and I’ll try to move your car for you.'”
Fans who attended the game would formally become the “334 Club,” whose membership of course was contingent on having a ticket stub from that fateful night. And they all got T-shirts! It was cute.
2. The Groping Mascot
The current Devils mascot is the creatively named “NJ DEVIL,” who doesn’t resemble the legendary Jersey Devil of the Pine Barrens but is a wonderful excuse to give your child a plush doll of Satan incarnate.
He’s not the team’s only mascot, however.
Back in the early 1990s, the Devils had another creatively named mascot that went by “Slapshot.” He was sort of a low-rent version of Peter Puck, except instead of telling people the nuances of icing, he groped women.
Brad Patrick Ebben was arrested in 1993 and charged with “criminal sexual contact for allegedly fondling three women who worked for the Devils’ concession company.” He avoided trial by agreeing to undergo psychological counseling. He later faced a civil suit alleging that he groped a fan at a Devils game.
Rather than just find someone who wasn’t a criminally gross pervert for the suit, the Devils retired the mascot in 1993.
3. Coach Lou
The New Jersey Devils are defined by Lou Lamoriello, not only because he ran the franchise from 1987 through 2015, but because his influence on it was everywhere – from facial hair restrictions to player personnel decisions.
He was also sorta kinda a megalomaniac, which is what you need sometimes in a general manager. So while going through coaches like most of us go through napkins, Lou actually coached the Devils three times during his tenure (well, technically four, but we’ll get to that debut stint later in the list):
In 2005, Larry Robinson resigned as head coach during the season. Lamoriello took over and coached the team for 50 games, actually guiding them to the Eastern Conference semifinals. He hired Claude Julien as his replacement.
In 2007, Lamoriello fired Julien and took over himself for the last three games of the season. Again, he got them into the semifinals.
Then, in 2014, the Devils fired coach Peter DeBoer and named a three-headed monster as head coach: Adam Oates, Scott Stevens and Lamoriello, who said he was there to “go on the bench to make sure it works for now.” The Devils missed the playoffs.
Fair warning, Mike Babcock.
4. Claude, The Cup and Howard Stern
From our 2011 piece, the 10 oddest places the Stanley Cup ever visited:
The Stanley Cup has appeared on Letterman, Leno and “Meet The Press,” but its most infamous visit to a talk show came on the radio, courtesy of The King of All Media.
When Howard Stern was still on terrestrial radio in New York, Claude Lemieux of the New Jersey Devils brought the Cup with him for an appearance. During the show, it sounded as if one of Stern’s flunkies (in this case, Jackie The Jokeman) had … er … defecated in the Stanley Cup.
But Mike Bolt, one of the keepers of the Cup from the Hockey Hall of Fame refuted that to Maxim in 2008:
“No. I’ve heard two things: They put chocolate pudding or a chocolate bar in it. Personally, I don’t know why someone would think that was funny; people drink and eat out of this thing. I would not have allowed it if I were around in ’95 when it happened. I always say, you want to keep winning this, you respect it, because in 1940 the Rangers burned the deed [to the old Madison Square Garden] in the Cup and then urinated on it to put out the fire—and it was 54 years before they won it again. But 99 percent of the guys, if not 100, are very respectful around it.”
You can listen to them here:
And finally …
5. Doughnut Gate
In 1988, Devils coach Jim Schoenfeld was enraged with the officiating of referee Don Koharski in a 6-1 Wales Conference Final loss to the Boston Bruins. He waited for the referee after the game, blocked his path and began loudly complaining. Koharski loudly responded, waving his index finger at the coach. He pushed by him, and then it happened:
Koharski fell to the ground, and immediately blamed Schoenfeld. The following exchange was captured in the book “Pain and Progress”:
“Oh, you’re gone now! You’re gone. You won’t coach another…” shouted Koharski.
Schoenfeld shot back, “You fell and you know it. You know you fell. I didn’t touch you.”
Koharski: “You’re gone. You’re gone. And I hope it’s on tape.”
Schoenfeld: “Good, ’cause you fell you fat pig. Have another doughnut.”
This incident in itself would earn it a place on any Weird Devils list, but it’s the aftermath that really clinches it.
Eight hours before faceoff before Game 4, NHL vice president Bryan O’Neill announced that Schoenfeld would be suspended one game for his verbal abuse of Koharski and for impeding the ref’s progress to the locker room. Keep in mind that the NHL didn’t even have a face-to-face meeting with Schoenfeld about the incident.
Lou Lamoriello, in his first season as Devils GM, decided to fight it: He got a judge to issue a temporary restraining order against the NHL, allowing Schoenfeld the chance to coach Game 4.
But the officiating crew? They weren’t having it. They refused to work the game, and had to be replaced with off-ice officials, who skated out in bright yellow warm-up jerseys an hour after the game was supposed to begin. Said Devils announcer Peter McNab: “The one fella is just not even a … and I’m not taking anything away from him, he’s got great courage to come out here … but he’s not even a good skater.”
The Devils won, 3-1, but the story didn’t end there. Schoenfeld was then suspended for Game 5, finding out 35 minutes before the start of the game in Boston.
Lamoriello stepped behind the bench for the 7-1 loss. The Devils would eventually lose in seven.
It was all very weird.
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