|Trenton Devils' goaltender Dave Caruso grew up idolizing
Martin Brodeur, and hopes to follow in his giant footsteps.
The Devils would lose that 1994 Eastern Conference Final in dramatic fashion, but Caruso spent the next decade idolizing the future Hall of Fame goaltender.
After a solid 2006-07 campaign with the Gwinnett Gladiators, Caruso was offered a contract to play in New Jersey’s organization. It was a chance he couldn’t pass up.
So far, Caruso has made the most of the opportunity. The 25-year-old netminder has posted a 2.82 goals-against average and .918 save percentage in 12 games for the Trenton Devils, New Jersey’s ECHL affiliate.
“I grew up watching the Devils … they were my favorite team,” said Caruso, who was born in New York and lived on Long Island until he was 7. “It was an honor to have them offer me a contract. It’s definitely an honor to put the jersey on.”
Caruso and his family moved to Georgia when he was 7, and it was only a few years later that Brodeur became a mainstay in the Garden State. One year after that back-and-forth series with the Rangers, the Devils won their first of three Stanley Cup titles.
“It was the ’94 playoffs when Martin Brodeur took the Devils to Game 7 against the Rangers,” Caruso said. “I really, really loved to watch Martin Brodeur. I think he’s just a great goalie. He was my idol growing up. With him being my idol, I was always a Devils fan.”
Caruso had never met Brodeur until this past training camp, when the Devils’ organization began preparations for this season. Caruso had a difficult time wiping the smile off his face, knowing he was sharing the ice with one of the greatest goaltenders this sport has ever seen.
“It was unreal,” Caruso said of the experience. “It was really cool. Just being on the same ice with someone who has 500-plus wins and the career he’s had … you look up to him. Every goalie looks up to him. It’s just an honor being in the same organization as him. I was definitely smiling the entire time. I was trying to act cool, though.”
Caruso certainly was cool when asked about the lack of offense the T-Devils have suffered from more often than not this season. Despite the aforementioned GAA and save percentage, Caruso is only 6-6. Trenton has been outscored 76-50 this season, and its leading scorer is defenseman Ryan Gunderson, who has two goals and 14 assists.
T-Devils coach Rick Kowalsky feels sympathy for his goaltender, knowing full well that Caruso has deserved a better fate on several occasions already this season.
“I think his record could be a lot better if we could score him some goals,” Kowalsky said. “He has won some games for us. He’s had a couple of those losses where there have been some flukey, bad-luck goals. If we did produce a little more, it would be nice to win a game where maybe he lets in three.”
It’s been a far cry from last season, when Caruso had the likes of Brad Schell, the ECHL’s MVP, and Scott Mifsud playing in front of him. That pair combined for 204 points in 2006-07, while Caruso went 23-11-4 with a 3.13 GAA.
Nonetheless, Caruso believes the T-Devils have what it takes to reverse their fortunes quickly.
“I wouldn’t say it’s frustrating,” Caruso said. “Wins came a lot easier last year. This year, it’s a different style of game. You’ve just got to be adaptive and make sure you’re playing well each night and giving the team a chance to win. You’d like to win every game, but everybody knows that anybody can beat anybody. There’s not really a dominant team. It’s pretty good games every night.”
In the end, both Caruso and Kowalsky agreed that consistency has plagued Trenton thus far. They agree that once the T-Devils find a way to constantly put forth 60-minute efforts, they will be a major factor in the North Division.
“We’re in every game,” Caruso said. “It’s not like we’re getting blown out or anything like that. Sometimes we have a bad period. We’re just trying to string together a couple of 60-minute games. I think we have enough good players in the room and good character guys.
“We’re a young team. You would expect a young team to struggle a little bit. The more games we play, the more experience we get. Hopefully, that just leads to more wins.”
“We have been able to score a little bit more here,” Kowalsky said. “Some guys have been clicking, and there’s been spurts where we’ve played better. As a team, it’s a matter of doing it for 60 minutes on a nightly basis. When you can start with him as the backbone, there’s definitely the potential to put a string together, which at some point here we have to do.”
Caruso’s work earned him a brief stint with the Devils’ American Hockey League affiliate in Lowell, Mass. He appeared in one game earlier in the season, which was a 5-2 loss at Albany on Nov. 3. Caruso allowed five goals on 35 shots, but was thankful for the opportunity.
“It’s just better athletes all around,” Caruso said of the AHL. “That’s a big difference. You’ve just got to be clean with your rebounds. It was fun to play. The game is fun to watch when you’re on the bench and fun to play because it’s so fast. It’s just exciting.”
With Frank Doyle and Jordan Parise manning the nets in Lowell, it may be a while before Caruso gets another opportunity at the Triple-A level. Until then, Caruso is fine with being the No. 1 goaltender in New Jersey’s capital city, where he hopes to lead the T-Devils to the playoffs.
“They have two great goalies up there in Frank Doyle and Jordan Parise,” Caruso said. “I’m just kind of biding my time, trying to get a lot of experience in Trenton. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. The most important thing is working hard and just trying to have a positive attitude. I have to make the most of my time in the ECHL.”
While it may not happen this season, Kowalsky is certain that Caruso will get another opportunity in the AHL. The Trenton coach raved about his goaltender’s work ethic, which, more often that not, is a deciding factor in a player’s career.
“He’s definitely a depth guy in the organization,” Kowalsky said. “I can’t speak from a future standpoint, but he’s been up there already for a couple of stints. (Lowell goaltending coach) Chris Terreri’s been down here and worked with him. He’s got all the tools to get better and be a good goaltender. He’s a true professional. He takes everything so seriously. The other night we win, and he’s in the gym after the game. He’s one of those kids. All of those intangibles are in place for him to continue to get better.”
Should he ever make it all the way to the Prudential Center, Caruso is certain that one family member will have no choice but to switch allegiances. The wheels may already be in motion.
“My uncle is a Rangers fan, so there’s a little bit of bad blood,” Caruso said. “I don’t think he wants to admit it, but I think he’s turning into a Devils fan since I’m playing with the organization.”
Brian Compton can be e-mailed at: email@example.com.