Devils forward Travis Zajac will have his work cut out for him when he attempts to find space against Kings defenseman Matt Greene in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final. But getting into Greene's head might not be a huge challenge for New Jersey's first-line center. After all, he's already been in his apartment.
"I've been to his house on campus a couple of times," said Zajac, who played one season with Greene at the University of North Dakota. "It wasn't pretty."
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Before Zajac enrolled at UND, Greene was also a roommate of Devils captain Zach Parise's. The roomies led the Fighting Sioux to back-to-back NCAA tournaments before Parise left to play for the Devils after his sophomore year. That fall, Zajac joined a Fighting Sioux team captained by Greene that lost in the 2005 national championship game.
Those old college friendships will be put on ice for the next two weeks as the UND alums face off for hockey's biggest prize. Until the Stanley Cup is finally hoisted, they'll be adversaries first and foremost.
"[Greene] sent me a text after we won [to advance to the Final] saying, 'Congratulations, I won't talk to you until after the playoffs,'" Parise told NHL.com. "Greenie is the type of guy who you meet and within five minutes you can figure out what type of guy he is. You can form your opinion pretty easily."
Greene, along with the rest of the Kings' defense, are tasked with stopping Parise and Zajac, who usually play on the Devils' top line alongside Ilya Kovalchuk. That could be difficult, considering Kovalchuk leads all postseason scorers with 18 points while Parise and Zajac both rank in the top eight with 14 and 12 points, respectively.
If there's any team up to the challenge, it might be the Kings, whose 1.57 goals allowed per game is easily the stingiest average in the playoffs -- almost a full goal per game less than the Devils. But when it comes to understanding Greene's game, there might not be better-suited duo than Parise and Zajac, who still has fond memories of playing with the Kings blueliner.
"He is a guy you learn from on and off the ice, just by how hard he works," Zajac told NHL.com. "He's a funny guy, so it's easy to get along with him. He keeps the team in check."
That challenge for both sides could ultimately decide who takes home the Stanley Cup. But none of these UND alums see this Final battle testing their longtime friendships, although communication during the series will be kept to a minimum.
"We probably won't talk through the series. I don't see that happening. But I don't think it's going to affect our friendship at all," said Greene, who doesn't disagree with Zajac's assessment of his old UND apartment. "It was college. I lived in a hockey house. It was an absolute dump. It wasn't on the messy side, it was a complete disaster. We didn't have a maid at any point."