Selected in the 1994 NHL Draft by New Jersey, Patrik Elias has defined what it means to be a Devil. Elias is the franchise leader in goals, assists and points; he also holds the franchise records for the most points in a season (96) and the most career game-winning goals (74). He recently played in his 1,100th NHL game, and of course, who can forget his two Stanley Cup Championships in 2000 and 2003. Elias' service to his team, his country, and his charitable endeavors with UNICEF are admirable, as is his career-long stay in New Jersey, something he hopes will continue.
Kathryn Tappen: It is rare for a professional athlete to play his entire career with one team. What has it meant to you to have played your entire career to this point with New Jersey?
Patrik Elias: For me, it means that I've been doing something right over the years. There was an interest from both sides -- from me and my family, and [general manager] Lou Lamoriello and management -- that they've been happy with the job I've been doing over the years. I have seen players come and go, playing in different cities and different teams, and the grass isn't always greener on the other side. My position on this team, you can't replace that. I made a decision a couple of times to stay here. I learned a lifestyle from Lou about what it means to be a professional and what it means to be a good teammate, team player, playing here and for one organization, and hopefully I can be one of the guys to play here as long as I can.
KT: Describe what it was like being a kid growing up in Czech Republic.
PE: I had two older brothers, one was three years older and the other was five years older. I grew up quickly with them, always playing sports and activities outside. Having older brothers to look up to was a lot of fun for me. They didn't like me that much; being the younger sibling you get a beating a lot (laughs). But I was OK. My memories of being a kid are mostly of being outside, having fun, and playing hockey, soccer, tennis, lots of sports.
KT: What soccer team do you root for?
PE: Barcelona. Their ball position, give-and-go's, it's amazing. I would compare them a little bit to the Detroit Red Wings or Chicago Blackhawks because the way they control the puck during the game, and it makes it tough on the other team. So, Barcelona.
KT: Who is your favorite tennis player?
PE: Roger Federer. He is simply the best; the way he represents family values and being a good person, not to mention who he is as a player. Definitely Federer, by far.
KT: You will have the opportunity to be a kid again, playing outdoors in Yankee Stadium in January against the New York Rangers. What are you looking forward to most about that experience?
PE: I'm pleasantly surprised and happy that we will be playing outside. I know with Lou having a great relationship with the Yankees I'm sure had something to do with it, and that's good for us. We are all looking forward to it. Once we get to that venue it will bring back old memories because that's how most of us start playing hockey -- on the lakes, the rivers. That's where I learned to skate and spent most of my childhood there. Maybe for a moment of the game, you forget that there are two points, and you play for fun and enjoy it, because it's going to be a special time.
KT: From a preparation standpoint, have you thought about how to approach playing outside as opposed to indoors?
PE: I've watched the games that have been played outdoors already. The game is different obviously. You are affected by the weather and the ice. You see the guys bundled up. That's the best thing for us, is to stay warm. I'm going to try to maybe wear an extra shirt and have a little more tea like when I was a kid, and, of course, lots of Gatorade.
KT: Your family will most likely be colder than you are.
PE: (laughs) Probably, yes. I have friends and family coming from overseas for this game. It is a special event, and one I probably won't get to play in again in my career. I'm going to embrace it.
KT: Shortly after the outdoor game, you will be representing the Czech Republic at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. What will your leadership role be for your national team?
PE: I have a great relationship with the national team coach [Alois Hadamczik] and I know he'll be looking at me as one of the guys to lead the team with my age and experience. For me, it doesn't change the way I play on the ice. It's more about making sure in this short tournament that we all get in what it's all about. We have to sacrifice for the good of the team. It's very tough. There are so many good hockey players. It's going to be my fourth Olympics; the last one I was a captain, but I don't need any kind of letter for me to change my approach to the game. The Olympics are one of the best events you have the honor of playing in. Every country has the top players at that moment in time. It's going to be a great memory.
KT: Your fellow countryman, Jaromir Jagr, is now your teammate in New Jersey. How far back does your relationship with him go?
PE: I was 15 years old when I went from my hometown to his hometown, which was about 20 miles from Prague. They had a great junior program and they were playing top senior league. I made a decision when I was 14 to go there and pursue the hockey life. In my first year, Jaromir was leaving for the [United] States. I didn't get to know him much, but I knew who he was. We played together after that in a couple of tournaments for the national team. But he being a couple of years older, he had a different group of teammates and friends. Throughout our NHL careers, we built up a mutual respect for one another. I have a lot of respect for what he's done. His career has been amazing. He's been a big part of our team this year. He's playing in all situations, important minutes, and that's what he wanted to do. It's paying off for us. Hopefully that will continue throughout the season.
KT: The veteran leadership on the Devils is quite impressive -- Martin Brodeur, Jagr, yourself. How much does that leadership influence the younger players in the locker room?
PE: Well, first of all, that makes me the youngest. Those guys make me feel young every time I come to the rink, so that's a good thing (laughs).
Marty is unbelievable. What he has done and what he is doing, with people questioning him in recent years, but he keeps doing what he's done his whole career. He gives us the best chance to win. His approach to the game is amazing. Having him my entire career, he's very natural, normal, there's not too much to his routine, he talks to everyone. That's good for guys coming in to see, to realize that he's obviously one of the best of all time, but he makes you comfortable on the ice because he's going to do his best job. All three of us know there are times to speak up, and times to be quiet. We know when to do that.
KT: You've said in the past that Scott Stevens had a huge impact on your career. Why?
PE: He was one of the greatest leaders and greatest players I ever played with. He was very quiet as a leader and captain. He didn't talk much, but you knew when he did, it was the time to listen. Scott was very similar to Marty with his approach to practice. A lot of the times our practice was harder than the games because we were playing against him and some of the other great players that were on this team. His approach to practice and preparation for games taught me the most.
KT: You and your wife, Petra, have traveled internationally on behalf of UNICEF, and since 2006 you both have served as a Goodwill Ambassadors. Tell me about your experience and why this is important to you.
PE: You learn when you become an NHL player that you are very fortunate to have the life that we do. We do something that we love for great money. It is very important to give back. I started working with UNICEF in the Czech Republic and that grew to a relationship working with people here in the States. It's been amazing for me. We did some travel to Belize that the NHL did a documentary about. I got hepatitis when I was in Russia in 2006 when I was playing there for the lockout. That put everything in perspective for me. I wanted to do something that would help others. At that time, UNICEF had a vaccination program going on in Czech, so for me getting sick, if I had a vaccination it wouldn't have happened. That connection with UNICEF seemed right for me to approach. That's how the relationship started. I always say, "It's not a sprint. It's not a relationship for the short term, it's a lifelong relationship." I get to meet great people who do great things.
KT: Finally, Patrik, I appreciate you taking the time out on a day off and on a day where you're celebrating your daughter Sophia's third birthday party. And congratulations on baby No. 2 on the way.
PE: Thank you. We have No. 2 coming in March, so hopefully the baby won't come too early so I'm not at the Olympics. Fatherhood is the biggest thing to happen in my life. It's made me enjoy hockey and life more than ever before. You have bad days, bad games; no worries, you come home to a beautiful little girl. Even though she can be a devil herself, she's still wonderful and life is better with her.