Cup equals passion
We often get caught up in looking at teams and judging them in preseason for the talent and skill they have. When the Stanley Cup is on the line, however, it's all about passion, discipline, determination.
''You've got to want it more than you think you can want anything,'' New Jersey Devils captain Scott Stevens says. ''You have to approach your limits -- and then go beyond.''
This isn't a simplistic approach. There are a lot of ways to win in this game, but it always comes back to goaltending, defense and a hunger to win at all costs.
The Devils won their third Stanley Cup in nine years and avenged a comeback loss to the Colorado Avalanche in the Finals in 2001 with their 3-0 victory over the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in Game 7, a third 3-0 triumph at home in the series.
Coming into the 2002-03 season, the Devils had lost heart-and-soul center Bobby Holik to the New York Rangers and a huge free-agent contract. Veteran center Sergei Nemchinov retired and first-line winger Petr Sykora was traded to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim for winger Jeff Friesen and defenseman Oleg Tverdovsky.
This team wasn't perfect. The power play was awful, probably the worst-ever for a Stanley Cup winner. But all the intangibles of three Stanley Cup Finals visits paid off.
Following the seven-game triumph over the Mighty Ducks, Stevens, goaltender Martin Brodeur, defensemen Scott Niedermayer and Ken Daneyko and forward Sergei Brylin had been on all three of New Jersey's championship teams.
''It's all about pride,'' Stevens says. ''We always found a way to win -- and that's the mindset you have to have. From the time we won the first Cup in 1995, I've looked at the Cup as mine/ours. And once you win it, you don't want to let anyone else have it.
''Clearly, this makes up for Colorado in 2001.''
And now the Devils are the only three-time Cup winner -- along with the Detroit Red Wings -- since the Edmonton Oilers won five times in seven years from 1984 through 1990.
In New Jersey, it's all about the team and that concept has been paramount in the way GM Lou Lamoriello built three championship teams with three different coaches – Jacques Lemaire in 1995, Larry Robinson in 2000 and Pat Burns in 2003.
''It's all about the character of this team,'' Burns said. ''It starts with Scott Stevens and runs right through that locker room. I may have to kick them in the butts once in a while, but really it's one of most self-motivated groups of players I've ever been associated with.''
Team game. Team approach.
''This team had less offense than our other championship teams, but more will to win,'' said Robinson, still a consultant for the team.
If you still don't understand what makes these Devils tick, let me take you up close and personal with Stevens and Brodeur.
In July of 2000, I had the privilege of spending two days with Brodeur and then the next two days with Stevens while they had their days with the Stanley Cup. I think you will see just what's inside these great athletes -- the commitment, the pride, the passion, the competitive fire from what I saw on the road with the Cup that summer.
Marty Brodeur, St. Leonard, Quebec, just outside Montreal
I don't know if you ever saw the movie Big, but the street that led me to the home of Denis and Mirielle Brodeur in St. Leonard was like taking a trip back in time like Tom Hanks did in portraying 12-year-old Josh Baskin -- after weeks of being magically transformed into a 25-year-old toy company executive by a fluke stroke by an amusement park machine.
For a few mind-numbing moments, the quiet, tree-lined street of1950s-era bungalows brought to life a scene from that movie as I drove down the streets where Martin Brodeur grew up. But in a real life scene on this warm morning in 2000, there was no quantum leap backward for Brodeur and seven of his boyhood rivals as these 30-year-olds returned to the carefree days of their childhood in a 4-on-4 ball hockey game on Mauriac street in front of Denis Brodeur's house.
Brodeur and the Devils won the Cup in a six-game triumph over the Dallas Stars -- and this was the first of two days that New Jersey's great goaltender had the opportunity to do whatever he wanted with the Stanley Cup. Brodeur and his ball hockey teammates lost the neighborhood battle for the Cup in 1995 on the street in front of his boyhood house the last time Marty had Lord Stanley's prize in his possession.
I could swear if you listen closely, you can almost hear the voice of Mrs. Baskin calling Josh for lunch. Well, the local version, anyway -- Mireille Brodeur calling Marty and his brother, Denis Jr., in for lunch.
But there was no lunch break on this day.
Brodeur was in goal for every minute as New Jersey won the Cup for real in six games over Dallas in June. But in this game, he's a rushing defenseman.
In the days when Brodeur only dreamed of a career in the NHL, police often would break up the street hockey games because they were blocking traffic. On this day, however, officers were only too happy to divert cars and watch the action along with about 150 neighbors and friends.
For a little more than an hour, these eight men dive after loose balls and muscle their way around and through opponents like they are 12 again. All the while, the prize, the Stanley Cup, stands on a table in front of the Brodeurs' home, a Devils flag flying proudly from it in the early morning breeze.
After Denis Brodeur Jr. scored to make it 4-2 in the third game, Martin Brodeur yelled to Mike Bolt, one of two keepers of the Cup from the Hockey Hall of Fame, "Get your white gloves ready, Mike!" (Bolt and Paul Oak, the other Cup keeper, have three pairs of white gloves with them at all times. They wear the gloves whenever they handle the Cup.)
Less than two minutes later, Marty Brodeur, completed a 3-on-2 break with a goal from the left side of the crease for the winner.
"Now," he said with his trademark smile, "I know how Jason Arnott felt when he scored the Cup-clincher for the Devils."