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Devils eager for fresh start

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils
DeBoer has prepped his team for 2011-12.

(New Jersey Devils)
Enthusiastic for the start of the regular season, Peter DeBoer admitted today that this home opener feels different. Following the morning skate, he talked about how special being behind the Devils bench will be.

“I’m excited,” said DeBoer, who spent the last three seasons with Florida. “I think every season opener, regardless of where you’re coaching, you’re excited. But obviously this one’s a little more meaningful. I’m proud to be a member of this organization and excited about what this group is capable of doing.”

The new coach learned a lot about his squad during training camp.

“For me, not having worked with this group before, more just personalities and what each player does. You can see why, when you look back now, why those teams won and won a lot when you see how [Patrik] Elias plays and how [Dainius] Zubrus plays and how Marty [Brodeur] prepares himself. It’s no secret that good organizations, their veteran players do all those things the right way. That was nice – I expected that – but they didn’t disappoint me in their preparation, and that’s contagious with the young guys that are coming in.”

Some veterans said everyone battles nerves on opening night. But not Adam Larsson, who sounded perfectly calm while discussing his lifelong dream to play in the NHL. He’s the first 18-year-old to make the Devils since Petr Sykora in 1995-96.

“I’ll just try to go out there and play my game like I did in four preseason games,” said Larsson, the fourth-overall pick this year. “Of course it’s something special, but I think it’s good for me to try to stay calm and just do like I always do.”

Larsson will have support in the stands: his mother, Annalie, is in town to see his debut. DeBoer offered his own words of encouragement.

“I talked to him in the [morning] skate, I said, ‘First game, congratulations,’” DeBoer said. “He told me it was a dream come true, obviously, for him. I just said to have fun and enjoy himself. It’ll be one of, I’m sure, many.”

He has no concerns about Larsson handling the bright lights when the Devils host the Flyers at 7 p.m.

“He’s the guy with the royal flush that you never see sweat,” DeBoer said. “He’s a pretty laid-back kid and he plays that way. But you don’t mistake that for lack of competitiveness because when you deal with him on a daily basis, he’s a very competitive person.”

Larsson was just two years old when Martin Brodeur began his NHL-record streak of consecutive season openers with the same team. Brodeur will make it 17 tonight, extending his own mark.

“These kinds of situations tell you you’ve been playing a long time,” Brodeur said. “But it’s great. I think to be able to keep it for that long, it’s good.”

Even the NHL’s all-time leader in wins and shutouts can come down with opening night jitters.

“I think the older you get, you even feel a little more nervous,” Brodeur said. “You just go out there and you want to get off to a good start. You still have 81 more games after this one, but it’s always a little exciting, a little nervousness. It’s a good nervousness, I don’t think it’s something that prevents you from playing or anything.”

The Devils are eager to prove that last year’s 9-25-2 start is behind them. They're hoping to resemble the group that finished last season with a second-half mark of 28-10-3.

“As much as we would love to have the best start in NHL history and pick up right where the team left off last year in the second half, the reality is, we’re working on the process and the nightly results will take care of themselves,” DeBoer said. “I like how the guys have come into camp. I like how they’ve embraced what we’re trying to do, the identity we’re trying to build and [hope to] incorporate all the good things that happened last year in the second half. I think we’re in a good place.”

Zach sees the C
Zach Parise saw the C on his jersey for the first time yesterday, courtesy of equipment manager Rich Matthews.

“Rich gave me a little peek [Friday]. I was just stretching and he came in, showed me, ‘How’s this look?’ So it was pretty funny,” Parise said.

The new captain is ready to thrive in his new role.

“For me, personally, it’s a challenge, it’s a responsibility, but I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “I plan on playing the exact same way, but there are some responsibilities and expectations that come with being a captain. I think I’m ready for that.”

Parise has played alongside past captains such as Elias and Jamie Langenbrunner. Elias was named an alternate for this season along with Ilya Kovalchuk.

“Just from talking to different people, guys I’ve played with here, that was the most important thing that each one of them told me, is just be yourself,” Parise said. “Don’t change who you are as a person. There’s a lot of different responsibilities and expectations and things that come with being captain and I’m ready for those responsibilities. I’ve been around great leaders and learned a lot from those guys. I understand it. I know that you’re looked at a little differently from people when you have that; that’s fine with me.”

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