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Devils surprise fans with community visits

by Gordy Stillman / New Jersey Devils

From Jersey City to Randolph, and many places in between, members of the New Jersey Devils spent an afternoon in the community on Wednesday, March 18 to give back to the fans that have supported them this season. The players read to kids at elementary schools, dropped in on practice and visited rink partners, met with a state champion hockey team and stopped by a hospital to visit children.

In Upper Saddle River, Keith Kinkaid, Peter Harrold and Travis Zajac stopped by the Robert D. Reynolds Primary School to read to kindergarteners and first grade students as part of the team’s participation in Read Across America. They visited three classrooms, reading a book to the kids in each room. Kinkaid had kindergarteners laughing as he read “My Dog is as Smelly as Dirty Socks” and Harrold’s animated reading brought smiles to the children’s faces, but the kids lit up even more when the players unveiled Devils beanies for each of them to wear.

Westward in Randolph, Ryane Clowe, Martin Havlat and Damon Severson visited the newly crowned NJSIAA state champion Randolph Rams hockey team. The Rams won their fourth title in five years on March 9 at Prudential Center, and had the chance to discuss hockey and ask Devils questions about the game before the players signed autographs and took a group photo.

Mike Cammalleri, Steve Bernier, Michael Ryder and Dainius Zubrus went out to St. Barnabus Medical Center, where they visited fans of all ages, including a family of season ticket holders who recently gave birth to a future Devils fan. They also stopped by the pediatric ward to say hello to about eight children, answering questions and bringing smiles to everyone’s faces.

Closer to The Rock, at a Hockey in Newark practice in the Ironbound, Cory Schneider, Adam Larsson, Tuomo Ruutu and Eric Gelinas led the kids in drills and offered advice on hockey and education. The Devils were able to enter the rink while the kids practiced, and as the kids began to notice who was watching, they began smiling ear to ear. Devils players took the time to discuss balancing academics with athletics, nutrition and even got into what they eat both before and after games.

One kid happened to know it was Schneider’s birthday, and when they were all gathered around to ask questions, wished Schneider a happy birthday. The other skaters quickly got into the celebratory spirit, singing happy birthday to the Devils net minder.

Scott Gomez, Stephen Gionta and Mark Fraser stopped by the Ice Vault Arena in Wayne, where Gomez trained in the offseason as he worked towards making his return to the Devils. Gomez and Ice Vault owner Bobby Reiss joked around and reconnected before the three players presented Reiss and his wife, Mariann, with a special jersey featuring the arena’s name on the back along with a “15” to represent the season.

“Making the team this year, this is definitely where it started,” said Gomez about his connection to the rink. “They treated me outstanding.”

Fraser was also excited to meet with a rink partner, and said it felt awesome to participate in community outreach, saying, “This is how we continue to build a fan base.”

Reiss said he plans to hang the jersey alongside others he’s gathered over the years at the rink in the dining area where skaters can check them out as they refuel after a game. Reiss has jerseys for many of the current and former Devils who have run camps at his rink, including Patrik Elias, Martin Brodeur, Glenn “Chico” Resch, and Zach and J.P. Parise. Reiss noted that the elder Parise, who passed away earlier this year, was the only non-devil to get his jersey on the wall, having run a father-son camp with his son while Zach was with the Devils.

The tickets that came with the jersey, Reiss said, will be given to some of the families that skate at the rink. “They love going. It doesn’t make a difference if [The Devils] are winning the Stanley Cup or not, they love just going to games.”

“It’s easy to give back, whether it be partnerships, or children, or whatever it may be,” Fraser said. “Everyone has plenty of time in their day to do it, and it always feels great.”

For a recap of the Devils’ day in the community, follow @NHLDevils on Twitter and search #DevilsGameBreak.

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