From the moment we were knocked out in 1994, I could only think about one thing - next season. I was champing at the bit and anxiously counting the days until opening night. I wanted to rid myself of that crestfallen feeling and imagined picking up right where we left off.
When the season finally started (due to the lockout), we went 0-3-1 in the first four games - however, by the end of the season the Devils were playing their best hockey (or so we thought) and went 10-5-2 in the last 17.
A few days later, we opened up round 1 against the Bruins and the fantastical ride to our first cup was underway! As spectacular as it was while it was happening, looking back now, the way we did it was nothing short of magnificent. We went 16-4 through the post season and 10-1 on the road (using all of my best adjectives) - just remarkable! Our defense was bar none, every player contributed/played a crucial role and came up big when we needed it (i.e. Dowd, Chambers, Broten, etc.), the inspired play by Lemieux, Richer, Brodeur and "The Crash Line" - it all came together.
We opened up against Boston in the Quarter-Finals and took the series 4-1 with three shutouts and one OT game.
Tom McVie was an Assistant Coach for the Bruins at the time and we (my boyfriend and I) took the road trip to Boston for game 5. Back in the day, the teams used to stay in a hotel during the playoffs to avoid distractions. Tom made arrangements for us to stay in the hotel that the Bruins were staying in. It had been reported that Adam Oates had an undisclosed "upper body injury" and while on my way up to the room, Ray Bourque and Oates stepped into the elevator and I saw a splint on his finger (Oates). I wanted desperately to get this information to the Devils but as it turned out, they were able to put the series away without my scouting report.
While there, we had an opportunity to spend time with Tom and Arlene (The Duke) McVie. The Duke took me shopping at Filene's Basement (her favorite store) while Tom took my boyfriend to practice with him. I very much enjoyed my day with The Duke, but truth be told, was secretly a bit jealous about missing time at the rink.
We met up later in the day and as always, was delighted to revel in "Tom McVie anecdotes" - he has plenty and I can never hear enough!
The Duke gave us her seats and she sat in the press box. The building was rocking and I mean that in a literal sense - I could physically feel movement in the seats, however we prevailed. I was there to see us close out the series and also bear witness to the last official game ever played at the Boston Garden.
We were also able to close out the Semi-Finals against Pittsburgh 4-1. In game 4, Neal Broten scored the OT winning goal that put the Devils up 3-1 in the series. The fans at Brendan Byrne were frenzied in game 5, like sharks smelling blood in the water. We went in for the kill and then on to the conference finals vs. Philly.
The rivalry with the Flyers had been building over the years and came to a ferocious head in this series. I'm not sure whether there was more animosity on the ice or in the stands between the fans. There were state troopers standing at the top of each section and walking the halls. On the ice, the tumultuous (an enjoyable) interactions between Scott Stevens and Eric Lindros helped to escalate it all the way around. In addition, the Flyers had their "Legion of Doom", but we had our "Crash Line." Need I say more?
The series started in Philly. It happened to be my birthday so I took a road trip for the opener. The fans were hostile (exceptionally) but quieted down a bit after we scored the first three goals. I couldn't have asked for a greater birthday gift than the win my team delivered that day!
The series was tied 2-2 and Claude Lemieux scored the winning goal in game 5 with 44 seconds left in regulation to send it back to New Jersey for game 6 and a chance to close it out at home.
With about 10 minutes left in game 6 and up by three goals, the clock couldn't go fast enough. For (almost) the last two minutes of the game, 19,040 fans were standing and at the final buzzer - screaming, hollering and cheering with exuberance. I was jumping for joy and hugging everyone and anyone around me. We were going to the Stanley Cup Finals!!
The Stanley Cup Finals. Oh my god! Something every player dreams of and every diehard fan lives for.
In the days leading up to game 1 against the Presidents' Trophy winning Red Wings, every article, analyst, sportscaster and naysayer were pretty much discounting the Devils before the series even started. We were true underdogs despite what we had accomplished and that we were firing on all cylinders. They were all in for a surprise!
In 1995, I was working for a large company (110+ offices) that held an annual destination awards weekend called "Superstars." It was taking place in Cancun from Thursday-Sunday (game 3 was Thursday and 4 on Saturday). As soon as the schedule was announced, I called my boss to let him know I couldn't make it. I was told in no uncertain terms that I was expected to be there. I was receiving the top award and it wouldn't "sit well."
We were up 1-0 in the series and game 2 was packed with highlight reel play; Scott Stevens signature hit on Kozlov followed by the finger pointing "you're next" to Dino Ciccarelli on the bench, Niedermayer's unforgettable end-to-end goal and topped off by Jimmy Dowd's game winner with less than a minute to go in regulation.
As soon as I stopped screaming, waving my good luck towel and running around my living room (by myself) I realized there was NO WAY I could miss games 3 and 4. First thing the next morning, I called the President of my company, explained my situation and as professionally and subtly as I could, reminded him that I was (and had been) the top producer in the firm and thought he would want me to be happy. Presto…a deal was struck.
I flew in on Thursday, had the concierge at the hotel find me a sports bar that could air the Devils game, made an appearance at the welcome event, grabbed my towel/pompom and was off to the bar in time for the opening faceoff. There were three people in the bar - me and a couple from Detroit (go figure). When others at my company found out where I was, a number of them snuck out to join me. Most were not hockey fans but cheered along as we went up 3-0 in the series.
Friday night I collected my award, attended all the afterparties and flew home Saturday for game 4.
I invited my mother to the game (her first-ever hockey game as mentioned in a previous article). She picked me up at the airport, waited in my driveway while I took a quick shower and we were off to the arena in time for the start of the game.
The buzz in the arena was amazing. People filled with anticipation - just electric. I had never experienced anything like it! Before the puck dropped, the chants started "We Want The Cup" and continued throughout the game.
About 10 minutes into the third period, Brylin scored to give us a two-goal lead (4-2). Everyone in the building knew it was over. With our defense that was for sure. The roar of the crowd continued to get louder and louder. With eight minutes left, Chambers scored again making it 5-2. The Cup was ours! The chants switched to "We've Got The Cup" and intermittently with bars of "Na, Na, Na, Na, Hey, Hey, Hey, Good-Bye." I burst into tears, turned to a fellow diehard, Lenny Carafa (sat next to him for about 20 years in total), hugged him and kept repeating "I cant believe it, we are really going to do it" as I cried for the remainder of the game. I was in good company. Mike Peluso was crying on the bench with about three minutes left as well as when he went through the handshake line with his arm covering his eyes.
There was a minute left, everyone on their feet, elated and waving their towels and pompoms - then the countdown - 10-9-8…the final buzzer went off, players jumped over the bench and rushed Brodeur at the goal - the arena erupted!
I had never experienced anything like it - unadulterated euphoria - I can't even put it into words and to this day still get choked up when I see videos of those last few minutes.
As we watched the teams skate with the Cup and the handoff from player to player, people were in awe, cheering, crying and hugging (strangers) - no one wanted the night to end.
When the team left the ice, I went to the Winner's Club and was the last person out when they were locking the doors. The parking lot was still full of people continuing the celebration. Apparently, Mike Peluso felt the same - he was riding around the parking lot in his truck, stopping to talk to fans and sign autographs.
The Devils parking lot parade/celebration was second to none in quintessential Devils style - a 20,000+ person tailgate - just perfect! It was complete with the Cup arriving by helicopter, the team on the stage taking pictures of us and fireworks. I read an article once referring to it as "a rock concert asking the Devils for one last encore." It was the best song I ever heard.
When Jimmy Dowd had the Cup for a day, he had a party at Monmouth Racetrack. My boyfriend (back then) coached Jimmy in Brick and we were invited (actually, he was invited and of course I tagged along). Not realizing how heavy the Cup was, I began to lift it over my head. Jimmy caught it out of the corner of his eye and jumped in as he thought I was going to drop it, so I settled for the shots below (Jimmy standing by just in case).
When I look back at the whole run, there are so many memories that will be forever etched in my mind (and heart). I couldn't possibly list them all however, in addition to those I have already mentioned I will share a few more; spending time with the McVie's during the Boston series, ALL of the timely goals, big hits, goal celebrations (by both, players and fans), awesome tailgates, Peluso's raw emotion (said it all), the interaction between Johnny Mac and Fetisov in the handshake line, Lemieux lifting the Conn Smythe and kissing it with tears in his eyes, the Cup being wheeled out and handed to Scott Stevens, but most importantly - sharing the experience and all of the special moments along the way with my "Section 106 Family" and the Cup winner with my mother…JUNE 24th, 1995.
As I mentioned in my last article, in January I will be writing about the 2000 Cup as we celebrate the 20-year anniversary. I would love to hear and share any special memories or stories that you may have of the 2000 run for that article. Please share with me below.
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