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New energy as Devils start first camp post-Lamoriello

by Dan Rosen / New Jersey Devils

NEWARK, N.J. -- Travis Zajac showed up for the first day of his 10th training camp with the New Jersey Devils on Thursday and had a feeling he never had before.

"It's almost like getting traded," Zajac said. "There's a new [general manager], new coach, new faces. It's a fresh start for me to go out and prove that I'm still capable of being a top player."

Everything around the Devils on Thursday felt a bit off, odd and different to the players who have been in the organization prior to this season. It's obvious as to why. There is a significant presence missing at Prudential Center.

Lou Lamoriello, the architect of the Devils for 28 years as general manager and president, was going through the first day of his first training camp as GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs while his former players were starting to experience life without Lou for the first time.

Strange as it may be for the Devils, life without Lou brought about words like "refreshing," "energized" and "excited" from veteran players.

"A lot of guys are excited to have a new set of eyes, a new lease on life, to start fresh and say, 'Hey, this is what I have,'" goalie Cory Schneider said. "There is a new energy. That's good."

Life without Lou means significant changes the players who have been around a while never thought would come in New Jersey.

For starters, facial hair is now allowed. It wasn't under Lamoriello.

"Maybe I'll get the mustache back at some point," center Adam Henrique said.

Having active accounts on social media sites such as Twitter is accepted. It wasn't under Lamoriello.

Henrique and forward Stephen Gionta are the latest players to take advantage, signing up for Twitter earlier this month.

"It's nice to be able to connect to the fans," Henrique said. "I just started and I'm still getting used to it, but it's funny to see what the fans have to say and to get our personalities out there. The fans know us from what they see on the ice and they might have a perception, but it's nice to interact this way. Hopefully, we can grow together and just become one huge community."

Players can wear numbers above 40. They couldn't under Lamoriello unless they were named Stephane Richer (44), Jaromir Jagr (68), Alexander Mogilny (89) or Doug Gilmour (93).

Defenseman Eric Gelinas is taking advantage with No. 44. Tyler Kennedy, who is in camp on a professional tryout contract (PTO), was given No. 48, the same number he used to wear with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

In addition, Mike Cammalleri switched his number from 23 to 13, becoming the first player in Devils history to wear No. 13.

Even the sweatshirts the players were wearing Thursday were different from the normal red or black threads with block letters that they used to only wear.

Henrique said the physical testing they did was completely different, and the questions they answered from their own media, television, radio and website, were more fun and sociable than they previously experienced.

"We've just done some changes as far as things that we felt as a group, management and coaches, would be beneficial and made sense for things we'd like to do and the environment we'd like to create," first-year coach John Hynes said. "We've had input from the players too. We talked to some guys that have been here for a while and asked for their thoughts and suggestions."

There are even ongoing discussions about changing the dressing room the Devils use for home games. They have two dressing rooms inside Prudential Center, one for games that leads directly to the home bench in the main rink, and a bigger room in their attached practice facility.

Instead of using the room that leads directly to the home bench, the Devils may use the room in their practice facility for games too. Using it would allow the players to be closer to the fans while they make their way to the ice coming out of the corner opposite the Zamboni entrance.

"It's different but good," Henrique said. "I think it's a lot of positive change, a lot of little things that you kind of notice day to day, right from social media to doing some of the media stuff today, we could kind of open up a bit. It's been fun. Guys are just refreshed."

But not naive or disrespectful. They still speak with great reverence to Lamoriello. The respect they have for the executive who led the Devils to three Stanley Cup championships (1995, 2000, 2003) and two more Stanley Cup Final appearances (2001, 2012) is undeniable.

"He's had the biggest influence on my NHL career up until now," Zajac said. "The way he's taught this team how to prepare and play as a team, how it's all about the team, that will never change. I don't think anyone is going to tell you anything different from that. So losing him is obviously a big loss for us, but at the same time, change can be good; it represents new philosophies, new ideas, and hopefully, it's going to get us going in the right direction."

The direction is key. The Devils haven't been to the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2012, when they last reached the Stanley Cup Final and lost in six games to the Los Angeles Kings. That's why Lamoriello is out and Ray Shero is in as general manager.

If the Devils had been a competitive playoff team the past three seasons, it's unlikely anything would have been different for Zajac and his teammates Thursday. Instead, they walked into a different environment, one they hope is conducive to getting a proud organization back on track.

"We kind of headed in the wrong direction, sometimes that happens," Schneider said. "People are ready for new challenges, to try new things. Everything comes to an end. That era will always be remembered and will stay with us for a long time, but hopefully we can start something new, build a new era, and replicate the success they had with Lou in prior years."

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