New Hampshire Army National Guard Pfc. Matt Ladieu’s path to Devils fandom is not exactly common. The Concord, NH, native had to pick a team other than Boston when playing videogames against one of his cousins, who would always pick the hometown Bruins.
“I needed a team, and back when we were younger, in the late ‘90s early 2000s, the Devils were fantastic,” the 24-year-old fan explained. “I’d always choose the Devils because they Marty Brodeur, Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko and all those players. “
On February 26, Ladieu attended his first Devils game at Prudential Center when the Devils chose to recognize him as the team’s Hero of the Game. “I’m still in kind of shock. I never thought we’d be taking a weekend off to drive down to New Jersey,” Ladieu said. Ladieu’s wife, Sarah, nominated him while he was overseas. “She had told me we were coming to a game, and then she finally broke down and told me I was being recognized…I was overjoyed.”
Ladieu said he watches most games through NHL GameCenter, and has attended many games between the Devils and Bruins at Boston’s TD Garden. “My one-year-old son even has his own custom jersey. We put No. 15 on it because it was the year he was born.”
Ladieu was celebrated for his military service, which began on May 30, 2013, two days before his 22nd birthday. Coming from a family of service, which includes a grandfather who served in the U.S. Army and a great grandfather who served in the N.H. National Guard, Ladieu said he chose the National Guard because it would allow him to spend more time with his family, serving part time primarily within his state.
“I felt like I had an obligation to my country to serve…it’s something I wanted to do and felt needed to be done,” Ladieu said, before explaining that his sense of obligation came from his pride in the United States. “I love my state and I love my country, so I figured I should do something to serve.”
After attending basic training, Ladieu was sent to advanced individual training, where he learned the skills to be a mechanic. “Anything that has wheels on it, I put a wrench to it,” he said. In April 2014, he learned he’d be deployed to the Middle East and spent much of that year training for whatever might occur and packing supplies that would travel via boat ahead of the deployment.
Last April Ladieu made the journey, and was based in the United Arab Emirates until shortly before Christmas. While in the UAE, Ladieu trained alongside troops from Australia and the UAE. “I knew we were going to be working with Emiratis, but I didn’t think I’d go to Kuwait or Qatar,” he said of the experience. Being in a vastly different climate, Ladieu said aside from the heat, the days were long, but it was a relatively laid back atmosphere.
During his time overseas, Ladieu received the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, the Armed Forces Reserve Medal, and the Army Service Ribbon. Beyond those, he said his most meaningful award is the Mechanic Badge, which represents his qualification to repair military motor vehicles. “We took a fleet of vehicles that was down to 32 percent, non-mission capable, and brought it up to 98 percent and mission capable.”
Describing 32 as a “no go” situation, Ladieu said that his team sought to exceed the needed 92 percent rating, getting the fleet to near perfect. “There’s a lot of things that can take a vehicle off mission capability, even small things like a headlight being out,” Ladieu explained. “We’d come in, work, and wouldn’t stop work until it was ready to roll out.”
After his first trip to The Rock, Ladieu can now add New Jersey Devils’ Hero of the Game to his growing collection of awards.