By ERIC MARIN
It doesn't quite feel like 25 years ago.
But to Glenn “Chico” Resch back in 1982, that first sight of what would become the new home of the New Jersey Devils was a sign of a fresh start for the beleaguered Colorado Rockies, and it might as well have been yesterday.
A quarter-century later, the Devils are the lasting iteration of a once-nomadic franchise that can trace its origins back 33 years to the formation of the Kansas City Scouts. After just two years in Kansas City, they would become the Rockies in 1976. Six years later, the franchise belonged to New Jersey.
With roots in the Garden State that now run deeper than ever, the Devils have everything to look forward to as they complete construction on an all-new home of their very own: the Prudential Center in Newark, N. J.
Slated to open this fall in time for the 2007-08 season, the 17,625-seat facility is the latest gilded achievement in an already overstuffed treasure chest of Devil accomplishments.
For Resch, the team’s long-time television analyst on FOX Sports Net New York, the Devils’ once humble tale only keeps getting sweeter. Sure, it’s been a long journey, but the veteran of 14 years on the ice and 11 years in the booth couldn’t be more proud.
Resch has witnessed firsthand some of the biggest milestones in the team’s history. The native of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan was between the pipes for both the Devils’ first game and their first win, and was behind the microphone for their last two Stanley Cup seasons.
With the upcoming opening of the Prudential Center, Resch says he’s anxious for what’s sure to be one of their biggest milestones yet.
“I think it’s going to have a completely different feel for the fans,” Resch said, “and people are going to fall in love with the building and feel that it’s their own. It’s like your first house. You never forget that first house, and I think that Devils fans are going to feel that way about this building.”
The Rockies’ stay in Colorado was one that begged to be swept under the carpet of National Hockey League history, as there were far more valleys than peaks over the course of six losing seasons in the Mile-High City. The team never won more than 22 games in the then-80 games of the National Hockey League's regular season, and missed the playoffs five times.
By the time the Rockies were nearing the twilight of their Denver existence, Resch was busy winning a Stanley Cup as a 31-year-old on Long Island, and shouldered most of the goaltending duties in that 1979-80 regular season, posting a 24-13-6 mark in 45 games.
His nine year stay in the Islanders' organization reached its apogee with the first of New York's championships, a victory in six games over the Philadelphia Flyers to secure the 1980 Stanley Cup.
But when a 1981 trade sent Resch and Steve Tambellini to Colorado in exchange for Mike McEwen and Jari Kaarela, Resch’s long relationship with the organization destined for East Rutherford had begun.
In May of 1982, the late Dr. John J. McMullen led the group that would officially receive league approval to purchase and move the Rockies from Colorado to New Jersey. Resch was a free agent that summer, but was convinced to stay by Billy MacMillan, then the team’s general manager and head coach.
“The Rangers were interested, but I hadn’t really explored it,” Resch recalled. “But Billy told me he was dealing with a new owner, and I really liked Billy. But I didn’t know how many steps along we were on the path to success in New Jersey. We had traded Lanny McDonald, and Rob Ramage was gone, so we didn’t really know what we had here. Friendship kind of won out, and Billy sold me on Dr. McMullen, and what a terrific owner he was going to be and the commitment he was going to make.”
By June of that year, Resch was at the Meadowlands podium to help announce that the team once known as the Colorado Rockies was to have a new name and address, and, perhaps, a brighter future.
They would be called the New Jersey Devils, and their logo would morph from a mountain emblazoned with the red sans-serif “C” of the Colorado state flag, to a stylized image of a bright red “NJ” with pointed horns and a curving tail.
They would play their home games in the Brendan Byrne Arena, just off of exit 16W of the New Jersey Turnpike, and Resch would be in net for their first-ever contest, a 3-3 tie with the Pittsburgh Penguins on October 5, 1982.
“Very early on you felt like Dr. McMullen was in this to build us into something special for New Jersey,” Resch said. “I remember he really talked about building the pride of New Jersey through this team, and that’s the sense that we got. There was never any doubt that he was in this for the long haul.”
The first few seasons in New Jersey proved challenging. As scarce as victories had been in Colorado, the Devils finished with 17 in their first season – one fewer than the Rockies had had the season before. During that time of transition, Resch could remember feeling that the Devils were fighting just to carve out their own following from beneath the broad shadow of the Manhattan skyline.
“You get tired of that,” he said. “I think I’m like every other Devil that’s been here for a long time. I want [the Prudential Center] to be our own, and this is going to begin a new era. We’re at a point where there’s enough Devils fans that we can say, ‘Ok this is our building.’ When we first got here, you knew you were sort of coming into someone else’s territory. It was like you were renting and were going to see how the arrangement was going to work.”
For those first 13 years, a Stanley Cup always remained the goal. Finally, with a surprise sweep of the heavily favored Detroit Red Wings in 1995, it became a reality. Led by Head Coach Jacques Lemaire, the Devils were permanently enshrined among the NHL’s elite.
A season later, Resch was onboard as the team’s color commentator, alongside Mike “Doc” Emrick.
Often billed as the hardest trophy to win in professional sports, the Stanley Cup has been captured by just 16 different teams since 1918. Only three teams (Montreal, Toronto, Detroit) have won it more than five times, while seven teams have won it two times or less. Fourteen teams of the current 30-team league have never won it.
The Devils didn’t stop at one, as two more Stanley Cups followed in 2000 and 2003 – and in a span of eight years, the team had come a long, long way since its time in Kansas City and Denver.
Now in 2007, the organization once labeled “Mickey Mouse” prepares to pack up and move the banners that, over the last 12 years, have chronicled successes to rival those of any other NHL team.
The banners may be modest (white, with the Devils’ logo and simple black type), but the banners spell out an unassailable winning pedigree for the state of New Jersey: three Stanley Cup Championships, four Eastern Conference titles and six Atlantic Division victories.
The latest addition, commemorating the Devils’ seventh Atlantic Division title, will be raised at the Prudential Center next season.
As the Devils gear up for their Newark move, Resch, once again, will be along for the ride. Unlike the circumstances surrounding his first New Jersey relocation, the Devils’ battle for respectability has long been won. Instead, this new stage will represent one part change of scenery, one part continuation of an already well-established and envied tradition of excellence.
“In the past, it was always like we were treading into someone else’s territory, and would have to overtake territory that was already claimed,” Resch said. “That’s what I think the difference is now. I think the claim has been established by the Devils and they’re moving into the new building and we get to say, ‘Hey, look at what we got.’
“You can kind of strut your stuff now as a Devils alumnus or player because we’ve got three Cups, we’ve got this brand new shiny building, and you know what? It’s a dandy.”