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Cup Celebration I SUNDAYS WITH STAN

The Devils reflected on their remarkable accomplishment in the locker room following a Stanley Cup title sweep

by Stan Fischler / Special to NewJerseyDevils.com

The immediate aftermath of the Devils first Stanley Cup victory on June 24, 1995 was filled with sounds of jubilation. 

Broadcasters Mike (Doc) Emrick and Peter McNab had just completed their post-game wrapup for SportsChannel and headed for the dressing room. 

"It was so jammed," Emrick remembered, "that people still were out in the hallway, trying to get in; it was quite a scene."

Champagne flowed like soda water as news crews ricocheted from player to player doing interviews between ducking the bubbly tosses.

Scott Stevens, captain of the underdog winners, fielded the inevitable question: how was this four-game sweep possible against a talent-loaded team like Detroit?

"The system was awesome," Stevens explained, "and it worked; plus we all believed in it. Jacques (Lemaire) was such a big part of it. He instilled that belief in us, and once we got going, we were hard to beat."

Tim Sullivan of The Associated Press had followed the team as closely as any journalist. The result was his definitive book: Battle On The Hudson.

Sullivan: "The Devils were to become the standard for successful hockey in the post lockout era."

The father of it all was Lamoriello, as strict a general as any sport has known but his rules were clear and successfully executed by the team leaders.

"Once you get results," Stevens continued, "and it starts to sink in, it really starts to feel good. At many points during our run we almost felt unbeatable."

Asked to pick the game he'd never forget, Emrick - who had seen so many - picked the Cup-clincher.

Emrick: "It was because they won a championship for the first time. Because this was finally getting to the mountain top."

The rookie, Brian Rolston, who had spent so much time in Albany of the American League, could not have imagined that his season would end in the Cup-winning room.

"The big takeaway from this team," Rolston asserted, "was how everybody bought into the same system. It had to be a team effort and it was. 

"I've been on other teams where it wasn't that way. There may have better teams - talent-wise - than us but fared much worse. We had everyone working together and focused on the same goal."

Many in management, the media and players reviewed the series as a whole; and how the team entered the tourney huge underdogs and throttled Detroit in the Red Wings home rink twice in a row.

"On the flight back from Detroit after the first two wins," said Tom Chorske, "I was sitting next to Marty Brodeur. We were talking and I said, 'I can't believe we're up 2-0 in the Final, can you?'

"Marty just looked at me and said very matter of factly, 'It's over. Trust me, this thing is over. The way you guys are playing and the way I'm seeing the puck, it's over.'"

Chorske admitted that Brodeur's confidence surprised him. "He had such conviction; it was incredible. The guy just put us on his back and delivered."

Congratulations poured in from all over the league; even from hated rivals such as the Rangers. The Blueshirts general manager Neil Smith called Lamoriello, "The best GM of our generation."

Rangers 1994 Cup-winner Brian Leetch summed up the situation in a few words: "The Devils kept it together and we didn't."

Others referred to the Devils "culture of winning - a way of life."

In his book, Raising Stanley - What It Takes To Win Hockey's Ultimate Prize, author Ross Bernstein interviewed Mike Peluso, the Devil who sat on the bench, weeping in Game 4's closing minutes.

Peluso: "When we had the three-goal lead near the end is when it hit me. I just lost it. I was a mess on the bench. My emotions came pouring out of me, and I just started bawling. It was surreal.

"I thought about growing up on the Iron Range in Minnesota and about going to college in Alaska. Nobody ever thought I'd make it in the NHL. So for me to win the Cup was so vindicating.

"There were so many battles; so much blood and tears. It was the ultimate exclamation I put on my career."

The sum total of victory was a gala celebration in the Byrne Arena parking lot where fans toasted the champions. 

But for one bit of unfinished business - Nashville. 

Fans held signs pleading with Dr. McMullen not to take his team to Tennessee. The owner later admitted to confidantes that he was impressed with the emotional throng. It was a turning point.

Not long afterward, the Devils owner met with the New Jersey Sports and Exhibition Authority. Holding a winning hand, Doc Mac would walk away smiling. He had gained the deal he had wanted. 

The Devils would remain in New Jersey because they were winners.

As for me - as onlooker and reporter - I'll never forget McMullen's words after his hockey club had beaten Philadelphia, after having disposed of the favored Bruins and Penguins.

"Lou is one helluva negotiator!"

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