Zajac signs autographs at the Devils Fan Club meeting in Lyndhurst on Monday.
Not so long ago Travis Zajac
was wearing jerseys of his favorite pro players and working toward his dream of making it to the National Hockey League.
Now two years into his own NHL career, Zajac, who turned 23 on Tuesday, has become an important part of a Devils team that won 46 games last season to finish second in the Atlantic Division.
New Jersey's first-round pick, 20th overall, in the 2004 Entry Draft, Zajac potted 14 goals and 20 assists in 2007-08, adding a helper in the playoffs. The 6-2, 200-lb. center was one of four Devils to play in all 82 games of the campaign and appeared in his 100th NHL contest on November 17 at Philadelphia.
Zajac recently met up with the Devils Fan Club before heading home for the summer. He opened the session with a recap of his journey from junior hockey to the University of North Dakota and the NHL, then took questions from the attending club members.
What players did you idolize growing up?
|Zajac will enter his third NHL season this October. |
Being from Winnipeg, I was a Jets fan when they had them around. After that I didn't really have a team, I just liked whoever won the Stanley Cup (laughs)
. Players I watched growing up? Definitely Joe Sakic, Wayne Gretzky. It was pretty amazing playing against Sakic this year for the first time. First time out, I won a faceoff against him. I walked by him after the game, and he said "Hi" to me, but I didn't say anything back (laughs).How're you spending the summer?
I'm going to head back to Winnipeg in a couple of weeks to work out and see some friends; maybe golf a little bit. That's one of my hobbies over the summer.Do you see any of the other players?
Sometimes… I saw Zach [Parise] at the end of last summer for a little bit, and I'll try to get around to see some of the other guys at least. You see them a lot during the year, but you definitely miss those guys because you're around them so much.Favorite arena?
Montreal's a lot of fun. It's a great atmosphere; they love their team there. Those Canadian cities, that's all they care about is their hockey team (laughs)
. It's a fun place to play. It's a hostile environment, but it's great because Marty [Brodeur] always seems to play his best hockey there.How's the ice at Prudential Center?
It's pretty good, better than the [Meadowlands]. It got better as the year went on. It's just a great rink to play in, and it's everything you could ask for.Who do you like to play against?
Pittsburgh's always fun to play against because it always seems to be a run-and-gun game. Somehow I always score against them, so it was fun facing them.Are you watching this year's NHL playoffs?
I'm watching a little right now. Looks like it's going to be Detroit and Pittsburgh. They're both such good teams, I wouldn't even know who to pick.Have you played forward for your whole career?
Yeah, I played forward my whole life. And all my brothers are forwards except for the youngest, who's a defenseman, so we always abused him (laughs)
. Where do your brothers play now?
One of my brothers is at the University of North Dakota, he's going into his junior year. One is going to Union College and playing hockey there, and one is playing midget hockey in Winnipeg.What was it like the first time you heard that maybe you could get drafted?
I was playing junior 'A' and didn't know what to expect. But I heard I could be drafted, wound up going to the draft just for the experience, and was drafted in the first round. Like I said, I didn't expect it, but I worked hard growing up and all my life to become an NHL player. It was just exciting being at the draft and sharing it with my family.What's it like playing with Martin Brodeur?
It's unbelievable. The guy's a warrior and competes every night. Seems like he gets better with age. He's definitely the backbone of this team, a great guy to be around and a great guy to learn from. Hopefully he plays for a long time because there's no doubt in my mind that he's definitely the best goalie to ever play the game. Is there anything that you miss from college?
College was definitely fun, not just because of hockey. It was great, I had a lot of buddies in college and one thing I miss was not being able to graduate with them. I'm still missing two years of school and I know my dad wants me to get that done so I'll probably be doing some summer courses soon.Are you looking forward to playing fewer games within the conference?
It's definitely more fun seeing some different teams once in a while. It's nice playing teams eight times a year, but it's gonna be fun playing different teams and seeing some different players. I think it's going to be much better for the fans.Does your family come to New Jersey to see you play?
Yeah, they come a couple times a year. Basically it's just my parents because my brothers are still all over the place playing hockey, so it's tough for them during the season. Are you going to live in Canada or move to New Jersey?
I got a house in New Jersey, but I usually go back to Winnipeg for the summers to hang out with my family there.What was it like the first time you saw someone wearing a jersey with your name on the back?
It's pretty cool. I used to be the one wearing the other guy's jersey. It's humbling [to see] but it just makes you want to work and become a better player.Who's the toughest player you ever played against?
There's some really tough guys. I think Georges Laraque and [Donald] Brashear… if those guys are on the ice, I'm keeping my head up. I think Laraque rocked me once in my first season, so I just stayed away from him after that.How intimidating is it to be on the ice for the first time and look up to see 20,000 fans?
It was crazy. The first couple shifts of my first game… I don't even remember them. After that you sort of just concentrate on the game. Every now and then I still look up into the stands and it's crazy to see.Does the crowd noise affect you?
You can always hear the crowd. For us it acts like a seventh man on the ice and can give you some energy and momentum. I think that always helps.What's a typical game day for you? Do you have any superstitions?
Not really. I usually just wake up and have some breakfast. We go to the rink and skate, or if not, we go out for a walk. We do play a lot of cribbage during the day to keep our minds sharp (laughs)
. Then maybe have a nap during the day and start getting ready for the game.No pre-game rituals?
No, if I do I probably do it for a week then forget about it.When you go back to school, what will you study?
I was just taking my general courses, really, the first two years. I was thinking of going into kinesiology* or something to do with training. That's something I'd like to do.
*–the study of the mechanics of body movements
If you had beaten the Rangers in the first round of this year's playoffs, how would you have done against the Penguins?
I like our chances against any team. When we're playing our best, you can see there's not too many teams that can beat us. With Marty in net, we have the best goalie in the world and we always like our chances with him.
With over 800 members, the Devils Fan Club is the largest booster club in the NHL. For more information, visit www.devilsfanclub.org.