When Shawn Chambers became a member of the New Jersey Devils, midway through the 1994-95 season, he had some anxiety outside of the rink. Growing up and playing much of his career in the Midwest, the transition to the New Jersey/New York region and its fast pace was a cause of concern. And to top it all off, he made the change with his wife pregnant at home.
But Chambers had switched teams twice before in his career, and the on-ice part of the move was smooth. “I knew [Neal] Broten and I knew Danton [Cole],” recalled Chambers, remembering the familiar faces that had helped him adjust to New Jersey.
Chambers and Broten were teammates on the Minnesota North Stars from ’87-’91, and Cole, whose wife was also pregnant at the time, was part of the same trade that brought Chambers to the Devils.
Having watched the Devils’ 1994 playoff run get cut short, Chambers said it was ideal to move to a great team in a competitive position. It didn’t take long for Chambers to realize he had become part of something special.
Chambers first got the hunch a few weeks before the playoffs. “We just started getting on a role, and I’ve told everybody I’ve ever played with on another team, that I didn’t think we could lose.”
He was nearly correct. The Devils entered the playoffs going 2-1-1 to close out the season, and then went on a tear once the playoffs got underway. The team went 16-4 over the course of the playoffs, including a NHL-record 10 road wins. The Devils won every game in Boston to start the first round, and did the same with Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference Finals. Only one of the four losses, to Jaromir Jagr and the Penguins, came on the road.
Chambers’ feelings about the team reached a crescendo 12:32 in the third period of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, on June 24, 1995, when he scored the final goal of the playoffs, giving the Devils a 5-2 lead with less than eight minutes to go. The team was so confident in its defense’s ability to hold the lead that they began to embrace on the ice before the final horn.
“We all got to hug, whoever was on the ice. John MacLean was in that hug, and he had tears in his eyes, on the ice,” Chambers recalls. “That moment of being in that hug, knowing that we were going to win the Cup was the highlight of the night for me.”
Of course, Chambers has had some great moments in the years since winning the Cup. His second child was born in 1998, he won a second Cup in 1999, this time with Dallas—the heir to the Minnesota franchise that drafted him—and he was part of hockey legend and teammate Mike Modano’s retirement ceremony last year. “Those are my three highlights,” he chuckled.
Since retiring shortly after winning with Dallas, Chambers has spent most of the last 13 years coaching high school and other youth hockey programs in Minnesota, and the experience of having Jacques Lemaire as his coach has influenced Chambers’ own coaching style.
“I learned more in about a week, when I got to New Jersey, than I did in my life to that point.”
Chambers recalls being able to talk with Lemaire after a game, how the then-10-time Stanley Cup Champion would be able to break down what was done well and what needed improvement down to minor details on an individual level.
“I thought it was incredible that he could sit back and watch 18 guys plus the goalie and see exactly what everybody was doing,” Chambers explained.
“As a coach…I look at it the same way. I need to know exactly what everybody is doing on the ice, and I try to do that myself.”
After 13 years coaching, in November 2014, Chambers decided to take a step back, having most recently coached the Breezy Point North Stars in the NA3HL.“Right now is the first time I’m not completely involved in hockey other than watching my kids play.”
Beyond following his 19-year-old son, Connor, who was born shortly after his dad joined the Devils, in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, and the occasional high school or college game, Chambers says he waits for the playoffs before tuning into the NHL most years. “The intensity level from a regular season game to a playoff game is so different…I still get chills watching playoff hockey.”
As a spectator, Chambers can’t help but notice that the game has changed since he last laced up skates. Players have changed training programs to become faster while staying strong. “I used to ride the bike all the time, now [players] are running, they’re jumping…it’s off-ice stuff that has changed the game completely,” Chambers said.
Even at the youth level, he sees big changes. “With my high school team, I’ve watched these kids do stuff with the puck—and I thought I had good hands. These kids can do stuff with the puck that’s just crazy,” he said.
With all the differences over the last 20 years, it’s never a particularly smooth comparison, but Chambers feels that overall he’d like the ’95 team’s chances against some of the current NHL squads.
As far as staying in contact with members of the ’95 team, Chambers has the benefit of living in the same state as a few. “I see [Chris] McAlpine a lot, I see [Neal] Broten every now and again. [Tom] Chorske, I see him once in a while.”
Chambers will have the chance to reconnect with most of the team over the weekend at the 20th anniversary celebration. “The alumni game will be interesting...I’m sure [Scott] Niedermayer will be going 100 mph…then there will be guys like me who aren’t moving very far very fast.”
Chambers will be on the ice Saturday during the 1995 Stanley Cup Red-White Alumni Game at AmeriHealth Pavilion at Prudential Center. Devils fans can watch it live at NewJerseyDevils.com/95Cup, starting at 3:45 p.m.