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Family ties run deep at Devils camp

by Emily Kaplan
Peter McMullen had the chance to skate alongside Scott Stevens, his childhood idol. He got to slip on the red and white jersey representing the team he -- and thousands of other kids in Northern Jersey -- grew up cheering for. The 18-year-old has always been a huge Devils fan, and as a kid, would try to get to games whenever he wasn't busy with his own youth hockey.

When McMullen participated in Devils prospect camp this week at the Prudential Center, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But there was one other thing that made the entire experience extra special.

"I'm sure that me being here would make my grandpa proud," McMullen said.

McMullen's grandfather is the late John McMullen, the former owner of the Devils and the man responsible for bringing NHL hockey to New Jersey. His father is Peter McMullen Sr., the Devils Executive Vice President.

McMullen's family ties are deep rooted in the Devils organization. And at prospect camp this week, he wasn't alone.

The roster of rookies participating in the five-day developmental camp read something like a who's who of the New Jersey media guide. Along with McMullen were Stephen Gionta, brother of Brian Gionta, who holds the franchise record for goals in a season, Rem Vanderbeek, whose father, Jeff, is the current owner of the Devils, and Kelly and Darcy Zajac, brothers of New Jersey forward Travis Zajac.

In fact, there was supposed to be a third Zajac in attendance, too. General Manager Lou Lamoriello said he invited Nolan Zajac -- the youngest of the four boys and the only defenseman in the Zajac clan -- to camp, but he couldn't attend because he was tied up with other obligations.

"I'm losing track of how many Zajacs are here," Stephen Gionta said, with a laugh. "But there are definitely family ties here and that's what this organization is about. It's about family and that's what they preach and I think it's a good thing."

Gionta said he "can't explain in words" how influential his older brother, Brian, has been to his hockey career. And though Brian now plays for the Montreal Canadiens, he still has high regard for the Devils organization and has been supportive of Stephen's budding career in the New Jersey system.

Darcy Zajac said he has a similar relationship with Travis, who is just a year older than him. All of the brothers are close, Darcy said, and they realize how lucky they are to be a part of the same organization.

"Obviously they like something in all of us," he said. "Maybe one day we'll all be playing with each other in the big club, you never know. But it's just special we're all here together and it's something we need to value and kind of just take it in when we can."

Zajac said that he, Gionta, Vanderbeek and McMullen have a sort of unspoken bond because of their family ties, though it's not something they speak about outwardly.

"No, we don’t really discuss it," Zajac said. "It's more about the history and the character that attracts them to all of us. I guess they like bloodlines a bit."

Vanderbeek, meanwhile, was invited to camp to fill out a roster spot. However Lamoriello said Vanderbeek's invite was more about the fact that he's a talented local hockey player -- the Devils have had an eye on him for years, the general manager said -- than his family connection.

Still, the Devils' familiarity with Vanderbeek -- his last name withstanding -- is why he was at camp this week.

Said Lamoriello: "It's better the people you know that you bring to do that than someone you don't know."
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