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OHL-NCAA rivalry helps keep Devils room laughing

by Tal Pinchevsky

In the New Jersey Devils' wild run to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, a number of big names have made plays to prolong the postseason in Newark. But it's two young forwards in particular who have provided the bulk of the team's heroic moments.

The only Ontario-born players on the team, David Clarkson and Adam Henrique, are tied for the NHL postseason lead with three game-winning goals each and have combined to set up four game-winning and three game-tying markers. That flair for the dramatic hasn't just kept the Devils alive in the playoffs, it has added fuel to a friendly rivalry that has been going on in the team's locker room much of the season.

"I guess it's an OHL thing. I've still got to let Zach [Parise] know it's the best league to play in before coming to the NHL," joked Henrique, who scored two series-winning overtime goals before notching the game-winner Wednesday night against the Kings. "He tries to play it off like it's nothing, but I think he knows where the real hockey is."

Playoff heroics aside, Henrique and Clarkson have been outnumbered in the NCAA vs. OHL debate much of the season. Aside from team captain Parise, who attended the University of North Dakota, the Devils locker room is filled with several U.S. college products. They include fellow UND product Travis Zajac as well as Andy Greene (Miami-Ohio), Ryan Carter (Minnesota State-Mankato), Stephen Gionta (Boston College), Peter Harrold (Boston College), and Mark Fayne (Providence). But even surrounded by U.S. collegians, Henrique and Clarkson feel plenty confident representing "the O."

"We bug the college guys. There is always that college-OHL argument in here. It's more fun than anything," Clarkson said, who has plenty of support for Ontario within the organization. "We've got a large crew of OHL guys to hold it down. It's just a little joke we have in the room."

That crew holding it down has considerable sway in the Devils' locker room. Of the five members of New Jersey's coaching staff, four are Ontario-born and have coached or played in the OHL. That group includes head coach Peter Deboer, who played for the Windsor Spitfires for four years before returning to the league as a coach and eventually winning a Memorial Cup with Clarkson and the Kitchener Rangers in 2008.

The Devils' focus remains staving off elimination against the Kings in the Final, but the NCAA-OHL debate could wage on long after the series ends.

"We've got a lot of guys who have our backs on that one. It's fun," Henrique said. "I give it to them [college players] all the time about that."

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