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The Devils: New building, new Hall of Famer

by Evan Weiner /

The New Jersey Devils will be moving into their new building, the Prudential Center this weekend.
The beginning of the 2007-08 season is shaping up to be an exciting time for the New Jersey Devils. The team is moving into its new Newark building, the Prudential Center, this weekend, and the first “real” New Jersey player, defenseman Scott Stevens, will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto on Nov. 12.

Stevens won’t be the last, either. Eventually he figures to be joined by goaltender Martin Brodeur, defenseman Scott Niedermayer and forward Brendan Shanahan, although Shanny’s better seasons were in St. Louis, Hartford and Detroit, when they become Hall of Fame eligible. General Manager Lou Lamoriello, meanwhile, figures to eventually be enshrined in the Builders category.

There doesn’t seem to be too many tears being shed over the fact the club has packed up and made the move about 15 minutes south of their former home at Continental Airlines Arena in the New Jersey Meadowlands.

There was no goodbye like there was to the Montreal Forum, or Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens. Devils players, past and present, didn’t get a Meadowlands seat like Chicago Blackhawks alumni did after the closing of Chicago Stadium. There were no fond remembrances like those in Boston and New York after the Boston Garden’s life ended or how old-timers recall the old Madison Square Garden.

But the Devils were very successful in the New Jersey swamplands, with three Stanley Cup championships and one losing Final appearance during the club’s 25 years in the building.

The big white building off Exit 16W of the New Jersey Turnpike just never resonated for whatever reason. Perhaps it was its size - it was a huge building inside - its sterile atmosphere, or that acoustically it was a better place for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band than it was for the Devils.

John MacLean, now a Devils assistant coach, spent an awful lot of time in the old building that still will be used for the National Basketball Association’s New Jersey Nets and other events. While he is sorry to see it go, it was time for a change.

MacLean, who made his debut with the Devils as an 18-year-old in 1983, has seen it all as a Devil, from the days when Wayne Gretzky called the Devils a “Mickey Mouse operation” after Edmonton’s 13-4 win against the Devils in November, 1983 (For the record, putting something down as a Mickey Mouse operation never really made much sense considering how Mickey Mouse is worth billions to Walt Disney) to his goal in 1988 which put the Devils in the playoffs for the first time since the team was moved from Colorado to the Garden State in 1982 to the first Stanley Cup in 1995.

MacLean is the franchise leader with 347 goals and 701 points.

“It’s probably because we are so excited to get to the new building,” said MacLean about the lack of sorrow to see the Meadowlands left behind. “Everything is going to be so new to us and it gives us another identity. We got our own place, and it’s going to be a hockey building, which is pretty exciting.

“(The Meadowlands) was state-of-the-art when I got there in 1983. You thought it was the best. Here some 20-odd years later, it’s obsolete. I always had success there as a player and it brings back good memories, but the team deserves a new building with all the championship play they have had and we are looking forward to it.”

One of the most memorable moments in New Jersey Devils history was seen by very few people in the building in 1995. When the Devils won the Stanley Cup, there was the Conn Smythe Award given to the best player in the Final (Claude Lemieux), then the presentation of the Cup to captain Scott Stevens, the hoopla on ice, and then the Cup was brought into the Devils’ dressing room.

Lord Stanley’s trophy just sat in a corner of the room and no one went near it. It was just sitting there while Devils players and others were partying in another area of the dressing room. It seemed Stanley was all dressed up with nowhere to go, just sitting there.

“Well, it was the first time we won it, so we didn’t know what we were doing,” MacLean laughed. “We since figured it out and we had a lot of fun with it anyways.”

Prior to the Cup win, the two most important goals in the club’s history came on the last night of the 1987-88 regular season. The Devils needed a win to make the playoffs and were in Chicago. The Devils were battling the Rangers for the final playoff spot. Earlier that evening the Rangers had beaten the Quebec Nordiques and finished with 82 points. The Devils trailed Chicago 2-1 in the third period when MacLean scored the equalizer. The game went into overtime and MacLean notched the game-winner.

Because the Devils had won one more game than the Rangers, New Jersey made the playoffs even though both teams had 82 points. It was the second time in the 14-year history of the Kansas City Scouts-Colorado Rockies-New Jersey Devils franchise that the team made the playoffs. The Rockies were wiped out by Philadelphia in the 1978 playoffs in two games.

The Scouts-Rockies-Devils franchise was filled with futility until MacLean’s goals. The Devils would go onto the conference finals and lost to Boston that year.

“Yeah, it kind of put the Devils on the map, just to get into the playoffs for the first time,” said MacLean. “It was exciting, but there have been a lot of big goals since then.”

Former New Jersey Devil great Scott Stevens will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto on November 12.

The Devils missed the playoffs in 1988-89. Then, in 1991, Devils forward Brendan Shanahan signed a contract as a restricted free agent with St. Louis. An arbitrator awarded the Devils Scott Stevens as compensation, which changed the course for the Devils.

Stevens became the captain in 1992, and his hard-hitting style and toughness became Devils’ trademarks.

“Yeah, well, you know Scotty was such a competitor and gives you that extra edge,” said MacLean from two viewpoints, one as a player and the other as coach. “He was a tremendous hockey player going into the Hall of Fame. Kudos to him, he deserves every bit of it. He was a great player, a great competitor and a big part of lots of success there.

“He gives you a physical presence on the blue line and throughout the locker room. The way he played big, and everybody around him played a little bit bigger, too. So that helped out.”

There are some captains who give the fire-and-brimstone, “win one for the Gipper” speeches, but according to MacLean, that wasn’t what Stevens was about.

“Scotty was a man of very few words, but he let his actions speak and they usually spoke volumes and that was enough,” said MacLean.

Stevens had big hits throughout the Devils’ runs in the playoffs. He leveled Slava Kozlov (1995 Final against Detroit), had some huge hits in the 2000 run, including running over Eric Lindros in the Eastern Conference Final against Philadelphia, and his demolition of Anaheim’s Paul Kariya in the 2003 Stanley Cup Final. Those hits seemed to spark the Devils.

MacLean lost a teammate in Shanahan and wasn’t quite sure where Stevens was going to fit in with New Jersey after he reported to the team in September 1991.

“Yeah, Shanny was a tough loss, but he went on to a successful career on his own and is still playing well. A great player, a great competitor, but sometimes you need a different look. No, you never know,” MacLean said of what amounted to a Shanahan for Stevens deal and how well it would turn out for New Jersey. “We are just glad it did.”

MacLean didn’t have to go against Stevens much during the regular season when the defenseman was with St. Louis, but practices changed in a hurry when Stevens became a teammate.

“Exactly,” MacLean said with a chuckle. “That’s tough enough. In practice he always kept you honest one way or another.”

MacLean said with Stevens around in practice, you always kept your head up because you never knew when he would check you.

Stevens will not be the only Scouts-Rockies-Devils player in the Hall of Fame.

Lanny McDonald, who spent almost two full seasons in Colorado, was elected to the Toronto shrine in 1992. One-time Kansas City Scout player Craig Patrick entered the Hall of Fame as a builder in 2001, and one-time Devils coach Herb Brooks was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006, but neither Patrick nor Brooks were honored for their Scouts-Devils contributions. Patrick was a non-descript player who was Brooks’ assistant coach on the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team that won the gold medal and was a general manager with the Rangers (he drafted Brian Leetch and Mike Richter) and Penguins.

There also is one other thing the Scouts-Rockies-Devils franchise brought to hockey -- and sports in general. The Colorado franchise introduced Gary Glitter’s Rock and Roll, Part 2 as a major part of the crowd experience in Denver. The song became, and remains, one of the most popular sports arena anthems nearly three decades after the Rockies first used it.


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