The Love of the Devils Runs Deep

I get asked a lot why I write this hockey blog because it does require a lot of time, a lot of thought and isn’t something I get paid to do. I love hockey and I love the Devils, it’s that simple but from time to time someone will email me a piece that they wrote because they just wanted to share it with someone and having this place allows me to turn around and share it with a number of people. Last night I received an email from “Liz” who said I had to read this essay that a friend of hers wrote. It’s an excellent essay, parts of which I can definitely relate to and one that I just had to share. Enjoy!!

May 27th, 1994

Matteau!  Matteau!  Matteau!

The common theory among the general public and most media members is that Stephane Matteau’s only career highlight is somehow a black mark in the history of the New Jersey Devils.  A painful wound that re-opens upon the mere sound of Howie Rose’s exuberance as he utters the infamous name of a formerly nameless player.    For those who are fortunate enough to know better, the opposite is in fact the truth.  The evening of May 27th 1994, was the launching point for what has been a truly spectacular run of excellence spanning 18 incredible years.  At the time of the goal, I was a 16 year old kid watching the game at Timmy’s place, drinking whatever type of booze we could get our hands on and smoking a pack of Marlboro’s I stole from my old man.  The goaltender that night, Marty Brodeur.  When the puck dropped last night, I found myself on the couch in my own home, nearly 35 years old and with my 2 children safely tucked in their beds.  The goaltender of course, Marty Brodeur.  Although the outcome of this series with the Kings was disappointing, it would be terribly shortsighted to not reflect on the stunning achievements of this organ-I-zation.

I write this as a lifelong fan of the single most underappreciated team in American Professional sports, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Opposing fans and sportswriters begin every Devils post-mortem talking about both the financial and personnel problems that await.  This morning was no different.  If you believe what you read, the Devils will be bankrupt, Parise will have split and there won’t be enough money to re-sign the face of the franchise to put back between the pipes for a proper farewell tour.  The problem with these stories is that we’ve heard them all before.  The Devils have been in financial trouble according to our local scribes since the day they set up shop at Exit16W.  As for players defections, it was curtains when Niedermayer left, same for Holik, Gomez, Rafalski and even Paul Martin and yet somehow, miraculously , here we are again, one of the last 2 teams still playing into mid-June.  Should Parise jump ship for supposed greener pastures, rest assured we’ll read more stories about the franchise’s imminent demise, but I’ll let you in on a little secret…we’ll be ok.

Since that fateful day 18 years ago, the Devils have won 3 Stanley Cups, appeared in 5 finals, and won the Atlantic Division 9 times.  These numbers are staggering.  It is within these numbers that I can rest easy after reading another article about how futile the team is about to become.  Words like “irrelevant” and “afterthought” are used most often when the media looks to poke holes in the only place it really can, which is apparently the total number of folks who support the team.  I suppose if my job was to cover the other team from the Big City I’d resort to those tactics as well.  If on-ice accomplishments were the measuring stick, it’s quite simply too lopsided to seriously warrant a discussion   The low-blows have become less effective as year after year we watch this Devils club re-invent themselves and find new ways to win.   There are no sticks or stones that can be thrown to erase a nearly 2 decade run of greatness.  The sample size is too large, I expect to win every night.   And why shouldn’t I? This is not a story of a little engine that could, no sir.  This has been a team fueled by Hall of Famers in their prime, from The Captain Scotty Stevens to Niedermayer, Marty to Elias, and now Parise and Kovalchuk, this Devil team is properly armed every year to make a deep run.  It’s not my issue that more people aren’t paying attention, last I checked they don’t put attendance on the cup.

During the first round of this season’s run against Florida, I found myself outside between periods catching a smoke as I like to do from time to time. I took a peek over and standing next to me were 2 kids, both looked to be about 16, both smoking cigarettes, felt like I was looking into a mirror.  I nodded and asked them what they thought of the game “we look good, Marty’s playing awesome” , just then a  “Rangers suck” chant broke out, the kids joined in then turned to me “that team is so overrated, every year”.  Some things never change.  “Get used to it kid ”I said, I high-fived one of them and strolled back in to watch the Devils man up and take down a must-win game 4, Marty was sharp, of course he was.  I smiled thinking about those 2 degenerates, hoping that their next 18 years as Devil fans can bring them the same sense of comfort and euphoria that I just experienced. Deep down, I know it will, Scotty Stevens said it best, “The Devils always find a way to win, that will continue”, who am I to argue with the Captain. 

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