The New Jersey Devils-One Heck of a Team

March 13, 2011
“Anssi Salmela scores!”

When those words echoed through the air, whether you were at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, or in your living room, if you’re a Devils fan you were on your feet. With the over time win against the New York Islanders last night, the Devils have pulled themselves to only 6 points shy of a playoff position. Now, a win is always a reason to celebrate, but every W the Devils put down in their record books is like winning a small Stanley Cup to both the players and the fans. At the beginning of the season, and for a vast majority of the season, the Devils plummeted to the basement of the NHL standings. By December they were in last place in the entire National Hockey League, a spot that was very unfamiliar to anyone who wore the letters NJ on their chest, fans and players alike.

A lot of people gave up then and there, tossing in their jerseys for the season, selling their tickets for almost half face value on stubhub, and removing the magnets from the bumpers of their cars. These people, fair-weather “fans”, were given a reason to regret their halfhearted faith in the team soon enough however. Coach John MacLean was ultimately fired, and old coach Jacques Lemaire took his place behind the bench once more (although he wasn’t exactly happy to be back at first). Martin Brodeur came back after injuring his elbow, and players like Ilya Kovalchuk were starting to put the puck into the net.

Martin Brodeur, the 38 year old goaltender, was a little rusty at the beginning of the season. Many fans were clamoring for him to step down and let someone younger take the position (not that Johan Hedberg is much younger, at 37). He soon found himself injured after taking a shot to the elbow, and Hedberg stepped in. Hedberg had his fair share of losses as well, and took equal heat from fans, but as he began to win, the Prudential Center, or as many fans lovingly call it, The Rock, was full of cries of “MOOSE!” After Brodeur returned from his elbow injury, he began to look a little more like his old self...well, his younger self if you really think about it. Fans began to rock The Rock with cries of “Marty! Marty!” as well, and both goaltenders soon found their niche in the crease...and then Brodeur went down again, this time with a sprained knee. He bounced back soon enough, and his record began to flourish. Johan Hedberg returned to his position as back up goaltender, but the fans continued to go nuts every time either goalie did something great.

Ilya Kovalchuk, the Devils “Million Dollar Man” was also having a rough start to the season. After a huge contract scandal, involving 10 million dollars a year for 10 years, fans were fed up with Kovalchuk and his drought. They began to barrage the Devils facebook and twitter pages with messages of “trade Kovy” and “we’re paying him 10 million dollars to lose!” Kovalchuk wasn’t all too happy about his drought, and the fans didn’t help matters. In fact, all of this losing got to everyone on the team, not just the star Russian. When MacLean was fired, the players openly admitted to returning Jacques Lemaire that they were all suffering from a lack of confidence. It wasn’t all too surprising, but Lemaire quickly whipped them back into shape both physically and emotionally. Then Ilya Kovalchuk started to score again. Now fans lovingly call him names such as “Goalvalchuk”, “Captain Clutch”, and “Kovalclutch.” (The latter two in reference to the multitude of game winning goals he has scored as of late).

This sudden surge is seen by some as too little too late, but the team and its fans have adopted the motto “One Game At A Time”. You will see fans toting signs that read “One shift, one goal, one game at a time...We Believe!” Players have begun to smile a lot more, and they have all agreed that it truly is one game at a time for them. In a way, it’s a classic underdog story, but it isn’t exactly finished yet. The Devils are currently 6 points out of the playoffs with 14 games left in their regular season. They will face the Atlanta Thrashers Tuesday, who just came off of an incredibly shocking win against the Philadelphia Flyers last night. Fans across the state, and the world, have been flooding the New Jersey Devils facebook and twitter pages with words of encouragement, and if you look around, you’ll see a lot more red lately. The team has given its fans hope, and in a way have reflected the attitude of the state they represent. New Jersians will be the first to tell you that the state has a very nitty gritty attitude. They won’t give up until the very last minute on anything worth fighting for, and for the Devils, the Stanley Cup is a prize worth fighting for. So when you see a Devils fan jumping for joy when Ilya Kovalchuk scores a goal, or Martin Brodeur makes a phenomenal save, or Anton Volchenkov finishes a beautiful check, you’ll realize that they are celebrating one more reason to have hope. The Devils season truly is a beacon of hope for underdogs the world over, and they’re keeping it going “one game at a time.”

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