During the offseason, The Hockey Writers will be doing a ten-part series on the success stories of the 2013-14 New Jersey Devils. Despite missing the postseason for the second consecutive spring, the Devils had a memorable season that they can build upon for the 2014-15 season. The eighth success story focuses on the unsung Czech, the quiet yet dependable Marek Zidlicky.
Acquired by the Devils via trade from the Minnesota Wild on February 24, 2012, Zidlicky played a key role in the Devils march to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final. After putting up eight points in his 22 games with New Jersey to end the season, he scored a goal and added eight assists in 24 postseason games. His best series came against the Philadelphia Flyers in the conference semifinals as he scored his first career NHL postseason goal and had three assists in five games.
In the following lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, Zidlicky scored four goals and had 15 assists after playing in all 48 games. Shortly after he became an unrestricted free agent after the season, he returned to the Devils on a one-year deal and all he did was have one of the best seasons in his career that earned him another one-year contract to remain with Jersey’s Team.
Marek Zidlicky: A Devil on “D” for the 2013-14 Devils
In 2013-14, the star Czechs on forward for New Jersey were leading scorer Jaromir Jagr with 67 points and career-long Devil Patrik Elias, who finished with 53 points in 65 games. Behind them was the “other” Czech, the soft-spoken but always smiling Zidlicky. In 81 games, he finished with 12 goals, his highest total since the 2008-09 season when he also scored a dozen goals, and led all Devils defensemen with 42 points, his best output since 2009-10 when he had 43 points. Both seasons he was a member of the Wild. His 30 assists last season was the highest amongst New Jersey blue liners. Zidlicky led the team in power-play goals with eight, power-play points with 18, and in penalty minutes with 60.
Dan Rice of The Hockey Writers sat down with Marek Zidlicky towards the end of the 2013-14 season and spoke about his career, being teammates with Jagr and Elias, and about being drafted by the New York Rangers (but never playing a game with them). Read his interview: Q & A with Marek Zidlicky
Late Game Heroics a First Half Trademark for Zidlicky
While the Devils opened the season winless in their first seven games, Zidlicky fared well as he put up five assists. Then in game eight of the season, New Jersey picked up their first “W” with a 4-0 victory over the Rangers. The Devils entered the final period up 2-0 before Michael Ryder and Dainius Zubrus padded their lead. Zidlicky assisted on both third period goals.
Three games later the Devils traveled up to Boston still in search of their first road win on the season. Down 3-1 with under a minute to play in the second period, Damien Brunner got New Jersey to within one. Then with just over a minute remaining in the third period, Zidlicky took control of the puck as the Devils set up their power-play. One slap shot later the game was tied as Zidlicky scored his first goal of 2013-14. It would not go down as a meaningless goal as fellow defenseman Andy Greene put the Devils ahead 22 seconds later. New Jersey won 4-3.
On November 10 in a 5-0 win at the Prudential Center against the Nashville Predators, Zidlicky had a goal and an assist, his third of nine multi-point games during the year. Later in the month, Zidlicky would add another goal in a come from behind win over the Anaheim Ducks, Anaheim’s first loss on home ice. The next night across the city the 10-year NHL veteran had the primary assist on Jagr’s game-winning overtime goal in a 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings. It was the Devils first visit to the Staples Center since they were defeated in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final.
From December 21 through January 12, Zidlicky had ten points in eleven games. The streak opened in Washington D.C. with a thrilling contest. Zidlicky opened the scoring with a power-play blast from the faceoff circle to the right of goaltender Braden Holtby. New Jersey brought their one-goal lead into the second period but a dizzying three-goal display by the Washington Capitals provided the Devils with a daunting task entering the third. Jagr got them back within one but Alexander Ovechkin quickly responded with a goal of his own. Down 4-2 with 10:39 left in the third, Zidlicky started one of the best comebacks of the season for New Jersey when he snuck into the slot to one-time a pass from center Travis Zajac beyond the reach of Holtby. The Devils rallied and won 5-4 in overtime on Greene’s game-winner. Zidlicky was named the game’s First Star.
On January 3 Zidlicky had another two-goal game in a tough defeat to the defending champions, the Chicago Blackhawks, at the Rock. However, four games later he provided another dramatic moment. Tied 1-1 to the Florida Panthers at the Prudential Center, the game went into overtime. With 3.8 seconds remaining in the extra session, Zajac won the faceoff to Jagr who quickly tapped it to Zidlicky. The Devils defenseman one-timed the puck over the glove of goaltender Tim Thomas for a shocking 2-1 victory. The Devil on “D” was once again named the First Star of the game.
Relive Marek Zidlicky’s overtime goal against the Florida Panthers:
At the 2014 Winter Olympics…
The Most, Czech Republic, native represented his native country at the 2014 Winter Olympics. In five games, he had two goals and two assists. His four points was tied for the team lead and his eight penalty minutes led the Czech national team.
A Memorable Ending to a Successful Season for the Humble Czech
Following the break, Zidlicky would have a season-high four-game point streak from March 4 through March 11 when he scored a goal and added four assists. Zidlicky’s goal tied the Devils last game before the NHL trade deadline at two goals apiece early in the third period of an eventual 4-3 New Jersey victory over the Detroit Red Wings. However, as important as his previous goals were on the season for the Devils, perhaps none meant more to the organization and their fans than his two-goal game in the season finale.
New Jersey faced the Boston Bruins in front of a sold out crowd at the Prudential Center on April 13 in what is probably goaltender Martin Brodeur’s final game with the organization. As the anxious crowd snapped pictures of the legendary goalie, the team wanted Brodeur’s tenure to end with a win. 7:12 into the game the 37 year-old Zidlicky got the Devils on the board with a wraparound goal. Elias had the secondary assist. Later in the period, Boston tied the score.
After a scoreless middle period, Zajac put New Jersey back ahead with just under four minutes gone in the third. 2:21 later, Zidlicky stepped into the spotlight again when he one-timed a pass from Brunner to give the Devils a two-goal lead. Just like his first goal, the secondary assist went to a Czech mate; this time it was Jagr. It would hold up as the game-winner when the Bruins scored the game’s final goal with sixteen seconds left.
Zidlicky provided many clutch and heroic moments during a trying 2013-14 season for the Devils. As he prepares to enter his third full and fourth overall season with Jerseys Team, Zidlicky will be counted upon to lead a much younger defensive core that will have the much younger Jon Merrill, Adam Larsson, and Eric Gelinas seeing a lot more ice time with the departure of veterans Anton Volchenkov and Mark Fayne. New Jersey’s unsung Czech may be quiet and humble but his leadership and talent will be vital for the success of the 2014-15 Devils.