Over the weekend of March 7-8 the New Jersey Devils welcomed back 23 players and coaches from their first Stanley Cup winning team of 1995. It was the first time that that many of them had been together since sweeping the heavily favored Detroit Red Wings in four games that June. “This is nice to have a lot of them back. We’ve had some of them back (here) in different capacities in different years,” said Bruce Driver after an entertaining alumni game, “guys that work for other teams when they come through (New Jersey).”
Driver is one of the few that has stayed close to the organization since then, as the president of the Devils Alumni group. Others have moved on to other organizations and leagues to do other work. “A lot of us are in different phases of our lives,” explained Tom Chorske who now does TV work covering the Minnesota Wild. “Marty’s just getting out of the game and others have been done for a long time; we’re sprinkled around North America.”
Others felt the same way that Chorske did, they were also happy to see a lot of buddies that they share that special bond with. “Everybody has their own lives and careers and families,” said Ken Daneyko after the game. “It’s funny guys like Billy Guerin, I live close to him and Bobby Holik, I lived across the street from him when our kids were two and three-years-old and now they’re 20, 21-years-old and here today…it’s pretty cool to see that (laughs), you see how time flies.”
— New Jersey Devils (@NHLDevils) March 9, 2015
One of the players in the alumni game looked like he could still play in today’s NHL, Hall-of-Fame defenseman Scott Niedermayer. “It’s been better than I could have imagined (coming back here). Half of these guys I haven’t seen in quite a while,” he said while grinning, “and it’s amazing how you just pick up right where things left off; shocking almost. But it’s fun to see the guys for sure. Anytime you go through two months of playoff hockey and hoist the Stanley Cup there are a lot of great stories, a lot of special moments. It’s fun to have a few more together here this weekend.”
The actual game featured a twist that caught everyone in attendance off guard – the last member of the team to retire from the NHL, Martin Brodeur, played forward for the first two periods; while Driver played in the goal opposite of Chris Terreri (game MVP). “I think some of them were taking it easy on me, they weren’t trying to light me up,” Driver told The Hockey Writers while chuckling, “which was kind of them because it could have gotten ugly pretty quickly (smiles) but it was fun. As long as Marty had a great time and we all had a good time, the fans got what they wanted, so it was all good.”
The players THW talked to all echoed that sentiment: as much fun as they had, this was all about the fans and creating another memory for them. “It was a great response by the fans tonight, a different setting; I think everybody would like to be in the big building, even the players,” said Brodeur post game. “But I think it made it more intimate for the fans to be in a smaller venue like that. It was fun; it was really fun actually.”
At different times, and not coordinated Daneyko aka Mr. Devil picked up right where Brodeur’s words left off. “The fans are what these things are all about. Yeah we love to get together and the camaraderie and we’ll always have a special bond with this group,” said Daneyko. “To win that first Cup for the state of New Jersey; we took a lot of pride in that Jersey logo, but for the fans to be here, even just when we did a little function earlier — just hearing them talk about ‘95 and how special it was to them — that’s what its about.
Just like brothers usually do, they even found time to take a few light-hearted jabs at each other after the game that saw Team Red beat Team White 10-6. “Nieder wasn’t even trying; Rollie (Brian Rolston) looked good, if he would’ve tried like that at the end of his career he might’ve played a few more years,” Brodeur said with a huge smile. “Johnny Mac ain’t coming back…Dano ain’t coming back (laughs)…Carpy ain’t coming back…Nieder, he’s probably worked (out) for this too.”
When Niedermayer was asked about Brodeur getting shelled in goal during the third period, he smiled and said, “We were a little nervous about that, Marty going in, but his team, didn’t give him much help. I think they turned it down and we were scared of Marty so we (turned it up and) got it going.” Chorske didn’t disagree with his former teammate’s assertion. “I heard he said he’s done playing goalie, but it was nice to see him put the pads on in the third (period),” said the Minneapolis native. “We thought we could leave him out to dry (back there), and that wasn’t fair to him. They had some really good chances on him and he made some big saves but they stuck a couple past him too.”
A lot happens over the span of two decades, as Daneyko mentioned kids grow up and as Bobby Carpenter pointed out, sometimes lives are lost. When THW asked the first American-born player selected in the first round of the NHL draft (1981, 3rd overall) the best part about the weekend was, he knew and responded away. “Honestly, that everyone is alive and everyone is healthy. Twenty years, a lot of stuff has happened. People I went to high school with, I’ve lost a lot of friends, we lost a lot of people,” he said. “It’s unbelievable to come back (here) and everyone is healthy. You have all these guys that can actually skate and compete and play. It really is something.”
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) March 7, 2015
Some current players, like the Devils’ Damon Severson, are too young to remember the 1995 Stanley Cup team, making us all feel really old. “The start of their season would have been in 1994, that’s my birth year,” said the baby-faced defenseman with a grin, “so I don’t have any memory of that team.” When asked if he had the chance to meet any of the Cup winners he replied, “We get to interact with (assistant coach) Scott Stevens and (goalie coach) Chris (Terreri) and (assistant coach) Tommy (Albelin) every day (laughs), and that’s a nice thing. But the whole group I didn’t have much interaction with this weekend. They’re doing their thing and we are doing ours; it would’ve been nice to get to know a few of those guys so hopefully sometime down the road I’ll be able to.”
Carpenter perhaps summed up the team best with his assessment of how special the group is and was in 1995. “It’s something you carry for the rest of your life; it was a special team because we had a lot of middle-aged players to upper-aged that never won. I think Claude (Lemieux) and Stephane (Richer) were the only ones that had,” he said as he looked around the locker room at his teammates. “It’s pretty remarkable that you could put together a group of players that were that hungry and (willing) to make sacrifices — everyone, made sacrifices that whole year. For instance, I was a goal-scorer and I became a checker. I’m going to do that no matter what, if that’s what it takes to win. Everyone did that and that’s what made it a special team; (Valeri) Zelepukin. Sergei Brylin. Rolston. Jimmy Dowd — everyone contributed, that’s for sure.”
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) March 8, 2015
“I can’t believe it’s been twenty years but this is a special group,” said New Jersey’s own Jim Dowd. “Especially for me growing up in Brick and being drafted by the Devils; signing and winning a Stanley Cup with them, it’s a dream come true. It’s a great way to do it with this alumni game and then to be honored before the game tomorrow.”
“It’s great because this is such a special group, what we went through with a lot of the guys here in 1994 and then winning in 1995 in a season not even knowing if we were going to have it. To put it together the way we did, we didn’t have a great season; we had to play on the road to start every round. That great record that we had (on the road), that’s the reason we ended up winning,” Driver told THW.
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) March 7, 2015
“This group was very special; everybody understood their role and you look at our Crash Line (smiles) we kept them together out there today, they were so effective at wearing the other teams down. It didn’t matter how many minutes they played in a game, but every single shift they went out there they were effective and wore the other team down; and scored some big goals. Randy Mac (McKay) had second most goals in the playoffs for us that year, not a lot of people remember that; he was pretty impressive.”
All of the players we talked to agreed that this weekend was a great idea and it was even better than they could have imagined. “It was fun; anytime you step on the ice it’s supposed to be fun,” said Dowd. “I don’t know who made the teams today,” said Niedermayer with a smile. “Maybe Scotty (Stevens) did, I don’t know. It was nice to play alongside him (again); I broke into this league doing that and that’s a great place to start for a young D-man.”
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.