Based on the wild acclaim for the high school jerseys displayed on the main concourse of the Rock, the NJ Devils asked the state’s youth hockey programs to send in representative jerseys as well. The result is a fabulous mosaic of the state’s youth players, from Ramapo to Vineland and everywhere in between.
What makes this even more exciting for us is that my son’s jersey is hanging right above the men’s room sign outside of Section 122. This is a distinction usually reserved for our namesake Howard Stern in south jersey rest areas. But now we have a little snowman on a small Devils away jersey marking a new favorite spot under a Rock.
Bubba and I modeled some of the international flavors of Patrik Elias at the Kings-Devils game on Saturday night. Bubba has the 2002 Czech Olympic jersey, with a completely English surname (missing the Czech accents that add color, intonation and printing costs). I’m wearing a somewhat official Metallurg Magnitogorsk Russian Super League jersey, with “Elias” on the back (in Cyrillic). Metallurg was the second team to sign Elias during the lock out year, bringing him on board for the Super League playoffs. Dave King’s book “King of Russia” has a great depiction of his year coaching the very same Metallurg team, the season after the lockout when Evgeni Malkin was his star player.
We get a lot of comments and compliments on the jerseys, which is why they’ve taken the place of our “home reds” at the Rock. And since they’re dye sublimated, without tackle twill, they clean up quite easily when they have buffalo chicken tender sauce, Carvel ice cream, mustard from a Premio sausage or soda spilled on them.
I learned many things today: Continental Airlines Arena can be quite loud when the fans are hungry for a win. Scott Gomez’ rear end is the cause of good deflections (it wasn’t his leg, it was his butt, the play was in front of us). Tommy Albelin is an exemplary over-40 hockey player (and he’s one of the humblest, nicest guys you’ll ever meet). But perhaps the most important thing I learned today is to never, ever wear open-toed shoes into the men’s room at the arena when the Devils score a goal. Most wives and girlfriends will profess that our aim isn’t great when we’re focused on the game. And when the game permeates the bathroom via the foghorn, well, a warm feeling is shared by all.
I didn’t build a huge prelude to the game. We weren’t there for the opening face-off because we were finishing a Little League game. I wore my brand new Elias Metallurg jersey, which got some great comments and stares from the Section 232 crew. I ate my pretzel before the chicken since the pretzel was a sort-of lunch leftover from Little League, and the chicken was an early late afternoon pre-dinner snack.
Oh yeah, the Devils put three goals in during the first period, two more going the long way away from our seats, and our house was broomless. Lou did an amazing job juggling the lines, keeping everyone’s legs fresh. Paul Martin led all skaters with 24 minutes on the ice, and nobody looked tired (except for Kozlov, who looked like he just left the Metallurg cement factory with free samples in his skates).
I didn’t foreshadow this one, but the Devils players did: their cars were parked in the South Mountain lot today, just as they are for any other home-and-home series. What I’ll do, however, is remember a bit of the 2000 playoffs, when the Devils were down 3-1 to Philly, and I was forced to listen to Game 5 via out of market radio broadcast from a hotel room in Boston. The hotel manager still has no idea why I was screaming “Freakin’ Brylin” loud enough to wake the people in the next room.
I’ll be in a hotel the night that Game 6 is scheduled. Coincidence?
Streaks begin and end with small things. One shot turns into a goal. One goal turns into a lead, and a lead wins a game. One win turns into a streak. On the other side, one defensive play prevents a goal. One good backcheck starts things the other way. One good play at the point continues possession in the zone. One thing builds on another. This is how streaks, teams, and fan bases are built.
Colin White skated today (that’s from the Newark Star Ledger, not because I spotted his truck in the South Mountain parking lot on a morning coffee run). Lukowich and Klee are better than they’ve played, and need to prove it before this season ends and their contracts look like cap room for Elias and Gomez. The scoring lines need to do just that, and the whole team will build on the little things.
Wednesday night in the Meadowlands. Time to turn this series around. Time to get back to even, one game at a time. Time to see what Big Lou is made of as a coach as well as a GM. I think we might wear our Euro-Elias jerseys, one from the Czech Olympic team and one from Metallurg (the Russian team on which Elias played last year). Have to have the lucky t-shirt underneath, so I’m leaning toward the basic grey Devils model. T-shirt, jersey, maybe even the little Czech flags we waved for Elias in the 2003 playoffs. One thing at a time, even for the fans.