An ode to the past, a look at the present and a preview into the future. It must be (almost) the start of hockey season. The Devils who slid into the playoffs as the final wild card team in the Eastern Conference before falling in five games to the Lightning, are trying to make mid and late April hockey a regular thing. May and June as well, but first thing’s first.

So Long, Brian!

I don’t remember exactly what I got on an early-October quiz on Geogre Orwell’s Animal Farm. But I know it wasn’t good. That’s because the night prior, I attended my first-ever live hockey game–the 2006-07 home opener between the Maple Leafs and Devils at the old Continental Airlines Arena in the Meadowlands. I still remember the echoing cheers as you walked through that dimly-lit tunnel to the arena and the smell of popcorn I had long associated soley with the movies and that wonky, Goose-like goal horn. It blared six (6!) times that night. After trailing Toronto 6-3 in the third, the Devils rallied to tie the game behind a two-goal period for Brian Gionta. His equalizer came with 37 seconds left in regulation. The ‘Rochester-Rocket’ scored once more in the shootout before John Madden put it away in extra innings–his goal actually went to video review.

Between fan and media, I’ve seen close to 400 other games , but that was still the best I’ve ever been to. As a direct result of that night, I became hooked on hockey. And the 5-foot-7 Devil became my favorite player. He was a smallish forward and I was…well not on the tall-side. When he left in 2009 to sign with the Canadiens I wasn’t happy. Nevertheless, I remained an unwavering Gionta supporter–following his career in Montreal where he became only the second American-born captain. I also got to watch his brother, Stephen, make a name for himself in New Jersey for a few years. Stephen, by the way, at last checked remains on the Islanders roster while on a pro tryout agreement.

On Monday, Gionta retired from the game of hockey at a press conference in Buffalo. Last season, his final campaign in hockey, saw him skate in 27 games: one in the American Hockey League; 21 in the NHL (20 regular season and one postseason); and five in Sochi, Russia, where he captained Team USA at the Winter Olympics.

Good luck to Brian Gionta. Still the owner of most goals in a single-season by a Devil (48) and 2003 Stanley Cup champion. Some thousands of pages later the accolade of making this fan-turned-writer into an unapologetic puckhead might be included.

Yakety-Yak!

Admittedly, I don’t watch much preseason hockey. A scheduling conflict forced me to miss the Devils’ lone preseason game at home. I caught parts of both games against the Rangers on TV. If you’re looking for this camp’s “Jesper Bratt Out-of-Nowhere” candidate, might I offer you Yegor Yakovlev? The Russian blueliner signed a one-year, entry-level contract with the team after six years in the KHL. It’s still a process, but he hasn’t looked woefully out of place…yet. Ty Smith, a 2018 first round draft pick, is giving him a run for his money though.

Like Teen Spirit

Speaking of the draft…Last season, Nico Hischier was the youngest player in the league to play 10 or more games. He was also one of three 2017 draftees to carve out a regular role on the team.

It helped put to rest any doubts about the Swiss-born, first overall pick’s ability to play in the NHL at such a young age. But with kids conditioning and training better than ever before, we could see this happen even more. Who might be the budding favorites to stick around from the 2018 class? Here’s a few of the 27 that have signed an entry-level deal.

  1. Rasmus Dahlin (Sabres)…Because, of course.
  2. Andrei Svechnikov (Hurricanes)…About as sure as the above. He’s making that team.
  3. Jesperi Kotkaniemi (Canadiens)…He was not among the latest round of cuts for the Habs. He’s also had a nice camp for a team that needs talent down the middle.
  4. Brady Tkachuk (Senators)…It’s been a rough summer for the Sens. But fans should see the org’s top prospect on opening night.
  5. Adam Boqvist (Blackhawks)…His mobility is top-notch. And the Blackhawks D needs some help, especially without Connor Murphy to start the season.
  6. Ty Smith (Devils)…With the blueline somewhat questionable, they could appreciate the 9-game look.
  7. Isac Ludestrom (Ducks)…A good skater with a sharp head for the game. The talented forward gives an intriguing element to one of the NHL’s oldest teams (avg. age= 28.7).

Pa-Hall-mieri

Nothing wrong with playing Kyle Palmieri on the right side of Nico Hischier with Taylor Hall on the left. All three scored in Monday’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Rangers on Monday. But having 83 of last season’s 248 goals on the same line doesn’t exactly spread the offense.

Woodn’t You Believe It?!

Miles Wood has officially signed his four-year, $11 million extension. It sure felt like it had the potential to leak into the regular season. Both sides seemed comfortable with shorter term, but were far apart on dollar figures. Enter this win-win concept: Wood gets $2.75 million per–a nice raise for his second contract. The Devils, meanwhile, get the forward back and can still retain his rights when the deal is done. Wood will be in his final year as an RFA with arbitration rights.

Toronto’s William Nylander and Anaheim’s Nick Ritchie are the only remaining RFA’s, after Shea Theodore and the Golden Knights agreed to a 7-year pact.

Ilya’s Back

This Ilya Kovalchuk goal invited the comment of: “He’s still got it!” To which I respectively ask: Did he ever not have it? It didn’t go away–it was just over in Russia. And for that, I don’t think it’s absurd to guess that the ex-Devil and Thrasher will score at least 30 this season. Lockout-shortened season aside, his rookie season was his only sub-30 goal season in the NHL (he scored 29).

Regarding Gritty

The Flyers’ new mascot, Gritty, was the butt of everyone’s joke on Monday. It’s a cross between Jakub Voracek and a just-released muppet, who somehow ended up in the parking lot at the Wells Fargo Center.

Mascots are historically weird, zaney, quirky indviduals. So, this thing passes the mascot test kit with flying colors. And while his opening night debut came tumbling down, it’s still a better debut than Carolina Hurricanes’ Stormy the Pig.’

The hog cheated death during a preseason contest. Apparently, the idea of stuffing the mascot inside a Zamboni for a big reveal was too good to pass up. As it turns out, the man inside suffered a seizure due to the lack of oxygen flow caused by dry ice. He was rushed and treated at a local hospital.

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