On 11/11/11 at 11:11 AM, I made a wish. I wished that the New Jersey Devils would win the Stanely Cup. I remember exactly where I was. I was on the bus with my classmates heading to a New Jersey Devils game against the Washington Capitals at the Prudential Center AKA "The Rock". My favorite teacher was taking his class there for a Sports Marketing field trip, mainly because the Devils were the closest team that he could get a bunch of tickets cheap. I remember hunting him down and begging him for a spot on the trip one day, and hurrying to sign my permission form.
I wasn't in the best mood on the bus. That morning at school, I kind of got rejected by my crush that I had been pursuing for a couple of months. I sat lonely with my face pressed against the bus window with my iPod in, knowing deep down that everything would be okay. I knew this, because I quickly had my mind on something else. That something else, of course, was the Devils game that night. The point I am trying to make is that no matter what I'm facing, the Devils can always put a smile on my face. I wore my Devils hat and Kovalchuk jersey, getting jabs from all the other hockey kids on that trip. One kid asked me if I was actually a Devils fan, asking me to name the third line, which I did with ease (At the time I belive the third line was Clarkson, Tedenby and Josefson). The Devils ended up losing that game, but I got to witness Adam Larsson's first NHL goal, meet up with one of my best friends from Penn State Ice Hockey camp who lives in Highland Park. There was not a lot of people at The Rock last night, so me and my friends went up to section 122, where the Diablo's were. They let me and my friend sit there and we met a lot of die hard Devils fans. I believe I also met Matt Ventolo, (one of the writers on here) there too. It was a great experience to share my passion for the Devils with other fans. I cherish that a lot being from State College.
Backing up a little, I didn't have high hopes for the Devils this year. I knew we had the talent, but I just wasn't sure because once again we had a knew coach and tons of question marks. I wouldn't have been surprised if we didn't make the playoffs. I just thought we were a bubble team and if we did make it, we would have little chance to get out of the first round. Me and my friends made a school document before the start of the season, and ironically, I picked the LA Kings to win it all, over the Washington Capitals. I raced home for the start of the Devils season opener against the flyers, only to watch us get crushed 3-0. I remember getting angry, thinking to myself "This better not be a replica of last season, because I can't go through that again." The Devils were around .500 around early December, and our fortunes didn't really turn until a young man was called up by the name of Adam Henrique. I remember seeing the MSG lineup scratching my head seeing him between Parise and Kovalchuk. I remember we played the flyers, and he and Kovalchuk lit it up. I was excitied, feeling like this was the guy that could finally develop chemistry between our 2 superstars. I decided to make a Facebook page, called "Adam Henrique For Calder". It was fun for me to connect with other fans, and support our new emerging star.
After the Devils lost that game I went to, I made plans to visit my same friend from New Jersey over winter break. I found out that Adam Henrique was signing autographs about a half an hour away from his house at Sports Minded Unlimited. I got there and I saw the Diablo's giving out hot drinks in the cold, volunteering their time as awesome Devils fans. They even remembered me and my friend from November, which was very surprising but looking back that was really cool that they let me sit in their section and then remembered me. I met Henrique and he signed my snapback that I got during the game in November. I was really nervous because my new phone's camera wasn't working, and I was holding the line up! I didn't tell Henrique about the page, because I didn't really want to come across creepy!
Life went on after that, with the ups and downs as usual. Playing on 2 hockey teams it was hard to watch every game, but when I could, I would always set aside 2 1/2 hours to watch the games. Being a senior in highschool and not taking a ton of classes, I could do that (either way if I had homework or not, if I was home I watched it). I would always have my laptop with the ILWT gamethread open. If not at my house I would watch the end of the games after my hockey practices. I would stay late and wouldn't leave until the end of the game, afraid I would miss something. If I was away during for a hockey game, I would get the text message updates on my phone, and listen to the game on the radio. I couldn't miss the games. Of course every step of the way I would get made fun of my all my friends, coworkers and even my own hockey coaches for rooting for the Devils.
During the regular season, I added NJAllDay on xbox live and we would talk a lot about the Devils while playing NHL 12. I found out that my facebook profile picture of Steve Cangialosi with the "SCAR" on it was made by him, and he went to Penn State, which is where I am going to college starting in a couple of weeks. Over the course of the regular season I got to witness things such as Elias' goal that made him the Devils all time goal scoring leader, highlight reel plays by Ilya Kovalchuk, Adam Henrique and Adam Larsson making their mark in the NHL, the emergance of David Clarkson, Petr Sykora contributing and proving people wrong, and once again, Marty turning back the clock like always. I remember one specific game where we played the penguins and won 5-2, and Paul Steigerwauld, the pens play-by-play annoucncer said of Kovalchuk "He's playing like a million dollar man tonight". Adam Henrique scored a shorthanded that night, and before the penalty, I told all my friends that are penguins fans who I was with that he would score a shorthanded goal. Even the refs tried to stop him by blowing the whistle too early, but it didn't matter. The puck was already in the net. I remember Zach Parise scoring a hat trick on my 18th birthday in a win vs the capitals. I didn't get to see all of it because I was hanging out with my friends, but it was really special.
Later that month I got glass seats to see the Devils play the penguins at Consol Energy Center for my birthday. I took my one friend who is a penguins fan. The Devils lost that game as well 5-2, making me 0 for 2 on the year so far. The whole time I was getting text messages and facebook posts of all the kids trash talking me, but it didn't matter. I had a great time anyway. Parise scored his 30th goal of the season, Kovalchuk scored, Andy Greene rocked Crosby, and Brodeur robbed Dupuis all alone in front. Unfortunately, that was the game where Crosby undressed zidlicky and scored. Iceberg, the penguins mascot, pointed at me and started imitating a golf swing after I gave him a thumbs down (interesting how that worked out, eh Iceberg?). Lastly, I got on TV during the Parise and Kovalchuk goals, which was cool to show my friends. I was the only kid wearing red jumping up and down on the overhead view!
Then, playoff time came around. I still can hear Steve Cangialosi's voice say "See you in the playoffs!" as the final buzzer sounded at The Rock when we beat the Senators. The Devils were on a 6 game winning streak, and had one of the best matchups in the playoffs (so we thought), so I was confident. I was on a class field trip to Washington D.C. during game one of the Florida series, and when I got 3 texts messages really quick saying we were up 3 to 0, my confidence was through the roof. Then when I got those other 2 text messages saying Florida scored, I was very nervous. My heart was pounding until my Dad texted me saying the game was over, so I breathed a sigh of relief. Game 2 was so frustrating to watch that about half way through the game I left to play basketball with my friends. We almost came back that game too. Game 3 at The Rock I was the most excited for. When Parise scored 30 seconds in I ran through my house screaming. Unfortunately we all know what happened the rest of that game. I was devastated. I was thinking to myself "This can't be happening. We are losing to FLORIDA!" I thought if we lost Zach was as good as gone. Even though the penguins were losing 3 games to none against philly, I still had to hear all my friends at school say that the Devils were losing to "a minor league hockey team" and that the only reason the penguins are losing because the refs blew game won and all of them screaming pens in 7.
Back to the story, I knew the Devils had to win game 4, but I had some confidence going into it for some reason. My hunch was right, and the Devils steamrolled the panthers that game. I thought we were going to own the rest of the series, and then the panthers won game 5. I was shocked, and honestly, didn't think we stood a chance of coming back. I could see us potentially forcing a game 7, but not winning it. I was so nervous during that overtime. I was just thinking to myself that any moment the Devils' season could end here. Travis Zajac had other ideas, I lept off my couch freaking out and called my friend who was at the game.
As game 7 rolled around, I woke up and wore the exact same clothes as in game 6, did the exact same routines, listened to the exact same music, and watched the game in the exact same place. I was determined to do whatever I could to help the Devils win this game. Once the Devils blew the lead and were heading into overtime, I had a gut feeling that we were going to lose this game. I was just waiting until Florida was going to score. That's what made Henrique's goal that much better. I wasn't expecting it. I leaped and screamed and cheered until like 1 in the morning and couldn't fall asleep. I'm getting excited typing about it right now! Half way through that game my one friend who is a flyers fan texted me saying he hopes the Devils win so the flyers could sweep them. That made me want to win game 7 even more.
Once it sank in that we were into round 2 against the Flyers, I did not have high hopes. I was just happy that we were out of the first round and had a fresh new series to deal with. My calmness did not last long, however. Watching game one and seeing us lose in overtime, dispite playing a pathetic game made me angry, because I realized then we could win this series if we got our act together. My Dad (My Dad is a flyers fan) didn't let me go to game 6 against Florida at The Rock so he agreed to let me go to game 4, Sunday night at The Rock. Once we won game 2, I really really wanted us to win game 3 because I knew that game 4 was Marty's 40th birthday and I was going to be there, I had a really good hunch that we would win. When Poni lifted us over the flyers that night I was absolutely estatic.
I drove down to New Jersey sunday morning after an all night party for my senior prom, so I was dead tired. I fought through it of course. This was the biggest game I had ever gone to. My one friend said to me that I wouldn't want to drive down after prom because I would be too tired. He obviously doesn't know how big of a fan I am. I got there and I met up with NJAllDay and we talked a little before the pre game video started. I sat and looked around The Rock in awe. I've never seen it that crowded before. I was so excited, watching the pump up video that they had on the big screen, the playoff towels, this was really happening. My seats happened to be right next to some loud obnoxious flyers fan and her boyfriend, so I was kind of pissed off. I was confident even when we got down 2-0 early. I wasn't worried at all to be frank. We tied the game up by the end of the first and I had a great feeling that we had this game. My hunch was right and the Devils won the game 4-2. I remember the dying seconds of the game I barely had enough energy to cheer, and they announced Martin Brodeur's assist on Dainius Zubrus' empty net goal. I gave every ounce of my energy into that game, and it was worth it. It was a night I will never forget. The Devils finished off the flyers the next game, and were on their way to the Eastern Confernce Finals. It was nice to have some of my annoying pens friends to root for the Devils that series as well.
I was not very happy to see the Rangers win Game 7 against the Capitals, because I thought we could have easily beaten the Caps. I still thought we could beat the rangers, but not as easliy. Once game 1 rolled around and we got shut out. I was scared. I wasn't even playing and even I was intimidated by Henrik Lundqvist. I thought we were just going to have to get lucky. That's what we did in game 2, getting redirects for our last 2 goals. Game 3 we got shut out again, and I was very very nervous. I thought I was going to have to write this earlier than I wanted to. The whole time I had some bandwagoner Rangers fan harassing me a school about it. I knew he barely knew anything about hockey, and keeping quiet had worked for me in the past, so I didn't really bother with him. I let my team do the talking. Something clicked with the Devils and they one games 4,5 and 6 to beat the Rangers. When Henrique scored I cheered louder than I ever had before. My mom came from outside to see what I was screaming about and I said "WE'RE GOING TO THE STANLEY CUP FINALS!" I rocked back and forth on the floor with my hands in my face almost in tears. I can't express to you how happy I was. I watched the replay the next day and heard Doc's call, and I started to tear up. (I just watched the replay of that goal, and my whole body got goosebumps).
I was so happy that we had beat the Rangers in dramatic fashion, became Eastern Conference Champions, and erased the ghosts of 1994, that it was almost like I forgot that we had to play one more round against the Kings to reach the Cup. I started off with the same metality like I had with the flyers series: Calm, enjoying the moment. That quickly went away again after game one. One stupid error cost us that game 1, and I was determined that we were going to turn it around. The Same thing happened in Game 2. I threw my remote against the TV and almost broke it when Jeff Carter ended it in overtime.
I was on my senior trip to Six Flags in New Jersey for game 3, and was getting updates on twitter on the way back. My phone died once it was 2-0 Kings, and I started to choke up. I knew it was over, that there was no way that we could win 4 in a row. We had zero momentum. Game 4 came along, but I thought we were going to win this one. I knew Peter DeBoer wouldn't let them go down without a fight. It was a close one, but the Devils beat the Kings off of a beautiful play by Henrique. Game 5 was on the day of my highschool graduation. I wore the same thing I did during game 4. I didn't want to change anything. It worked, and we held on to win again, not without me almost peeing my pants the last 15 seconds or so.
Game 6 rolled around, and I had a tough decision to make: Stay at home, watch the game at my house by myself where I did for game 4 and 5? Or go on vacation with my friends to Ocean City Maryland and watch the game there. As much as my playoff superstitions swayed me, I decided that I couldn't pass up the oppertunity to go do something like that with my friends. It was almost like the hockey gods slapped me in the face. Almost everything that could have gone wrong that game did. I sat with my face in my hands in disbelief most of the game. I trembled with shock and sadness when the clock started to die down, realizing that there was no more hope. I was devastated. The tears were flowing. I just couldn't believe it. I thought once we beat the Rangers that this would be our year. Sometimes though, David doesn't always beat Goliath. The LA Kings deserved it. Hats off to them.
It didn't take me long to remember what all the New Jersey Devils had accomplished this year. Yeah, so my wish didn't come true, but realisitcally, I couldn't have wished for a better season. The Devils surprised all of us, that's for sure. I wanted the Devils to win the cup to prove all my friends wrong, but that's not what it's all about. The Devils aren't playing for anyone else except themselves and their fans. It's about brining the cup home to New Jersey to celebrate with the fans, not to shove it in other people's faces. The New Jersey Devils accomplished more than enough and should be very proud of themselves by winning the Eastern Conference when no one gave them a chance and taking a powerhouse team like the LA Kings to 6 games where no one else could. No matter what Devils, I will always be proud of your accomplishments and support you through think and thin. Thanks for the great season and all of the memories you made me. Just keep surprising all of us.