Hey, everyone. So far this weekend sucks, huh? You might think it sucks almost as much as the 2004-05 lockout, and I might be inclined to agree -- well, I would, if I didn't now look back at that horrendous time in hockey with immense satisfaction and glee. See, the 04-05 lockout presented me with an unforgettable and nigh-unbelievable opportunity: to practice and play with some of the best Devils of that (lost) season.
At the time, my father had some friends who worked at a company located in New Jersey. A few of these guys were excellent hockey players who played on an adult team that practiced in Hackensack. The team was stacked with a couple former AHLers, a few former ECHLers, and several former college hockey players. They regularly went to adult-league championships all over North America.
I was in my second year of college, but I was now back in the area, having switched colleges due to some tragedy. This meant the end of college hockey for me. I desperately missed hockey now, so I signed up for a middling adult league. As some of you know, skating around everybody isn't all that fun after awhile, so I needed something better. That's when my dad came to me and told me that these guys were asking for me and wondering if I would like to play with them. Knowing through my dad that I was back and desperate for any serious hockey to play, they were all nice enough to invite me to any and all practices and scrimmages I wanted to attend with them for the entire season.
I'll never forget the first practice. The locker room was the nicest, funniest, and most vulgar I had ever experienced (I fit right in). I finally felt good again. I continued to attend their practices and scrimmages.
Then, something strange happened: John Madden started showing up. Then Grant Marshall. Soon after, Elias and Langs joined us together. I was now suiting up for practices and scrimmages with some of my favorite Devils.
I'll never forget the first time I got to sit next to Patrik Elias in a locker room. It's strange seeing your heroes half-naked. You spend time worshiping them on television, but then it turns out they're just like you! Only wait, that's a total cliche. They're not like you at all. Oh, they were all very nice and engaging, but they were freaks of nature. The sight of Elias' thighs is literally an indelible image for me now; I can still picture the biggest thighs I have ever witnessed in my life. I asked him how he achieved that, and he just smiled and said, "hard work," in his awesome Patty accent.
I wasn't quite as good as some of the guys on this adult team, so I wasn't usually playing on a line with these guys during scrimmages, but everyone was nice enough to put me with them for a period every few scrimmages. How many people can say, "I once played on a line with Patrik Elias and Jamie Langenbrunner," even if it was just for a period during a lockout-induced scrimmage? Not many, I would imagine. I ended up playing with all of them multiple times.
Here are a few other moments I will never forget:
- Playing touch-pass catch with Langs near the O-zone half-boards until the defender attacked us and he put it over to Elias for the tap-in.
- Making a through-the-legs backhand pass to Madden from behind the net, him scoring, and having him pat me on the head and say, "nice play, kid."
- Grant Marshall's laugh, smile and general ebullience (truly one of the nicest guys I've ever met).
- Marshall setting me up for a goal.
- Elias' thighs. Seriously.
I could say more, but I think that's about all anyone is interested in hearing. The rest of my memories are just small, personal moments: laughing with Marshall, having a post-game beer with the team, the quiet kindness and strength of Elias, little conversations and moments here and there. But I think the most amazing part was sitting in a locker room and actually suiting up with them, having them talk to me and treat me like I was just another player. They were all amazing, on and off the ice.
I might be the only fan on earth who is thankful for the 2004-05 lockout.
NOTE: please feel free to use this thread as a place to share your own Devils memories, respond to my stories, and ask any questions of me you would like (so long as they are not very personal).