Monday, February 8, 2016

The Franchise

Greatness is exemplified through ones achievements. In sports, this is shown through ones personal records, statistics and championships. Martin Brodeur epitomizes greatness for the New Jersey Devils and for the National Hockey League.

Brodeur made his debut with the Devils as a 19 year old during the 1991-92 season. He broke in for good during the 1993-94 season. He was a mainstay with the Devils for a total of 20 seasons. During that time, Brodeur led the Devils to 9 regular season division titles, 5 conference playoff championships, and 3 Stanley Cups. He was a league leader over several different seasons for both shutouts and wins, including a still-standing league record of 48 regular season wins. He is the career leader in wins (691), shutouts (125), minutes played, shots faced, and saves. His career marks in wins and shutouts may never be equaled. He won the Calder Memorial Trophy, 5 Jennings Trophies and 4 Vezina Trophies. He was an NHL All-Star 9 times. Brodeur also made 3 appearances for Team Canada in the Olympics (2 Gold Medals) and 2 in the World Cup (1 Gold Medal).

Brodeur had a unique style in net, playing a hybrid between butterfly and stand-up. He also established himself as the team's 3rd on-ice defenseman, playing the puck and poking it away, and even at times, setting up the offensive play with long outlet passes. Brodeur holds offensive records for goaltenders as well, including a goal scored in a playoff game. The NHL, coming out of the 2004-05 lockout, established a new rule meant to limit goalies on playing the puck behind the net - "The Brodeur Rule".

Brodeur has established himself as a future NHL Hall of Famer and a New Jersey Devils legend. Tomorrow night, he will have his number 30 retired by the Devils. But the Devils are bestowing on Brodeur a new, higher honor - a statue at Prudential Center.

The Franchise is a moniker in sports given to the player who first legitimized an organization as a championship team, without whom, the long-term success would not have happened. Some teams wait around for a decade or more before finding such player. Some teams never get this arc for various reasons. The impact is almost instantaneous (though the championship may not be). It's a young player who comes up through the minor league system and when they reach the major leagues, there's usually a buzz, if not, soon after.

For the New Jersey Devils, Martin Brodeur is "The Franchise".

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Friday, October 9, 2015

Season Predicition

We are in a new era of Devils hockey. Lou Lamoriello is gone. The cloud has been lifted. The players are all of a sudden younger (okay, maybe that's just their average age). Happy Opening Night.

I think the Devils will make the playoffs. I think they'll just slide in. The end of the season will have some excitement. And you never know what can happen from there.

See you on the red carpet tonight.

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Saturday, June 20, 2015

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

It's been a few months now since that crazy Saturday in Newark, celebrating the Devils first Stanley Cup team. And it's been 20 years since that weekend gained something to celebrate. The Devils staged a team reunion and alumni game in honor of the franchise's first Stanley Cup winning team of 1994-95 over the weekend of March 7 and 8, 2015. The alumni game on Saturday was a hot ticket, being staged at the Devils practice rink adjacent to their arena in Newark. The Stanley Cup was in the house on Sunday for all season ticket holders to have a picture with, and many members of the '95 Cup winning team were introduced on the ice before the game. That's the simple version. For Martin Brodeur, the hot young goalie of 20 years ago, it was his first appearance back in New Jersey, and in a Devils uniform, since leaving the organization at the end of last season and ultimately signing with, playing for, retiring from, and getting a job in the front office with the St. Louis Blues (all in the span of about 6 weeks). Marty was coming home. It wasn't to be missed.

There was one little problem, at least for me. It was only in January that the Devils announced that this celebration weekend would take place in March (only about 6 weeks away). The season was well underway. The team's schedule and the arena schedule were already set. And so was my vacation schedule. I take a trip to Florida for about 2 weeks every March. I usually book the trip in November or December and once I commit to it, it's not really possible to cancel or change it. And of course, this can't miss event in Newark was taking place in the middle of my time away in Florida.

Somewhere I got the crazy idea that I could fly up for the alumni game and go right back to Florida that night. Pure speculation since I didn't know any details of the event (such as the timing of the game or even what flights were available). The Sunday evening game with the team reunion wouldn't be possible because of the start time of the game (and hence, the end time) and I wasn't willing to give up more than a single day of my vacation for this. Logistically, this could work, at least on the Newark end, because I know there are commuter trains from the airport to Penn Station, and I know very well that it's possible to walk from Penn Station to the arena, so I didn't need to arrange any transportation. So I spent about 3 weeks trying to find people to talk me out of it. Aside from being called crazy (which I never disagreed with), I couldn't get talked out of it. In fact, I was talked into going. You only live once. I didn't want to actually commit to anything until I knew the timing of the alumni game on Saturday.

I hear 3pm, and I figure I'm golden. Certainly plenty of time to take a 3 hour flight north then travel from the airport to the arena by rail/foot, before the game. Estimating the game would take roughly 2 hours, then travel back to the airport, through security, at least in time to board, I could easily take a flight back to Florida and not even get back too late. I was set. I did it. 7:50am flight to Newark and a 7:30pm flight back to West Palm Beach (I could have chosen to return an hour later, but decided against it). I even re-structured my hotels in Florida to have a room near Palm Beach Airport for the 2 nights (Friday before and Saturday after) surrounding this trip so I wouldn't have to deal with airport parking or a long ride to/from the airport before/after this extremely long day.

Everything is great until the Devils start announcing details of the alumni game a few days before (while I'm already in Florida). One communication says a 3pm game (without many details) and another gives more information - 2:30pm doors open, then a Q&A with the coaching staff, followed by the game at 4pm. 2:30pm doors opening isn't a problem for me. I knew I'd have plenty of time to kill in Newark, even after lunch at Hobby's, after getting to town. It's that 4pm start time (and even the ambiguity with the 3pm that I planned around) that got me a little the point where I was on the phone with the airline inquiring what it would take to switch me from the 7:30pm flight to the 8:30pm flight out of Newark that night. They wanted money and I said 'no', so I was stuck with the 7:30pm flight. Okay, a 4pm game, should be done around 6pm, I can still get back to the airport before boarding starts. Not quite what the airlines want you to do, but I had no choice, and I had no luggage with me, so that's easier on the airport staff. These might have been famous last words.

Game day

On Friday night, I move down to the hotel near the airport in West Palm Beach. I'm up Saturday morning, very early, heading to Palm Beach Airport on the hotel's first airport shuttle of the morning. If all goes well, I'll be returning on the last one of the night around 11pm. I'm dressed in my travel clothes - a light jacket (fortunately, it's above freezing in NJ that day, after a long cold winter) and one of my Devils jerseys (I wasn't going to risk traveling with my good ones, both for this day's flights and for the ones with my luggage). I think I had my '95 Devils Stanley Cup Champions locker room hat. I had brought to Florida all of my heavy winter gear, not knowing what I might face in Newark when I left a few days before (I missed 2 different snow storms in my first 4 days in Florida). I was happy to leave it in West Palm Beach for the day. I still dressed in layers because I knew I'd spend time outside.

Everything went as planned getting up to Newark and up to Hobby's for lunch around noon. I did spill a little bit of syrup on the logo on my jersey at breakfast in Palm Beach Airport. It wiped off, but that might have been an omen for the day. There's maybe a dozen people waiting at Prudential Center outside the players' entrance trying to get autographs of the current Devils leaving the arena and the old timers entering. I thought I might be sitting along edge of the building alone for a couple hours before being allowed in, so this was better. I got maybe half a dozen autographs. I'm not usually one to stand and wait for hockey players like this, but what the heck. I have a jersey mostly full of autographs. I think Jacques Lemaire was the biggest one. I have no recollection of the Claude Lemieux autograph that I got.

They open the doors and let the lined up crowd enter the arena tower and then the practice rink (which can be set up as a small arena with seating and concessions and bathrooms) and I make a stop for the bathroom (it was one of those days that you just don't know when the availability would be there for such a thing that you have to take advantage of it), so I pretty much lose any sense of where I was in the line and getting any type of good seat. Fans, just a few hundred would fit into this rink, were packed in to the point where when I came out there was standing room only left. I also found friends at the souvenir stand so I joined them for a position on the glass in the corner.

The logo for the 20th anniversary is all over the place, including on pucks for sale. They hand everyone a t-shirt and a program insert with the day's rosters on it when you walked in. I had read 'no bags allowed', and since I was traveling by plane, I felt it was easiest to go with whatever fit inside my pockets or what I could wear and nothing else. Handling the new t-shirt is easy - throw it on over my jersey. I don't want to bend this program insert, which meant I wasn't going to fold it to put in my pocket or try to tuck it inside one of my layers. I welcomed the bag that came with the souvenir puck purchase. It actually made emptying my pockets easier at the airport because everything could go there and not have to be picked up out of the tray. It had handle-holes, so I could manage with this.

The Q&A went on. Matt Loughlin was the emcee with Lou Lamoriello, Jacques Lemaire, Jacques Caron and Larry Robinson. The acoustics weren't great, so I couldn't really hear what was being said. And it went long (which I heard was because the players weren't ready to come out). I really didn't need something to run long at this point in the day. The players come out, introduced one-by-one. That was fun. It was a bit confusing to see Bruce Driver in goalie gear and not his Devils jersey, but it seemed to make a little more sense when Marty Brodeur came out as a skater instead of a goalie.

The game itself was a lot of fun. I really am glad I did this. I could have skipped it because of the price and effort, stayed in the hotel to watch the live broadcast online, wishing I was there. But I just couldn't miss it. The 1995 team helped solidify me as a Devils fan. I won't try to describe the game. The day is a blur to me now, but I got a lot of pictures (below).

Now getting back to Florida didn't go as smooth as planned. One of my self-imposed conditions on making this trip was that I wasn't going to spend a night in New Jersey and I wasn't going to miss more than one day of my vacation. If there was a storm coming in Saturday night (even after the game) that would have put my flight back to Florida at risk, or if there was a similar issue in the morning that would cause me to be late, I wasn't going to leave Florida. I didn't want to be stuck at home in NJ while I was supposed to be in Florida (and while my laptop and medications were in Florida in a hotel room that I had to check out of the next morning). There were times on this day when I thought it might happen.

First, the 4pm start was delayed after we were all inside the arena. I decide that I need to leave at about 5:50pm, while the game is in the 3rd period, so I can get out to Penn Station to catch a train to the airport. I figured it could take 45 minutes to get there between the walk, train ride, and air train, plus waiting for those trains. It was helpful to beat the crowd out of the building as well. I get to Penn Station and up to the track only to see that the trains are delayed and it doesn't look like a finite delay. The crowd on the platform is grown and I'm growing more nervous watching the train status (where they say how long until the train arrives) not really changing at all. They finally make an announcement that a drawbridge between Secaucus and Newark is open and all trains have to be held up. And I can't wait. Another couple is trying to get to the airport too, so we go split a cab. It's better than eating the cost myself (I think it was $20 for the ride). Of course, the car route has to go past the arena where the crowd is being let out, just to taunt me a bit. It works out that both of us are going to the same terminal (I was willing to stop at their terminal and get the air train since it would cost more to make 2 stops - I would have asked them to do that for me, but they were from out of town and didn't quite know where they were going).

I ran through check in and security (my souvenir bag made that a bit easier) and to find my gate. With a stroke of luck, my gate was the closest gate to where I had gone through security and it was just about boarding time. I wasn't going to get to eat, but I made my flight. Except that the flight was delayed by about 45 minutes. But it wasn't. There was a communications gap somewhere between the airport and airline that had passengers not quite know what's going on. I knew I had a few minutes. And I knew there was another flight an hour later, so I went to see if I could switch to that one. Either way, my original plan of catching the last airport shuttle back to the hotel in West Palm Beach was out since I wouldn't make it back there before it shut down for the night. The confusion was evident since the airline customer center at the airport didn't know of the delay and said there was no reason to switch flights, but that it wouldn't cost me anything to do it if I wanted to and there were seats available. I had until that flight boarded to switch. 45 minutes became 60 and 80 and the gate was moved. Now I'm getting nervous. This isn't an airport-wide issue like you'd have with a storm, and somewhere, I missed my chance to switch to the other flight. I'm actually getting scared of being stranded in my home airport trying to get back to where all my stuff is (and where I have to check out of in the morning). The delay ended up being 2 hours, with another false delay reported while we were sitting on the plane waiting to leave (one the captain admitted he knew nothing about).

Once we took off, I could relax because I knew I was going to get back to Florida that night, just later than planned, and without the planned ground transportation. At first I was thinking that since my hotel was just up the road from the off-site rental car facilities (including one where I always rent from when I fly to/from West Palm), I might be able to get them to give me a ride at least back to their place where I could walk back to the hotel. But I was back too late even to ask them. After looking around, at this point it's just after midnight, I realized the only option was a cab ride. I got lucky again in that the concierge had someone in front of me going to the same hotel, so we could split a $10 ride.

Finally, this long crazy exciting day was over. A few hours later, and a few dollars more expensive than planned. But I made it up and back from West Palm Beach, Florida, to Newark, New Jersey, in the same day to witness an alumni hockey game in the middle of my annual vacation. Plug in, sit down, drink a few waters, get undressed (still wearing the event t-shirt over my jersey on top of layers, with a jacket) and hit the pillow. And change the clock radio in the hotel room an hour ahead because just an hour or so later was the start of Daylight Savings Time.

Originally, I was thinking I would join my friends on Sunday morning at 9:30, as I would have had I not made that trip, but with the delays and time change, it was more like noon. Small price to pay for something so memorable. And all it took to get me there was planes, trains, and automobiles.

See pictures from that day.

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