When I was a kid, my knowledge of video games was limited to ColecoVision and my Atari 2600. That all changed when I moved and my new best friend had a Super Nintendo. He of course had Super Mario Brothers, but my favorite game to play was NHL ’94. Pong was the only “sports game” that I had on Atari, so just being able to play one of the big four sports was a HUGE deal for 10-year old me.
For whatever reason, the Toronto Maple Leafs appealed to me. Was I unknowingly a student of the game and wanted to play with one of the original six? Was it the aesthetics of Toronto’s sweater? Was it because they were a darn good team (they had lost to the Canucks in the Western Conference Finals in ’93)? Honestly, the reason I kept going back to the Maple Leafs was number 93. Number 93 of course was Doug Gilmour, left-handed first line center and recently named Captain of the Maple Leafs. Gilmour was a scoring machine in NHL ’94. I’m not sure if it was the same for everyone else, but Gilmour for me was the equivalent of Bo Jackson in Tecmo Bowl. Gilmour single-handedly turned me into a hockey fan.
Although the NHL was on strike in ’94, at my best friend’s house it was constantly the Maple Leafs vs. the Kings. 93 vs. 99. “Killer” vs. “The Great One.” Doug Gilmour vs. Wayne Gretzky. I couldn’t tell you who won more games in the battle, but if you had asked me, someone who had never even seen an NHL game on TV at the time, I would have told you that Gilmour was my favorite player. The most ridiculous aspect to all of this was that 1) I didn’t even know what Gilmour looked like (remember the days before you could Google everything?), and 2) I got one channel, CBS, so as a sports fan I lived for March and the Madness that ensued.
Fast forward four years to a different house, a different school and CABLE!!! I was flipping through channels, one of my favorites being the original Fox Sports NY, and happened across a New Jersey Devils game. Who took the ice for the Devils that night? Who else? Number 93, Doug Gilmour himself. 14-year old me instantly became a Devils fan.
Gilmour was gone the following off-season, signed by the Chicago Blackhawks as a free agent and eventually being enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 2011. Gilmour may have only played with the Devils for parts of two seasons, but with Fox Sports NY airing most of their games I was hooked.
There were new numbers and new names to be a fan of. Number 3, 4, 12, 14, 16, 17, 18, 20, 23, 25, 26, 27 and 30 to name a few. Ken Daneyko, Scott Stevens, Bill Guerin, Brian Rolston, Bobby Holik, Petr Sykora, Sergei Brylin, Jay Pandolfo, Dave Andreychuk, Jason Arnott, Patrik Elias, Scott Niedermayer, and of course Martin Brodeur. How could I not be a fan of a team with players like that?
One of those players, Jason Arnott, cemented my love for the Devils on June 10th 2000, in game six of the Stanley Cup Championship. Arnott scored the game winning and more importantly the Stanley Cup winning goal in the second overtime, just two days after the Stars seemed to gain the momentum by winning game five in three overtimes.
I remember sitting on the couch in my living room, my parents and siblings all having gone to bed and jumping off the couch ready to scream only to realize that I would wake everyone in the house.
The Devils made it to the Stanley Cup finals the following year, falling to the Colorado Avalanche in seven games and then returned to the finals again in 2003 topping the Anaheim Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and Surrounding Municipalities. Greg Goldberg, err….Jean-Sebastien Giguere may have been named the MVP, but The Captain, Scott Stevens, hoisted his third Stanley cup.
Maybe it sounds like I was a bandwagon jumper, a fair-weather fan, but you have to understand. I was (am) a fan of the perpetually underachieving Mets (see 2000 World Series, 2006 NLCS), the Knicks, whose most recent and best shot at the title ended in 1999-’00 with a 4-1 series loss to the Spurs in the lock-out shortened season, and the Bills who…well let’s not go there. So yes, maybe it felt good to cheer for a winner, but the Devils were a scrappy, defense-first team with an amazing goalie and a Captain that never shied away from a hard hit or a fight. Simply put, the Devils were an easy team to cheer for, not simply because of their success, but because of the way they obtained it.
It has been more than 10 years since the Devils won their last Cup, two since they last played in the Stanley Cup finals, but Brodeur is still in net and The Captain, glasses and all, is still a Devil sitting on the bench as an assistant coach.
These days instead of tuning into Fox Sports NY, I watch the Devils online whenever possible, rooting on the new numbers, and new names.