‘Devils in the Details’
By Sean Hartnett
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The Devils are banking on experience to guide them back into the playoffs after the 2012-13 lockout-shortened 48-game regular season produced an atypical 11th-place finish.
Three enormous Stanley Cup championship banners proudly adorn the walls at AmeriHealth Pavilion. While players young and old compete fervently on the practice ice, these banners serve as a not-so-subtle reminder of the high standard that this franchise demands of itself.
Freshly acquired goaltender Cory Schneider has barely gotten a taste of life with the Devils, but he already understands exactly what his new organization is all about.
“The Devils have a reputation around the League as an organization that does whatever it takes to win, and they focus all their energy into that and give you what you need to succeed,” Schneider said. “There’s not a whole lot of extra frivolous things that are unnecessary, and that’s good. It’s straight and to the point, and I think guys know where they stand and that’s another good thing. There’s a lot of clarity in knowing what your job and role is; it’s a hard-working team and that’s part of their identity.”
DEBOER AIMING HIGH
Head coach Pete DeBoer set his targets high on Thursday, the first day that the new-look Devils practiced as a full team.
“Like I told the players — this is the first step today, to climb up the mountain to the Stanley Cup,” DeBoer said.
It’s a widespread belief that the Devils’ chances of competing for the Stanley Cup were severely hindered when New Jersey lost two vital players in their prime — Ilya Kovalchuk and David Clarkson — this past offseason.
Kovalchuk spurned the opportunity to strive for a Stanley Cup ring by suddenly retiring from the NHL. The 30-year-old Russian sniper agreed a four-year contract with SKA Saint Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League, who he represented during the 2012-13 lockout.
Clarkson, an Ontario native, opted for a homecoming of his own. The 29-year-old agitating winger signed a seven-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
General manager Lou Lamoriello wasted little time to combat the losses of Kovalchuk and Clarkson by signing goal-scorer extraordinaire Michael Ryder and rugged winger Ryane Clowe on the first day of NHL free agency.
DEBOER EXPECTS CLOWE TO SLIDE INTO CLARKSON’S ROLE
“Clowe and Clarkson are real similar,” DeBoer said. “In our minds, there’s probably a handful of players in the league that fit into that category; capable of scoring 20-plus goals, and have that heavyweight element to them, both on the boards and as far as dropping the gloves if they have to. The names that come to mind are (Milan) Lucic, Clarkson and Clowe. He’s in that category of player. They’re hard to find.”
Clowe traded the red, white and blue of the Rangers for the red and black of the cross-Hudson Devils.
“It was good to be out there wearing a Devils jersey,” Close said. “The black and red felt good.”
He commented on the experience of leaving the Rangers for the Metropolitan Division rival Devils.
“To New York fans — this was probably the last place they wanted to see me go,” Clowe said. “I guess that’s how it goes.”
LEGENDARY JAGR INJURED ON FIRST DAY OF PRACTICE
Then there’s the arrival of 41-year-old hockey icon Jaromir Jagr. His highly anticipated first practice in Newark was cut short due to injury.
Unfortunately for the Devils, Jagr only lasted for a couple of shifts before grimacing and leaving for the locker room. He did not return to the ice and was not available to speak with media after practice.
The Devils officially described the injury as soreness. DeBoer did not specify whether it was upper or lower body soreness.
“Just some general soreness. That’s probably the best way to term it,” DeBoer said today. “Nothing I’m overly concerned about.”
Even though it is a small glimpse, DeBoer was impressed by Jagr’s work ethic and enthusiasm throughout camp.
“The man showed up in fantastic shape, lighter than he’s ever been. He looks great, he was enthusiastic. I don’t know the reason. Time is on our side. I’m not concerned about it.”
ELIAS AND ZIDLICKY TO SERVE AS JAGR’S TAXI SERVICE
Fellow Czech Patrik Elias and Marek Zidlicky will serve as Jagr’s personal drivers to and from Newark. Elias even offered Jagr the opportunity to enjoy home-cooked meals prepared by Elias and his wife, Petra Volakova.
“I told him I would usher him around for some things,” Elias said. “He will probably stay in the West Orange and Montclair area. He likes it there. It’s good for him to stay to close to me and (Zidlicky), so he has drivers and home-cooked meals. He’s a smart guy, he knows where to stay.”
Legendary goaltender Martin Brodeur was intrigued by Jagr and the new recruits.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what the new additions will bring to our team,” Brodeur said. “It’s all good. I’m really looking forward to some of the adjustments we made in our team, and the way that we’re going to play. Most of us know the system. (The new guys) have to learn it a bit, but it’s not rocket science. I’m sure they’ll figure it out pretty quick.”
NO DECISION MADE ON SECOND ALTERNATE CAPTAIN
DeBoer hasn’t come to a decision on which Devil will wear the second alternate captain badge following Kovalchuk’s departure.
“I have not decided that yet,” DeBoer said.
Defenseman Andy Greene and center Travis Zajac are considered prime candidates for the role. Both players served as temporary alternate captains this season.
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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