Originally created 06/08/01

Devils champions remember where they learned how to win



EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- There are still seven players left with the New Jersey Devils from the club's first Stanley Cup championship in 1995. They aren't just any seven, they are the heart and soul of the team that reached its third finals.

What Scott Stevens, Martin Brodeur, Ken Daneyko, Randy McKay, Scott Niedermayer, Sergei Brylin and Bobby Holik have is something the enemy Colorado Avalanche don't.

They've learned how to win from coaches Jacques Lemaire and Larry Robinson, stalwarts of the great Montreal teams of the 1970s.

"Sometimes, anybody that's never won don't realize the sacrifices that you have to make," said Robinson, who won six championsship as a Montreal player, one as a Devils assistant in 1995, and another last year as head coach.

That was evident as the Devils got ready for Game 6 against the Avalanche and a chance at a third Stanley Cup.

"The big thing is you have to get yourself prepared," Brodeur said. "We try to be the same because the emotion is oh so high, and just the electricity in the air when you get in the playoffs and in the Stanley Cup finals."

When the Devils relocated from Denver in 1982, they became the NHL's laughing stock. In the first four seasons in New Jersey, the Devils never won more than 17 games in a season.

The club started to gain respect when they made the playoffs in five of six seasons from 1988-93. But it was Lemaire, who won eight Stanley Cups in 16 seasons with the Canadiens, who brought credibility to the franchise once labeled "Mickey Mouse" by Wayne Gretzky.

"Jacques was an integral part of the building of this team," said Daneyko, who has played in all 155 playoff games in Devils history. "As soon as he got here, there was a lot of instant respect.

"Jacques is very businesslike in his approach and knows what it takes. It definitely stays with you. He was always the best coach I ever had, now with him and Larry."

Lemaire's first season as Devils coach ended with a classic seven-game series in the Eastern Conference finals. New Jersey fell a round short of the Stanley Cup finals when they lost in double overtime to the New York Rangers.

That just set up their run to the championship in 1995, that ended with a surprising four-game sweep of the Detroit Red Wings.

"I think Game 4 against Detroit, Jacques made us really realize how big everything was," Brodeur said. "How secluded we were from the outside world, that we had no choice of just knowing what's at stake and that's it and not anything else."

The key for Lemaire was to show them without revealing too much of what he felt.

"He has such an even-keel personality that until we got all the way to winning that final game of the finals, he kept his emotion in check," Holik said. "We never knew how happy he was because he didn't want us to be overly happy. That's what it's all about."

A far cry from the early times that seem like ages ago.

"Some days it does," general manager Lou Lamoriello said. "That was a special time in '95 because of what happened in '94. We thought that we had an outstanding hockey team, and we went to that seventh game.

"It also gave a foundation and also gave a sort of commitment that we know what has to be done."

By the time Robinson led the Devils through a three-game comeback over Philadelphia in the 2000 Eastern Conference finals, he and the big seven - plus Claude Lemieux - were teaching the next generation of champions.

That's when then rookie Scott Gomez learned how to win.

"Being down 3-1 to Philly and just having Claude there," he said. "After we lost that game, he wouldn't let anyone believe that we were going to lose that series. I learned a lot from him."

It's that same message that Lemaire brought from the most storied NHL franchise. The very same one Robinson had instilled in him there.

"Lemaire came in here, and Larry Robinson. Both guys have won so often that they teach you the little tricks of the trade in order to win," Daneyko said. "The Montreal attitude of the 70s. It's carried on in this organization."