Early on in the New Jersey Devils’ existence, they were a team that was easily defeated. As is the story with many expansion teams, they lacked a stellar coach, financial situation, and fanbase, in addition to any exceptional players in the system. Many blogs and analysts target newly formed organizations, but what’s different about this situation is that one player was not afraid to do it in the public eye.
#8 – The Great One’s Great Slip Up
In 1983, one year after the New Jersey Devils’ inaugural season, the team found themselves in a less than positive situation. Losing had become synonymous with the Devils at this point, as they had only won 2 out of the first 19 games in the season. They were approaching a November 19th game against the Edmonton Oilers, and were looking to possibly snap a 5 game losing streak. It was essential that they could pick up their game at least a little bit before it was too late to show any sign of improvement. But how could they do that when the best team in hockey was going up against them?
At the beginning of the game, they figured out some way to put a hold on the defending Stanley Cup Champions. Dave Cameron scored a power play goal almost immediately in the first period, followed very shortly by a blast from the blue line by Jan Ludvig . Just like that, 3 minutes into the game, the Devils were up 2-0 against the Oilers. Who would’ve thought those words could come out of their mouth?
Unfortunately for the young team, this golden moment wouldn’t last too long. One thing would lead to another, Jari Kurri would score 5 goals, Wayne Gretzky would get 8 points, and, well… the final score was 13-4. You can see a recap and the highlights of that fateful game here.
Of course, a lot of people had a lot of things to say about this game. I don’t even want to imagine what came out of head coach Tom McVie’s mouth – although I don’t have to ponder it too long, because he was fired just 3 days later.
Some players on the other team were happy, I’m sure, to have a game that could pad some of their stats. But Wayne Gretzky was less than exuberant about his 8 point night.
“It got to the point where it wasn’t even funny,” he lamented to the Edmonton Sun, a local newspaper. “How long has it been for them? Three years? Five? Seven? Probably closer to nine.” (Actually, it had been 2 years in existence, but there’s no judging here.) He continued on, saying, “It’s about time they got their act together. They’re ruining the whole league. They better stop running a Mickey Mouse organization and put somebody on the ice.” Gretzky finished it all off, stating his sympathy for both goaltenders who saw ice time in that game. “I feel damn sorry for Ron Low and Chico Resch.”
The statement was slightly dramatic. Actually, it was extremely dramatic. Why couldn’t he just accept the amazing win and move on? That, I’m not sure. But to say they ruined the league is, well, way far off. He made a mockery of a team that was struggling to find a place in the league, even going so far to compare them to a Disney character, which is the equivalent of saying they’re unorganized, immature, and easily entertaining (but not in the good way). They were a young team! It was a hard transition from all the way across the country, and it’s not like they were spectacular in Colorado, either. So is it that much of a surprise?
I didn’t include this in my favourite moments so I could talk about my favourite team getting made fun of. Actually, I find the comments Gretzky made funny – and kind of satisfying in a way. At an early age in his career, he let his mouth get the best of him, which was good to see. Even the best young player in the league wasn’t perfect.
He later apologized for his actions and acknowledged that he was out of line. But he was the fuel to the fire for the New Jersey Devils fans. The next time the Oilers would travel to Brendan Byrne Arena, a good number of people showed up in Disney gear – Mickey Mouse ears, t-shirts, and things of the like. I wonder what Gretzky was thinking when he came eye-to-eye with a couple thousand people in Mickey Mouse ears. They successfully turned what was an embarrassment for their team into an unforgettable moment for the main offender.
But the payback doesn’t stop there. Twenty years later, in 2003, the Devils would become the Stanley Cup Champions after winning a thrilling Game 7. And the team they won against? The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, a team that was created and named because of a popular Disney film early in the 90’s. How’s that for irony?
I love the way that Gretzky so tremendously screwed up, and the fans of the Devils wouldn’t let him get away with it. Even the team unknowingly put an end to drama that happened 20 years prior in a humourous and proper way, if you ask me. I think it’s safe to say that, all in all, the Devils won this battle. (Sorry, Gretzky – you can keep your 12 million records, but we would like to keep this one.)