Flashback – 1983–84 New Jersey Devils season
Head Coach: Bill MacMillan
Assistant Coach: Marshall Johnston
Glenn “Chico” Resch, Ron Low
Rocky Trottier, Mike Antonovich, Dave Cameron, Rick Meagher, Bob MacMillan, Mel Bridgman, John MacLean, Rich Chernomaz, Larry Floyd, Pat Verbeek, Garry Howatt, Jeff Larmer, John Johannson, Glenn Merkosky, Kevin Maxwell, Hector Marini, Grant Mulvey, Yvon Vautour, Gary McAdam, Tim Higgins, Paul Gagne, Don Lever, Aaron Broten, Jan Ludvig
The article below is taken from an article written by Dan Rosen:
1983-84: Growing Pains Lead to Promise By DAN ROSEN
The statement will never be forgotten by the organization and its fans, and unfortunately it defines the Devils of 1983- 84, year two of this 25-year old franchise. Given by Wayne Gretzky, arguably the game’s all-time greatest player, the Devils were referred to as a “Mickey Mouse organization” after Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers downed them, 13-4, in Edmonton on November 19, 1983.
“Well, it’s time they got their act together. They’re ruining the whole league,” is what Gretzky actually said. “They had better stop running a Mickey Mouse organization and put somebody on the ice.” “I know the team was not happy with his comments, to be frank,” former Devil Aaron Broten recently said. “I know there was a general feeling around the organization that they weren’t happy with the comment, and that’s being politically correct.”
Still, at this point in their second season, the Devils were 2-18 en-route to a 2-20 start. They finished the season 17-56-7, still the worst single-season record in franchise history. Things were looking bleak, because as Broten said, “the honeymoon year was over. “The first year you’re around you’ll get some leeway because it’s a new environment and everybody has to get used to the conditions,” Broten added. “The second year it’s like, ‘Alright, now you’re here and used to it, let’s see you get better.’ There were more expectations.”
Despite taking a step backward and losing seven more games in their second year than their first, the Devils of that generation felt as if they were improving.
“We were maturing, and we knew that because we watched what the Islanders were doing,” said ex-Devil Pat Verbeek, who was a rookie in 1983-84. “We kept getting better. The one thing about that is we still expected to win every night. We’d lose games, and sometimes we just couldn’t take it. It was part of the maturation process.”
Oh boy, did this team have to mature. The Devils, as Verbeek said, had no inbetween players in 1983-84. They were either seasoned veterans or fresh-faced junior players. Mel Bridgman (11th NHL season), Don Lever (14th), Bob MacMillan (12th), Phil Russell (13th), Dave Lewis (12th) and Chico Resch (12th) were all contributors, but all in or nearing the twilight of their careers. However, youngsters such as Verbeek (19 years old), Ken Daneyko (19), John MacLean (19), Joe Cirella (20), Paul Gagne (21), Bruce Driver (21), Jan Ludvig (22), and Broten (23) were just starting to dull their blades on NHL ice.
“To this day, I still see Phil Russell and Mel Bridgman, and those guys don’t understand the influence they had on me,” said Verbeek, now a scout for the Detroit Red Wings. “Those guys took me, Kirk (Muller), Mac (John MacLean), Cirella, and they showed us how to become good pros.”
The mixture, though, was toxic in the beginning of the 1983-84 season. After 20 games and just two wins, coach Bill MacMillan became the franchise’s first coaching casualty. On November 22, 1983, MacMillan was replaced by Tom McVie, who led the Devils to a 15-38-7 record to close the season.
“It was getting better,” Verbeek said. “Confidence is a tough thing. Your entire morale is the toughest thing, and we tried to get back our morale and pride. The second half we stopped looking at the record and started just to focus on getting better.”
McVie was replaced after the season by Doug Carpenter, who coached the team for the next three-plus seasons before being replaced 50 games in the 1987-88 campaign by Jim Schoenfeld. “We went through quite a few coaches in the first number of years I was there,” Broten said. “It was a bit difficult because you don’t know what the new guy is going to expect. Everybody has a little different idea.
They would always tell us, ‘A new broom sweeps clean.’ You don’t know who is going to be around after they watch tape.” At the time, the fan base in New Jersey was still blossoming. Verbeek said it was still tough to compete for fans in the same market as the New York Rangers and the Islanders, who were wildly successful and had their streak of four straight Stanley Cups snapped in 1984 by Edmonton.
“It was still growing, and the state hadn’t identified with us being their team yet,” Verbeek said. “That’s a process. It was a process for the players and for the fans. “You have to start with the kids when you build a fan base,” he continued. “You always hear it, ‘Are you a Rangers’ fan or a Devils’ fan?’ The answer is, ‘Well, I grew up a Rangers’ fan because my dad was.’ We had to start with the kids, and you can see that now, 25 years later. Now there is a fan base built.” Those fans, though, at least had a sense of humor.
When Gretzky and the Oilers showed up at Brendan Byrne Arena on January 15 (a 5-4 victory over the Devils), many fans wore Mickey Mouse apparel. These same fans were also treated to the NHL’s mid-season show as the All-Star Game made its only appearance at the Meadowlands.
Cirella tallied a goal and Resch was the winning goaltender as the Wales Conference beat the Campbell Conference, 7-6, in front of a capacity crowd of 18,939. Once the season resumed, it was back to watching last place hockey. At least with the youth, there was a tomorrow for these Devils.
“As an older player, the losing would have been extremely tough on me,” Verbeek said. “On a personal level, I was just ecstatic and happy to be in the NHL. The losing bothered me, but I knew down the road we’d get better.”
The New Jersey Devils’ 1982–83 NHL season was the franchise’s ninth season in the NHL and the first in New Jersey after moving from Denver, Colorado, where they were known as the Colorado Rockies. The Devils first ever game was a 3-3 tie with the Pittsburgh Penguins, where thier first captain Don Lever scored the Devils’ first ever goal.
The team’s first win would come against their new rivals in the New York Rangers. However, the new location didn’t help the team overall, as they continued to struggle in the standings, finishing last in their division and third-to-last in their conference.
Head Coach: Bill MacMillan (17-49-14-0)
Assistant Coach: Marshall Johnston
Glenn “Chico” Resch, Ron Low, Lindsay Middlebrook, Shawn MacKenzie
Jeff Larmer, John Wensink, Garry Howatt, Pat Verbeek, Larry Floyd, Mike Moher, Randy Pierce, Bob MacMillan, Steve Tambellini, Brent Ashton, Rick Meagher, Mike Antonovich, Dave Cameron, Aaron Broten, Don Lever, Hector Marini, Paul Gagne, Jan Ludvig, Glenn Merkosky, Yvon Vautour, Merlin Malinowski, Jukka Porvari, Dwight Foster
Tapio Levo, Murray Brumwell, Joel Quenneville, Bob Lorimer, Mike Kitchen, Rob Palmer, Carol Vadnais, Dave Hutchison, Joe Cirella
The article below is taken from an article written by Dan Rosen:
Don Lever put the puck in the net, celebrated for a moment, and then realized, ‘Wait a minute, this puck represents history.’ When the first Devils’ captain scored the team’s first-ever goal on October 5, 1982 in a 3-3 tie against Pittsburgh, pro hockey in New Jersey had officially arrived. Lever reached into the net, grabbed the puck, and the celebration was on.
The Devils, a team born thanks to the franchise’s move from Colorado to New Jersey in 1982 by the late Dr. John McMullen, had only one loss in their first seven games, and their first-ever victory came over the rival New York Rangers, 3- 2, in the second game of the season. At least for two weeks, there was much to celebrate at newly minted Brendan Byrne Arena.
“That night when we beat the Rangers, you rode the high for a long time, almost into next year just because the Rangers didn’t sweep us,” said ex-Devils’ goalie Glenn “Chico” Resch, now the team’s television color commentator. “The rivalry was built that year.”
For 25 years, the Devils have had many moments just like that first goal from Lever and first win over the Rangers. Moments filled with celebrations, high fives, helmet slapping and Cup raisings. However, they were rare in 1982-83. After captivating the hockey audience for seven games, the Devils went on an 18-game winless streak on their way to finishing fifth in the Patrick Division with a 17-49-14 record. Pittsburgh was last that season with three less points than New Jersey.
“We had some older guys who were getting the last kick of the can, and the spotlight had been turned on brighter than in Colorado, where the lights were flickering and dim for most of the year,” Resch said. “I think we did feel optimistic coming in, and that’s maybe why we played well early on. Then reality set in.”
The Devils scored 230 goals that season, worst in the NHL. The defense allowed 338, which was fifth-worst in the league. Resch didn’t even want to know that he held a 3.98 goals-against average. Go ahead and call it growing pains.
“We tried to build some character individuals, and I think we had a good core,” Resch said. “We didn’t have a bona fide sniper, and until Kenny Daneyko came (in the 1983-84 season) we didn’t have a bona fide tough guy.”
However, a rivalry was born with the Rangers, and the development of young standouts Aaron Broten, Pat Verbeek and Joe Cirella was underway. Broten led the Devils with 55 points in his second full NHL season. Verbeek played only six games and registered two goals and three assists in 1982-83, but it was his first taste of the NHL.
Cirella played in the season-opener that season. Broten went on to play 12 seasons in the NHL, including seven-plus years with the Devils, and registered 189 goals and 329 assists.
Verbeek finished a 20-year career in 2002 with 522 goals and 541 assists. He played parts of seven seasons in New Jersey. Cirella played six full seasons with the Devils, and parts of 13 through the course of his NHL career.
“In general, our teams in the early years were made up of a good group of young players and a nice mix of older players,” Broten said. “I think the organization did the right thing by trying to bring along some young players.” Broten, though, isn’t so sure the older guys such as Lever, Bobby MacMillan, and Resch were thrilled to be part of a rebuilding project. “All I remember is Don Lever, Bobby MacMillan, “Chico” Resch, the guys who had ten years of experience whereas we had one or two years,” he said. “They struggled with the fact that they were on a team that wasn’t doing so well, but they were helping to build something.”
Resch said it didn’t take long to see a hockey fan base growing in New Jersey. Some of those fans who rooted for the rival Rangers or the Islanders were being transformed into Devils’ fans. Even some of those New Jerseyans from down near Philadelphia were happy to have their own team. They’d show up at Brendan Byrne Arena with those old green, red and white home jerseys.
They’d also show up at the old Ice World in Totowa, where the Devils used to practice. Resch said he would go into the lobby with his pads on to get a cup of coffee, and he’d find fans who just wanted to sit and chat with him. Before the Devils took the ice in Totowa, some men’s league players would still be skating around. Resch remembers some of the amateurs asking the Devils if they could skate with them for a while, and the professionals said, ‘Why not?’
“We were a very friendly team except when it came to the W’s,” Resch said. “We didn’t give them too many of those.” However, both Resch and Broten said the Devils weren’t an overnight phenomenon. It still took time, years to gather support. Fans were coming over from Madison Square Garden, Nassau Coliseum and the Spectrum, but it wasn’t by the truckload. One here. Two there. Another three more followed.
Eventually, the Devils had a hard core fan base. It wasn’t until 1987- 88 when the Devils won the Patrick Division Playoff title for the first time that they officially turned the corner. “I don’t think we set any attendance records, but we had our good core group,” Broten said. “The other ones came along after they started winning some games. Everybody was optimistic that we were going to get better.”
“The fans who came were pretty enthusiastic, but I got a sense that there weren’t the grassroots numbers that I thought might jump on the bandwagon early,” added Resch. “Most of the people said they were Ranger, Flyer and Islander fans.” It wasn’t the attendance numbers, and even winning right away, that mattered to this group of Devils. They were just so happy that there was hope filling the franchise thanks to the move from Denver, where things were bleak during the six years the Devils were known as the Colorado Rockies.
“We had kinks, but because of the stability that Dr. McMullen brought, there was always something good around the bend,” Resch said. “It wasn’t where is the road going to end where we fall off the cliff, and in Colorado that’s how you felt. “We were in the New York market, and we had a good amount of coverage. It was just going to be a longer road to respectability than I thought it would be.”