Work in Sports
Day at a glance
Devils get little respect, even in own backyard
Posted: Thursday June 01, 2000 06:16 PM
By Jamie MacDonald, CNNSI.com
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Over-anxious lot that we are, let's go and take a few steps forward. Three giant and presumptuous steps to be exact.
Say the Devils go on to win three more games in these Stanley Cup finals and win their second championship in five seasons. Close your eyes and imagine the celebration at the end of that still hypothetical journey. What do you see? Not exactly statewide hysteria and ticker-tape parades. Do you see bedlam in Secaucus? Are they breaking out the riot gear in Hoboken?
Can you envision it? Probably not.
"I don't think you can," said Bobby Holik. "Other teams from the proven cities -- the Yankees or the Rangers, or the Blackhawks or the Bulls in Chicago -- it's a tighter community than in the suburbs. People are spread out [in New Jersey], they live in their own houses and have their own yards."
And judging from the yards and the storefronts along the highways and byways of Northern New Jersey, they have interests beyond the success of their NHL neighbors. Perhaps the most telling sign is the one hanging on an overpass halfway between Manhattan and Continental Airlines Areana. "Welcome to North New Jersey, Embroidery Capital of the World Since 1827." There's nothing about the hometown 1995 Eastern Conference and Stanley Cup champs.
Hardly beyond the allure of Rangers Country and only barely up the road from Flyers Country, "Devils Country" can be measured with its own zip code. In fact, it seems there is no Devils Country other than the one that lies within Continental Arena and its surrounding parking lots on game days.
But for Holik and the Devils, being the most popular team in town isn't a team goal. Being the best squad on the ice, however, is.
"We don't play for the appreciation of the fans," he said. "We play because we want to win. We play for the feeling of being successful, for the feeling of accomplishment. It's great to have [the existing fan base] and we couldn't do it without them, but that's not why we're sacrificing on the ice."
Besides, the Devils aren't unhappy with what they have.
"Not one bit," said rookie Scott Gomez, who admitted to being a "huge" Rangers fan while growing up in Alaska. (Perhaps Rangers Country knows no bounds.) "We have a good group. The fans who have been with us all year have been great."
Added Holik: "We get plenty of appreciation, we live in the suburbs. People appreciate us. There's no doubt about it. But it's just not on the scale of these metropolises like Chicago, New York or L.A. The area doesn't allow for such a concentration of fans."
When a reporter pressed Holik on living near, and sometimes within, the passionate fan base of the Rangers, the big center rocked from side to side a couple of times, fixed his glare on the reporter and let some civic hockey pride loose.
"We are here playing the Dallas Stars in the Stanley Cup finals. Why are we talking about the Rangers? They haven't made the playoffs two years in a row. If you want to talk about that, you can go ahead, but I'm not going to talk about how great their fans are when they're sitting on their butts at home watching us playing in the finals. O.K.?"
At 8 p.m. tonight, Holik & Co. will again be playing in full -- in Devils Country. And, who knows, by Friday morning perhaps this Devils team will be one step closer toward reclaiming Northern New Jersey from the embroiders and turning it into Stanley Cup country again.