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Resch is as good as his word. He's not above making a routine glove save with a matador's flourish or responding to his supporters in the stands. "I'll nod or wave my stick or look up when I hear someone cheering for me," says Resch. "I let the fans into my game. I feed off them and they feed off me. I've been called a hot dog, and I guess some of the guys roll their eyes at my antics. Sometimes I have to remind myself I'm just the goaltender. I know my job is to stop pucks, but really my job is more."
Devil Defenseman Dave Hutchison, an eight-year NHL veteran who has played for Los Angeles, Toronto and Chicago, isn't an eye-roller. "Chico's boisterous, but it's natural with him," Hutchison says. "He's a leader. It's not put on."
Resch's value to the Devils was disconcertingly apparent in an 8-5 road loss to the Islanders on Saturday night. Devil Coach Billy MacMillan wanted to rest Resch, so he started winless Lindsey Middlebrook. But after Middlebrook allowed six goals, including an unscreened 60-footer, on 19 shots in two periods, MacMillan put in Resch. Though he let in two goals, both were on rebounds the New Jersey defensemen should have cleared. Resch made eight saves and in general played superbly.
According to Islander Goaltender Billy Smith, a close friend of Resch's and a former teammate, "Chico is mentally strong," a goalie who accepts the inevitable strain of playing for a team that has a lot of shots taken against it—an average of 28 through its first 12 games. Resch won three of them, with two ties, in eight starts. He also had an 89.4-save percentage. "And Chico's 89 is better than somebody else's 92," says New Jersey Vice-President Max McNab, "because he doesn't get many of those easy perimeter shots. He's not only consistent but also great in the last 10 minutes of a game. Chico dies hard."
Resch does indeed face a disproportionate number of dead-on slot shots. In Thursday's Islander game, Bob Bourne and John Tonelli had easy pickings from 15 feet when they scored 1:08 apart in the opening period. Still, with time running out in the third period, Resch could be heard shouting through his mask, trying to quarterback the Devils' dreadful breakout play, which too often consists of a desperate defenseman, particularly Carol Vadnais and Tapio Levo, banging the puck around the boards to equally desperate—and often covered—wings.
New Jersey began last week with a 5-3 loss to Minnesota. Throughout the game the North Stars sent in two fore-checkers—"they just flooded the puck side," said MacMillan—creating panic among Devil defensemen yet leaving the middle open. Alas, New Jersey lacks a Denis Potvin or Larry Robinson, defensemen who can beat the forechecker and get off a knife-thrust breakout pass that sends centers streaking up the gut. "The middle was open all night," said Resch afterward. "You can do so much when you're not trapped on the boards, but we need a couple of guys who can beat the first checker."
The Devils have one in Ken Daneyko, 18, but he's playing junior hockey, along with Devil-owned forwards Rocky Trottier (brother of Bryan) and Pat Verbeek, who also are 18. They'll be kept in the juniors come hell or high goals-allowed averages, says MacMillan. "We're going to stand by our commitment to develop our young players fully before we bring them up, even if we're losing," he says.
Adds McNab, "Those three could play now, but in sending them down we also had in mind that we don't want them bearing any burden of guilt if we get off to a bad start."
Although the Devils can be fore-checked to damnation, no one can accuse them of not trying. Forwards Garry Howatt, Hector Marini and Yvon Vautour (like Resch, former Islanders, as are Dave Cameron, Bob Lorimer and Steve Tambellini) are board-crashers and ice-moppers who will make every effort, however inelegant, to score goals. And their effort doesn't go unappreciated.
"I bought the seats because the Islanders are too far away and because I can't get good Rangers tickets," says season-ticket holder Joe Diamond of West Orange, N.J. "This team tries. Right now what more can you ask? In a few years you won't be able to buy good seats."