They say you always remember your first. Granted, that phrase usually applies to non-hockey related life achievements we don’t discuss on such as innocent sites such as this. But it applies to Stanley Cup championships as well, especially for the New Jersey Devils, who won the franchise’s first Stanley Cup 25 years ago today. I was a few months old at the time, so I obviously don’t have any memories of it, but I was alive for it. That’s more than I can say for my New York Rangers’ fans of the same age and 1994.
That cup was also the franchise’s most important. Yes, the 2000 and 2003 Stanley Cup franchises may have been more talented, but it was the 1995 Stanley Cup that finally brought the franchise respectability. Years before, Wayne Gretzky called the team “a Mickey Mouse organization.” That title, unfortunately, stayed, even as the team made the Wales Conference Finals in 1988, and the Eastern Conference finals in 1994. It took the hoisting of Lord Stanley’s silver chalice for that title to go away.
There’s the storyline that’s one of the most famous in hockey history. This happened a year after a dramatic, and depressing for New Jersey, overtime game seven when some guy named Matteau (not Devils legend Stefan, of course) scored a goal to send the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final. The Rangers would win, but New Jersey would answer with a championship of their own the next year just over the Hudson River. Every team wants to win the Stanley Cup, but after 1994 it was personal for the Devils, and they took care of some unfinished business.
The 1995 team also has some unfair criticisms against them. Rivals love to downplay it that “the Devils used the trap.” Then there’s the fact that the cup was won in a lockout-shortened, 48-game season, giving it the annoying argument that the team only won “half a cup.” Rangers’ fans love that last comment as if three of their four championships didn’t come when the league had only six teams, but that’s a different argument for a different day.
Now I’m not here to relive the 1995 cup; there’s plenty of YouTube highlights for that. But in the team’s success in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the 1995 cup doesn’t get the respect it deserves out of the three. Without a doubt, it was the team’s most important cup, perhaps the most important moment in franchise history.
John McMullen took a risk moving a mediocre hockey team from Colorado to New Jersey, and unfortunately for him, the play didn’t get much better. On this night in 1995, in a parking lot in New Jersey, the team erased those years of embarrassment to finally find a spot at the top of the hockey world. The road to the top was long and bumpy, so the Devils earned every right to enjoy that view from the top.
Times have changed and a lot has happened since then. The names of Hischier, Hughes, and Blackwood have replaced those of Stevens, Danyeko, and Brodeur. When the new Devils of 2020 look up into the Prudential Center rafters, they see multiple banners, including one that was not won but earned 25 years ago today. Somebody on social media said it best, I forget who or else I would give credit: that day 25 years ago was when “our little franchise grew up.”