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Can the Devils repeat?

New Jersey's team core remains in place for a run at another Stanley Cup title

Posted: Tuesday, October 07, 2003

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Scott Gomez was smiling last week as he untied his skates, pulled off his shin pads and talked about what might have been his best road trip with the New Jersey Devils.

With sweat dripping off his brow, Gomez talked about visiting the White House, standing in the Rose Garden and getting a tour of the Oval Office from President Bush.

"If this doesn't want to make us repeat, I don't know what will," said Gomez, a two-time Alaska high school player of the year when he attended East Anchorage.

Indeed, that special trip is added incentive for the Devils to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.

Winning it all has become expected in New Jersey. The Devils have won three NHL titles since 1995; only Detroit has won the Cup as many times in that span.

"When you get the taste - and it's a big taste winning three times in the last nine years - you see the hunger and the desire in the players," center Igor Larionov said. "The players are still young, there is great goaltending and great defense, so I don't see any reason why they can't repeat."

At 42, Larionov is the NHL's oldest player, and he recently joined the Devils as a free agent - hoping to go out a winner.

The Devils haven't changed much since beating the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in Game 7 in June.

Defenseman Ken Daneyko retired. Joe Nieuwendyk, Oleg Tverdovsky, Pascal Rheaume and Jim McKenzie either were lost to free agency or were not offered contracts.

Still, the nucleus of the team is intact.

That includes Martin Brodeur, who won his first Vezina Trophy as the league's top goaltender. The top four defensemen are as good a group as there is in the league: Scott Stevens, Brian Rafalski, Scott Niedermayer and Colin White. The forward lines really don't have a big-time scorer, but playing a team-orientated game allows the Devils to score a surprising number of goals.

"I don't see anything different," Brodeur said. "I just see a lot of confidence. We know what to do to be successful."

The Devils also are keenly aware of the traps awaiting the defending champions.

Stevens, Brodeur, Niedermayer and Sergei Brylin were all members of the 1996 team that missed the playoffs the year after winning their first Cup. There are 10 players still on the team who won the Cup in 2000, then lost to Colorado in the 2001 finals.

"We know how to play, but everyone wants to beat the Stanley Cup champion," forward Patrik Elias said. "It was the same way last year, when we wanted to be champs. It will be tough, but we've got a lot of guys were in this situation before and can use it to our advantage."

Coach Pat Burns does have some weaknesses to worry about.

If Brodeur gets hurt, there is no suitable replacement. He has played at least 70 regular-season games every season since 1996-97, winning at least 37 each season.

Veteran Corey Schwab is the backup, but he is not in Brodeur's league.

Stevens, who's 39, also would be hard to replace. He is an intimidating presence on the ice and a leader in the locker room.

Just last week, Stevens took on Philadelphia Flyers tough guy Donald Brashear, sending him to the ice with an open-ice hit and then holding his own in a fight.

Another concern: The Devils have been known to hit scoring droughts.

Elias led the team with 28 goals and 29 assists last season, while Jamie Langenbrunner (22-33), Gomez (13-42), Jeff Friesen (23-28) and John Madden (19-22) carried some of the load.

In the postseason, Langenbrunner (11 goals) and Friesen (10) picked up their scoring. Niedermayer also played well, with two goals and 16 assists in 24 games.

Looking ahead to this season, Brodeur figures Western Conference teams Colorado, Detroit and Anaheim will be dangerous.

The Avalanche signed Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne in the offseason, and Detroit solved its goaltending problem when Dominik Hasek came out of retirement.

In the Eastern Conference, Ottawa and Philadelphia figure to pose challenges.

"You look at the Flyers' lineup, and you shake your head. It's like an All-Star team," Brodeur said.

"It's never easy. That's what makes it fun."

Alaskans in the NHL

The following players listed on NHL rosters grew up in Alaska.

Scott Gomez, New Jersey Devils: Fifth year, center, 5-11, 200 pounds, attended East Anchorage High School, career stats, 314 GP, 56 G, 180 A, 236 TP, 208 PM.

Scott Parker, San Jose Sharks: Fourth year, right wing, 6-5, 225 pounds, attended Chugiak High School, career stats, 202 GP, 4 G, 10 A, 14 TP, 462 PM.

Brian Swanson, Atlanta Thrashers: Second year, center, 5-10, 185 pounds, attended Chugiak High School, career stats, 68 GP, 4 G, 12 A, 16 TP, 16 PM.

Ty Conklin, Edmonton Oilers: Rookie, goalie, 6-0, 180 pounds, attended West Anchorage High School, career stats, 4 GP, 2 W, 0 L, 1.62 GAA, .939 SV%.

Barrett Heisten, Dallas Stars: Rookie, left wing, 6-1, 200 pounds, attended Dimond High School, 10 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 TP, 2 PM.



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