For the month of August, The Puck Daddy over at Yahoo Sports is breaking down “The Essentials” for every NHL franchise and recently touched on the New Jersey Devils. The feature piece includes players, coaches, long-time arena traditions and stadium food. Here at Pucks & Pitchforks, we’ll break down each category and give our take, as well as taking a look at who barely missed the cut. Next up, the category of “Coach”:
Our choice for “essential” Devils coach is Larry Robinson.
To start with, Robinson has been a part of every New Jersey Devils team that has made it to the Stanley Cup Finals. He was an assistant coach in 1995. He took over at the end of the 2000 season, winning the Stanley Cup. The next year, he had them within one game of back-to-back championships. Even though he was fired partway through the 2001-2002 campaign, he returned in the role of assistant coach for the 2002-03 Cup run. He was also on Pete DeBoer’s bench for this past season’s journey to the Finals.
Struggling to the finish line of the regular season, fiery head coach Robbie Ftorek was fired with a few games left in 2000. The amicable Robinson was given the tough task of regrouping the team before the playoffs began. While they lost their stranglehold on the top spot in the Eastern Conference, the Devils rediscovered their chemistry and started to have fun again. They zipped through the Florida Panthers in four games and closed out the Toronto Maple Leafs in six games.
Who can ever forget what came next? The tongue lashing he gave the Devils after losing Game 4 of the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals against the Philadelphia Flyers. The Devils had lost three games in a row in the series, including a pair at Continental Airlines Arena. He tore into his team with a postgame tirade, going as far to kick over a garbage can in the Devils dressing room. In his postgame press conference, Robinson went as far to call his team “thick-skulled”. They responded by winning three straight games of their own to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they won the Cup in six games versus the Dallas Stars.
Robinson was a devil of a player in his own right. He won six Stanley Cups and played for 20 NHL seasons, including 17 with some of the best Montreal Canadien teams ever assembled. He was later elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1995. Can you think of a more perfect guy to mold defenseman and to coach a team, whether in a lead role or assistant?
Robinon has been with the Devils in some capacity for nearly every year since 1995. However, he just left this offseason to become an associate coach for the San Jose Sharks. He is still part of the great foundation that the Devils laid down in the mid 90s.
Best Of The Rest: The one that most people will be quick to choose is Jacques Lemaire. He brought his trap-style of defense to New Jersey in the early 90s and it paid off with the team’s first ever Stanley Cup victory. He led them to a pair of first place finishes in the Eastern Conference. He returned to the club for the 2009-10 season, a team that claimed the Atlantic Division crown in the regular season. After stepping down at season’s end, he was called upon to revive the Devils a few months into the ’10-’11 year. He took them team on a 28-10-3 ride into April, missing out on the playoffs after a dismal start. There are many other notable coaches in Devils history; Herb Brooks, Jim Schoenfeld, Ftorek, Pat Burns and Claude Julien. While Schoenfeld took them to their first set of playoffs, Ftorek made them a force and Burns won them a Cup, none of them were around long enough to make a long-term impact. Robinson has been there for it all…the beginning of the dynasty, the dominant teams in the early 2000s and the latest squad that made an improbable run to the Finals.
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Topics: Atlantic Division, Claude Julien, Dallas Stars, Eastern Conference, Florida Panthers, Herb Brooks, Jacques Lemaire, Jim Schoenfeld, Larry Robinson, Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils, NHL, Pat Burns, Pete DeBoer, Philadelphia Flyers, Robbie Ftorek, San Jose Sharks, Stanley Cup, Toronto Maple Leafs