HOCKEY in New Jersey
The definitive history.
In the days before indoor rinks and artificial ice, hockey was strictly a wintertime sport in New Jersey, played on frozen ponds and rivers. It did not emerge as an organized sport in the Garden State until the very end of the 19th century—long after it had become Canada’s favorite cold-weather pastime. The sport arrived not from Canada, but from New England, where it was a popular sport at elite prep schools. As they matriculated, these boys brought the game to their respective universities.
Princeton was one of the founding members of the first intercollegiate hockey league in 1899. The team practiced and played on a brook near campus. In 1907, a better facility was constructed on Lake Carnegie, and the team’s fortunes soared. The Tigers won their first college hockey crown that winter, and repeated as champions in 1910, 1912 and 1914. This era of success was spearheaded by Hobey Baker.
Baker (left) was a player who possessed a modern skill set at a time when the game was still very slow. Forwards and defensemen covered certain areas and did not do much end-to-end skating. Imagine Bobby Orr playing in this era—Baker, a “rover,” Covered every inch of the ice, skating at breakneck speed, weaving around opponents intent on checking him off his skates. He was unlike anything anyone had seen before. Baker was as well known for his football exploits. At a time when contests featured 20 or more punts, the game often hinged on the speed and daring of the return man. Baker was that man for the Tigers each autumn.
Princeton put good teams on the ice in the ensuing years, including Hank Bothfield, Bill Gall and John McBride. All three played for coach Dick Vaughn, whose career spanned four decades.
During the 1970s and 1980s, hockey grew in popularity amongst New Jerseyans, both as participants and spectators. As families abandoned the state’s urban areas for the suburbs, some entrepreneurs converted old armories and factories into indoor ice rinks. Others built new facilities out in the ’burbs. Organized hockey became an organized youth sport—bolstered by the arrival in 1982 of the state’s first major-league hockey franchise, the Devils.
The New Jersey Devils were the result of the NHL’s misguided expansion period in the 1970s, when the league competed with the World Hockey Association. The franchise began as the Kansas City Scouts and then became the Colorado Rockies. In 1978, Arthur Imperatore (who today owns Sea Streak Ferries) bought the club and announced his plans to move it to the Garden State. Because there was no suitable arena for the team, the NHL vetoed the move. In 1982, shipping magnate John McMullen bought the team and finally brought it to New Jersey.
After several losing seasons, McMullen hired Lou Lamiorello, a college hockey coach, to run the Devils. He whipped the team into a playoff contender and in 1987–88 they came within one victory of reaching the Stanley Cup Finals. In the early 1990s, the Devils perfected a stifling defense dubbed the neutral zone trap. It relied on All-Star caliber defensemen Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko and Scott Niedermayer, as well as a spectacular goaltender, Martin Brodeur. The Devils won the Stanley Cup in 1995, 2000 and 2003. They also reach the finals in 2001. The Devils played in the Meadowlands Sports Complex for their first 25 seasons. In 2007–08 they moved to the Prudential Center in Newark.
New Jersey’s second pro hockey team arrived in 1999. The Trenton Titans of the East Coast Hockey League, were set up as a arm team for the Philadelphia Flyers. Later they became affiliated with the Islanders and finally the Devils in 2007. The team changed its name to Trenton Devils after that. The team won the Kelly Cup as ECHL champs in 2005. It actually was not New Jersey’s first Kelly Cup champion. That honor belongs to the Boardwalk Bullies, who moved from Alabama to Atlantic City in 2001 and won the ECHL title in 2003. Two years later the Bullies moved to California.
(Photo by Bridget Samuels)
With hockey participation at an all-time high in the suburbs, it came as little surprise that New Jersey’s first first-round NHL draft pick came from the bedroom community of Middletown. James van Riemsdyk (above), a left wing, was selected second overall by the Flyers in the 2007 draft. Ironically, van Riemsdyk—who scored 21 times in the 2010–11 season at age 21—grew up a Rangers fan!
New Jersey Devils Award Winners
Calder Trophy (Top Rookie)
Martin Brodeur 1993–94
Scott Gomez 1999–00
Conn Smythe Trophy (Playoff MVP)
Claude Lemieux 1994–95
Scott Stevens 1999–00
Norris Trophy (Top Defenseman)
Scott Niedermayer 2003–04
Vezina Trophy (Top Goalie)
Martin Brodeur 1997–98, 2003–04, 2006–07 & 2007–08