Off the Ice with Bryce Salvador

The New Jersey Devils have always been built around defense and goaltending, and after the departures of defensemen Scott Stevens (retirement), Ken Daneyko (retirement), Scott Niedermayer (free agency) and Brian Rafalski (free agency) many wondered how the team could lose so many linchpins and still stay competitive. GM Lou Lamoriello has tried to rebuild the defense and drafted a key piece in Adam Larsson at this past June’s NHL Entry Draft, but one player who could anchor the new-age Devils defense is Bryce Salvador who was acquired from St. Louis on February 26, 2008.

Salvador, a ten-year NHL veteran, missed all of last season with post-concussion syndrome but has returned in 2011-12 to solidify New Jersey’s defense corps (along with oft-injured Anton Volchenkov). The 35-year-old has played in 645 games over his career, compiling 97 points (23g-74a) and now in his fourth season with the Devils, he seems to have found a niche under new coach Pete DeBoer as he is routinely among the ice-time leaders for the team.

Recently I sat down with Salvador to talk about his career, his interests away from the game and some of his memories:

Dan Rice: I’m assuming that you have a lot to be thankful for this holiday season after what you went through last season?

Bryce Salvador: Definitely, it’s a great feeling to be back after missing the whole season, I feel fortunate to be back and playing in the NHL.

DR: Does a year off from hockey extend your playing career another year?

BS: Hopefully a few more years (smiles). My body is definitely rested after a whole year of no hockey games.

DR: What do you remember about your draft day?

BS: That I was the first guy not to be there (laughs)! It was pretty exciting just to be drafted, getting that call from Tampa Bay; it was a great feeling.

DR: What do you remember about your first goal?

BS: It was one of those plays where the puck came to me at the blueline, I believe it was against Chicago; Pierre Turgeon passed it back to me, I walked in and fired a shot that went in top shelf.

DR: Do you still have that puck?

BS: Yup. I have it at home, framed and everything.

DR: Who is your best friend in the NHL?

BS: There’s a lot of guys over the years that I’ve made pretty good acquaintances with, right now David Clarkson and I are pretty close, but I wouldn’t say one player more than another.

DR: Who is the funniest guy on the Devils?

BS: For the most part the guys are pretty quiet; (big smile) Dainius Zubrus is just funny…funny-looking maybe. He’s a pretty lively guy in our room.

DR: Is there any player in the league that you don’t look forward to playing against?

BS: Oh geez, the other teams all usually have two solid lines. But obviously guys like (Alex) Ovechkin, (Sidney) Crosby, (Evgeni) Malkin, (Martin) St. Louis, (Steven) Stamkos and (Rick) Nash — just to name a few. There are a lot of great players and each one poses a unique threat in their own way.

DR: What was it like playing in St. Louis?

BS: It was a great time; that organization took a chance on me, signing me as an unrestricted free agent out of juniors and gave me an opportunity. I was pretty fortunate to play the beginning of my career with Hall-of-Famer Al MacInnis for a couple of years; it was a pretty nice start to my career.

DR: Do you have a favorite TV show?

BS: Modern Family.

DR: Favorite movie?

BS: Memento.

DR: What’s on your iPod these days?

BS: Whatever my wife puts on it (laughs)!
Thanks for reading, if there is a player you would like read an interview with submit your suggestions and also questions:

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.

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Rafalski and Weight Call it a Career

The NHL lost two veterans to retirement this week, Detroit defenseman Brian Rafalski (11 seasons) and New York Islanders center Doug Weight (19 seasons). Both American players had stellar careers, highlighted by winning every hockey player’s dream — the Stanley Cup.

Rafalski joined the New Jersey Devils in 1999-2000 as an undrafted free agent from the University of Wisconsin, whom the team’s scouts found playing over in Europe (for four years!). Perhaps his size (5’10”, 195 lbs.) was the reason he was overlooked by the other 29 NHL clubs, but he seamlessly fit in on the Devils’ blue line and partnered with legend Scott Stevens immediately and never looked back. As a 25-year-old rookie he helped guide New Jersey to a championship in 2000 and a return to the Finals in 2001. He was a major part of the Devils 2003 Cup win as well and also won silver medals with Team USA at the Olympics in 2002 and 2010. In 2007 he signed with the Red Wings as a free agent to be closer to his hometown of Dearborn, Michigan and the move paid off for both parties — Rafalski and Detroit hoisted the Cup in 2008 and made in back to the Finals in 2009. This past season he spent a lot of time playing hurt and missed a handful of games, which can be eye-opening for some athletes that the time has come to hang up the skates. “There wasn’t a day this year that I wasn’t on the training table,” he said at his retirement press conference, “That gets tiring.” He retired with one year ($6 million) left on his contract, citing that family is most important now, “What I’ll be doing first and foremost is serving my family; I’ll be definitely looking to help others. I don’t know what that’s going to entail yet, but that will be my focus.”

Rafalski’s career totals: (regular season) 79 goals, 438 assists, 515 points, plus-178, 833 games/(playoffs) 29 goals, 71 assists, 100 points, plus-42, 165 games/(olympics) 13 points in 17 games

Weight had a much different path to the NHL, he was drafted 34th overall by the New York Rangers in the 1990 NHL Draft out of Lake Superior State University and made his NHL debut in a 1990 playoff game with the Blueshirts. He played parts of two seasons with the Rangers before being traded to Edmonton in a deal that helped New York secure the 1994 Stanley Cup. A scoring dynamo with the Oilers, he was part of one of the most dynamic lines in hockey with Bill Guerin and Ryan Smyth; Weight never reached the Finals in Edmonton and was sent to St. Louis in another blockbuster deal prior to the 2001-02 season.  After two and a half seasons with the Blues he was traded to Carolina in 2006 and finally lifted Lord Stanley’s Cup after the Hurricanes’ amazing playoff run, topping the Edmonton Oilers in a thrilling seven-game series. The following summer he re-signed with the Blues and played another 111 games before being shipped to Anaheim at the trade deadline. Prior to the 2008-09 season he signed with the Islanders, a place he and his family now call home. He provided leadership and guidance for the young Isles and was almost like a father-figure for their players; he even had John Tavares live with his family during Tavares’ rookie season. A severe back injury limited his time to only 18 games this past season, but at the end of the season he resurfaced  behind the Isles’ bench as an assistant coach, a preview of things to come. In announcing his retirement on May 26, it was also announced that he is now an assistant coach and special assistant ‘to’ GM Garth Snow (sounds very much like Dwight Schrute’s job!).

Weight’s career totals: (regular season) 278 goals, 755 assists, 1,033  points, 80 power play goals, minus-58, 1,238 games/(playoffs) 23 goals, 49 assists, 72 points, minus-13, 97 games/(olympics) 8 points in 16 games

Are they both Hall-of-Famers? Is just one of them destined for the Hall or will neither make it? Hard to say, but I think Weight could make it. They both will surely make the USA Hockey Hall of Fame. I’d just like to add that I had the privilege of interviewing both players during their careers and they were both class acts who made my job fun and a lot easier.

Conklin & Blues Blank Devils 1-0

Here is the link to my recap of the Devils 1-0 loss to St. Louis Saturday night:

Conklin & Blues Blank Devils 1-0

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Ty Conklin (StL) – 29 saves, win (10-8-1), shutout (4)

#2 – Alex Steen (StL) – gw goal (21)

#3 – Martin Brodeur (NJ) – 19 saves, loss (39-23-3)

line combos/d-pairings
New Jersey:
Parise-Zajac-Langenbrunner
Kovalchuk-Elias-Rolston
Zubrus-Niedermayer-Clarkson
Leblond-McAmmond-Pelley

Martin-Salvador
Greene-Skoula
Mottau-White

St. Louis:
Kariya-Oshie-Backes
Steen-McClement-Boyes
Perron-Berglund-McDonald
Crombeem-Tkachuk-Janssen

B.Jackman-Polak
Brewer-E.Johnson
Weaver-Colaiacovo