Monday, June 25, 2012

Someone who works for the Devils has a fabulous sense of humor

I have spent many inches on this blog over the last six weeks writing about the complicated and intertwined history held by the New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers. They have bumped heads many times and done so with an enormous amount at stake on a few occasions, and I was not shy this spring as a Devils fan about how defeating New York in overtime in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals felt not simply like a victory, but an exorcism. There is a reason it felt so amazing, however, and while it does involve the complex psychological underpinnings of always feeling underappreciated and overshadowed by standing in the shadows of a far less successful, but nonetheless marquee neighbor across the river. And the deepest wound ever caused by that dynamic can be summed up by three words every Devils and Rangers fan will immediately recognize as a symbol of what happened in May of 1994.

"Matteau! Matteau! Matteau!"

There are no words that can describe how important that moment has been in the psyche of both franchises. For the Rangers, it was one more dramatic step toward finally ending that most embarrassing and frustrating of Cup-less streaks, and for the Devils it was a reminder that no matter how successful -- and more importantly how much more successful than the Rangers they were -- it would never really matter in the eyes of most because the Rangers run this market. Stephane Matteau's game-winner in double overtime of Game 7 in 1994 has been etched into the minds of fans of both teams as evidence, so much so that it's somewhat overlooked that he also scored a pivotal double-overtime winner in Game 3 of that series after the Devils had achieved a split in the first two games in New York.

To this day the word "Matteau" has made Devils fans shudder and Ranger fans tickle with glee. And it's that basic, universal knowledge of fans from both teams that made it so noteworthy this past weekend when the Devils decided to do something dramatic that turned the entire dynamic between the two teams surrounding that moment on its head.

Stephane Matteau is no longer in the NHL of course, he has been coaching at the junior level and one of his players over the past few years has been a highly-touted prospect and potential future power forward named... Stefan Matteau. The similarity comes with a reason, of course. Stefan is Stephane's son, and he happens to have been one of the best forwards still available this past Friday night by the end of the first round, and guess whose turn it was to make a selection?

And so that was how it came to be that 18 years after Stephane Matteau immortalized himself by scoring in double overtime to deal the New Jersey Devils the most painful loss they've ever endured in their history, his son, Stefan Matteau, was drafted by those same New Jersey Devils.

Somewhere, a Greek chorus is laughing.

At least I hope they are. As a dedicated Devils fan well-versed in the team's history, I know that was my immediate reaction, because how else could I respond? As I watched Friday night I let out a massive guffaw upon the announcement, knowing the extreme irony at play. After all, once Stefan reaches the NHL -- he is likely to spend another year in junior before coming up to the big club -- how will we react when he scores his first goal? Will screams of "Matteau! Matteau!" rain down from the stands at the Rock? Will the Devils fans feel uncomfortable doing so? Will Howie Rose's head explode from sensory overload?

I'm not really sure what will happen. But I do know it will make me feel at least slightly uncomfortable at first, or at least confused, which I was when I saw my first picture of Stefan with Stephane as the elder Matteau proudly wore a Devils hat after seeing his son selected. But perhaps, in the future, it'll make me laugh on the regular. Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello is no fool, and reportedly he really likes beating the Rangers. Perhaps he saw in Matteau not only the chance to take the best forward left in the draft, but a chance to mute the pain of hearing Ranger fans scream Matteau by giving Devils fans cause to do the same.

Of course, Lamoriello also tends to make personnel decisions without thought to sentiment or emotion, which, really, is how someone should do those things. Given that it's unlikely Matteau's name factored into the selection in any way. But even if it didn't, that doesn't make it less amusing to think about and it didn't make my laughter less hearty on Friday night. I just hope that with Stefan Matteau in the fold, a few years from now it winds up being the Devils, and maybe even Stephane, who are laughing last.

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