As I've written about on this site before (it feels like a long time ago already) when I was young, I grew up in a home that didn't care much for hockey; oh sure, if it was literally all that was on, my family would watch it, but more often than not it was tabled for another sport or a sitcom. Once I chose the New Jersey Devils to be my team, I did my best to not only learn about their history, but to understand their identity in the league at the time; of course, this was the mid 90s right after the first Stanley Cup and just a few years prior to the second, so the Devils identity could be summed up as Marty & the Defense, but they would begin to forge an offensive identity in the late 90s with the A-Line.
The A-Line of course were 3 excellent forwards that the Devils placed together and they clicked; Jason Arnott would come to the team at the start of 1998 and join forces with the two draftees of New Jersey (Petr Sykora and Patrik Elias soon after. The trio would lead Jersey to its second cup in 2000 and while one of them was in the hospital when the cup was won, the other 2 (along with The Captain) delivered it. Skip to 2:30 for just the winning goal:
The team would strike again and win the ultimate prize just 3 years later; those years seem to go by quicker as you get older, and I still have trouble believing it's been over 12 since I last watched Scott Stevens hoist the Stanley Cup; I can only imagine that those years must have flown by even quicker for the players. Time passed and players came and went for one reason or another: trade, free agency, retirement. Even our greats who have their numbers sitting in the rafters of the Prudential Center (and one more who will have his raised on February 7th) had to call it a career at some point. Only one player remains on our roster from the Stanley Cup years...
...and that player is Patrik Elias.
Patty holds a special place in the hearts of many Devils fans, mine included. He's of course the team's all-time leader for career points with 1,017 and holds the single season record for points with 96 among many other records. He's been a captain and alternate captain; a left winger and a center; a first liner and a third liner; suffice to say he's done pretty much all he can do with the team.
So why am I writing this? To be honest, I can't explain why I was dwelling on Patty's injuries so much, but I can explain why I'm writing about Patty the player and his career.
About a year ago, I wrote an article asking if father time was catching up with Patty; if we want to define father time as injuries, then the answer would be yes based on how this season has started for Elias. His 5 points in 13 games are respectable (especially when you look at the points per game that our 3rd and 4th liners are putting up) but he seems to have slowed down; maybe it's just the knee injuries, but becoming susceptible to injury and needing more time to recover are part of it as well.
We all know Patty won't be on the ice forever; no human can professionally play a sport forever, no matter how much they love it; even a guy known as "The Great One" had to leave the game behind at some point.
Maybe it's just me...but I'm not ready for Patty to go yet.
Part of me is saying this just because Patty himself has mentioned he will need surgery at some point; when that happens he will be out an extended period of time, and will probably slow down even more. In addition, he's already 39, will turn 40 by the end of the season, and does not have a contract for next year. I want to see him suit up at least one more time and go out on his own terms, not out via injury as Bryce Salvador did last season.
Another part of me says that because I really wanted Patty (and Marty) to lift that cup one more time in 2012 and instill a winning spirit in the Devils of today; even as bad as the team was the past couple of seasons, I always thought that until the retirement was official, there was always a chance, however small, that Elias would be around to hoist that big silver cup one last time.
The final part of me that doesn't want him to go is purely selfish; as long as Patty's around, I still have that connection to the 13 year old inside of me that woke up a house screaming when he hit Arnott with that pass that brought the title home to New Jersey. I still have that connection to all of those games of NHL Hitz I would play with my friends while always using the same Arnott/Elias/Stevens trio. I still have the connection to how I fell in love with the game of hockey.
Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself and/or overreacting to his injuries; maybe I'm worrying that he'll suffer the same fate as Sal and his most recent entry on the injured reserve list will be his last. Living in Connecticut makes it difficult to get to games with any regularity, but I got to see one already on a whim this season and I have plans to see one more this year. Even if it's the last game he plays for one reason or another, I want to see Patty one more time to relive those feelings and memories, because he's been important not only to Devils history but also to this Devils fan.
And I'd bet good money I'm not the only one who feels this way