Happy Thanksgiving! Today is a day where family and loved ones get together to spend time together, usually with a large meal. It is a day meant for offering of thanks and counting the blessings in our lives. For the New Jersey Devils, it is a day of work. They will play in Montreal this evening. It is a place where Punchin’ Carey Price throws hands (see headline photo) and Philip Danault (illegally) tries to score with his thighs. Forget the Boston-Our Hated Rivals game on Friday, this is the True NHL Thanksgiving Showdown as it is actually on Thanksgiving Day in America.
This is also a rare occurrence for the Devils. When people think of sports on Thanksgiving, usually its football. But Devils hockey? Have they even played on Thanksgiving before? I went through the Game Finder at Hockey-Reference and historical box scores at NHL.com to see if the Devils have played on Thanksgiving before. I was surprised to learn that, yes, the Devils have played on Thanksgiving in the past. As did the Kansas City Scouts and the Colorado Rockies. It is still very uncommon; tonight’s game will be the seventh Thanksgiving game in franchise history. In honor of that, let us look back at this brief history of the six previous games.
Thanksgiving Game #1: November 27, 1975 - Kansas City Scouts vs. St. Louis Blues
Some Background: The franchise started with the Kansas City Scouts. They lasted all of two seasons before moving to Colorado. They were awful. Their mark on the league was drafting Wilf Paiement in 1974, Barry Beck in 1975, and not being as abysmal as the 1974-75 Washington Capitals. If there is more to it than that, then it is not much. In the team’s second and final season in Missouri, the team hosted St. Louis on Thanksgiving Day on 1975. This would be the first Thanksgiving day game in franchise history.
The Stats: The NHL.com Box Score
The Result: The Scouts beat the Blues 3-2 to win their sixth game of the season. Shots were fairly even at 23-22 in favor of the visitors. All of the goals happened in the second period. Paiement scored 40 seconds into the period with helpers from Craig Patrick (first of the season) and Germaine Gagnon. The game’s first penalty - an interference call on Garry Unger - led to Gagnon tallying his ninth of the season on the power play with assists from Paiement and Gary Bergman. The Scouts made it 3-0 when Bergman scored at 9:32 with an assist to Robin Burns. It seemed like dominance in the first ten minutes of the period.
Unfortunately, periods are twenty minutes long and the game became a bit out of hand. Six minors and two fighting majors were called in those ten minutes. The Blues also made a late comeback attempt in the period. At 15:24, Unger scored his 16th of the season thanks to an assist from Claude Larose. A few minutes later, Ted Irvine - yes, Chris Jericho’s dad - beat Denis Herron to make it 3-2. However, the penalties stopped as did the scoring in the third period. The Scouts held on to win.
Did Anyone Else Play on This Day?: Yes. Montreal beat the Islanders 2-1.
Other Notables: The Blues also had Bob and Barclay Plager as well as Red Berenson on their roster for this game. They were held pointless. Based on the box score, it appeared the Scouts went with 10 forwards and 5 defensemen. The Blues had 11 forwards and 6 defenders. I do not understand why but it is what it is on the box score.
Thanksgiving Game #2: November 23, 1978 - Colorado Rockies vs. Vancouver Canucks
Some Background: The franchise moved to Colorado and there, they were, well, more stable at least. This game happened in the team’s third season. They did make the playoffs in their second season but that was more of a result of how the playoffs were structured as that team finished 19-40-21 and fifth in the Smythe Division. For this game, the Rockies went into this home game with a record of 3-13-1. This would be the second and so far last Thanksgiving game that was at home for the franchise.
The Stats: The NHL.com Box Score
The Result: Tell me if you heard this kind of story before. The Rockies kept it close for the first two periods before everything went horribly awry in the third period. Colorado went up first when Dennis Owchar scored his third of the season in the first period. Vancouver responded early in the second due in part to Barry Beck taking an elbowing minor early in the period. Bruce Derlago converted that power play to make it 1-1. At 9:08, Dennis Kearns scored on his own to make it 1-2. On the very next shift and nine seconds later, Jack Valiquette answered back with a score of his own, with helpers from Owchar and Paiement. It was 2-2 going into the third period. Not bad for the Rockies!
And then goaltender Michel Plasse and the men in front of him were steamrolled. Vancouver scored five straight goals in the third period. Dennis Ververgaert got it started early. Christopher Oddleifson made it 4-2 less than 30 seconds after that goal. Just after the halfway mark, Oddleifson helped Ron Sedlbauer score his 12th of the season. Derlago scored his second of the game about four minutes after that one. Lastly, Thomas Gradin made it 7-2 within the final two minutes of the game. The disastrous third period meant the Rockies ended Thanksgiving with a 3-14-1 record.
Did Anyone Else Play on This Day?: Yes. Boston prevailed over Buffalo 5-2 while Montreal doubled up on Pittsburgh with an 8-4 win.
Other Notables: Future Devils captain Don Lever was on the Canucks in this game. He picked up an assist on Gradin’s goal. You may have heard of two of the officials for this game: Andy van Hellemond (referee) and Don Koharksi (Linesman, doughnut enthusiast).
Thanksgiving Game #3: November 28, 1996 - New Jersey Devils at Phoenix Coyotes
Some Background: Eighteen years after the Rockies lost to Vancouver on Thanksgiving, the team was scheduled for their first Thanksgiving game as the Devils. The Devils were on the road to close out November and even played (and won) in Dallas the night before this one. Rather than give them this day off, the schedule makers sent them to Arizona for a back-to-back set. Given how badly 1995-96 ended (no playoffs, what a concept that such a thing was the mark of failure back then), the Devils were aiming to make things right in 1996-97.
The Stats: The NHL.com Box Score
The Result: This one could have gone better than it did. The game started well enough with Steve Thomas scoring fourth of the season in the first period. The lone assist on that goal went to Dave Andreychuk, another player brought in at the time to add some veteran presence and scoring help. This was also the time of Jacques Lemaire’s stifling neutral zone trap as the Coyotes registered a mere 25 shots to the Devils’ 39. Unfortunately, three of those shots beat Martin Brodeur in the second period. Keith Tkachuk finished a play involving Craig Janney and Oleg Tverdovsky to tie it up at 5:44. Minutes later, Chad Kilger, with assistance from Cliff Ronning and Igor Korolev, made it 1-2. Tkachuk struck again at 13:01 with helpers from Brad McCrimmon and Deron Quint. The Devils did salvage some of that second period with a late goal from John MacLean - assisted by Denis Pederson and Randy McKay. The Devils would get an equalizer past Nikolai Khabibulin about halfway through the third with the first goal of the season from defenseman Kevin Dean with helpers going to Thomas and Andreychuk. This result stood to force overtime. Unfortunately, Tkachuk would complete a hat trick to take the game for then-Phoenix Coyotes. The Devils lost 3-4 in OT.
If you’re looking for lost opportunities for a regular season game back in 1996, then one stuck out like a sore thumb: the power play. The Devils went 0-for-5 for a double-minor on Korolov in the first period (McKay wiped some of that away with a call of his own); minors on Janney and Dave Manson in the second period; and a minor on McCrimmon in the third. If only one of those converted. Alas.
Did Anyone Else Play on This Day?: Yes. Calgary blanked Los Angeles, 2-0.
Other Notables: The three stars of the game were, in order: Tkachuk, Khabibulin, and Thomas. This game also included a very young Petr Sykora and an unlucky Bill Guerin, who led the team with 7 shots in the game. I do not know if Sykora was with Thomas and Andreychuk yet.
Thanksgiving Game #4: November 26, 1998 - New Jersey Devils at Phoenix Coyotes
Some Background: The Devils would only have to wait two more years for another game on Thanksgiving. And it turned out to be against the same opponent, in the same building, and as part of another road trip where the Devils played (and won) in Dallas the night before. The situations were different. Both teams went into this game with good records (the Coyotes were 12-2-1 going into this one), Robbie Ftorek was behind the bench for New Jersey, and the Devils’ frustration became not going deep in the playoffs as opposed to not making it at all. Ah, I miss those days to a point.
The Stats: The NHL.com Box Score
The Result: At least the 1996 game went to overtime. This one did not. Phoenix went up early in this one with goals by Rick Tocchet and Greg Adams in the first period. Both players assisted on each other goals with Jyrki Lumme also getting credit on the Tocchet goal and Juha Ylonen getting credit on the Adams goal. The Devils did not ring up a lot of shots on Jimmy Waite and they also failed to convert on several power plays going into third period. Adams struck again (with help from Tocchet) on Brodeur early in the third period to put the Coyotes up by a commanding 0-3 lead. The Devils would at least make it interesting in the third period. Petr Sykora beat Waite on a shot with assists from Jason Arnott and Pederson to make it 1-3. At 16:42, the Devils finally converted a power play in Phoenix on Thanksgiving (how’s that for a specific situation) when Sykora scored his second of the night. Assists for that one were given to Lyle Odelein and, yes, Brodeur. Despite what I presume was a pressure-filled final few minutes (Tverdovsky took a hooking call as Sykora scored his PPG), the Devils failed to score the equalizer. They lost 2-3 in regulation.
Did Anyone Else Play on This Day?: Yes. Ottawa put down the Islanders 4-1.
Other Notables: The three stars of the game were, in order: Adams, Tocchet, and Sykora. The referee for the night was Don Koharski - the same who was a linseman way, way back in 1978 for the Rockies’ lone Thanksgiving game. While they were held pointless, the Devils did have Patrik Elias and Jay Pandolfo in the lineup. They still had Brendan Morrison, Dave Andreychuk, Brian Rolston, Sheldon Souray, Brad Bombardir, and goodness it is fun to look back at this roster. You can see the bridge to the early 2000 teams here.
Thanksgiving Game #5: November 25, 1999 - New Jersey Devils at Phoenix Coyotes
Some Background: Seriously. Third verse, mostly the same as the first and second. Devils at Phoenix on Thanksgiving. Part of a road trip. Second half of a back to back. Did not play (and win) in Dallas the night before, they played (and won) in Anaheim the night before. The Coyotes were not scrubs. You get the idea.
The Stats: The NHL.com Box Score
The Result: At least the 1998 game was a one-goal loss. Not this one. Like the 1996 game, the Devils heavily out-shot the Coyotes 37-25. Like that game, the Devils failed to score on any power plays. More like the 1998 game, a Coyote put up a hat trick. And on this night, it was the night for Jeremy Roenick to shine. In the first period, Roenick converted a power play caused by Ken Daneyko cross-checking Adams. In the second period, Roenick was the primary assist on Teppo Numminen’s power play goal - caused by a Souray slashing minor. Scott Niedermayer would provide a response less than two minutes later to get the Devils on the board. The goal was Niedermayer’s first of the season with McKay’s eighth assist of the season and Scott Gomez’s eighteenth assist of the season. Gomez was dishing out helpers so often in his rookie season. Unfortunately, Roenick kept dishing out goals against the Devils’ goalie, who was Chris Terreri on this night. Roenick scored twice in the third period for a hat trick and to give the Coyotes a three-goal lead. With just under a minute left in regulation, Sykora scored a consolation goal. Of note were two players who assisted that goal: Jason Arnott and Patrik Elias. The combination would be more fruitful in the future, but on this night, it was another ‘L’ given to the Devils on Thanksgiving. It was a bump in the road on what would be one of the most successful campaigns in franchise history.
Did Anyone Else Play on This Day?: Yes. Ottawa beat the new Atlanta Thrashers 6-3 and Calgary prevailed over Chicago 2-1 in overtime.
Other Notables: The three stars of the game were, in order: Roenick, Sean Burke, and Dallas Drake. Burke was in net for Phoenix and he stopped quite a lot of rubber from a really talented Devils team. Drake, uh, he was pointless and had one shot on net. I do not know why he was the third star of the game. The box scores now have ice times so I can tell you that Stevens-Niedermayer was the first pairing; Brian Rafalski was given a solid 17 minutes and change; and the A-Line was very much a thing as each member played over 17 minutes themselves. The Devils roster also included Claude Lemieux (his second run with the team), Krzysztof Oliwa (no, he did not fight in this game), and Vadim Sharifijanov.
Thanksgiving Game #6: November 23, 2000 - New Jersey Devils at Los Angeles Kings
Some Background: Finally, the Devils would play someone new on their fourth Thanksgiving in five years. They would head to Los Angeles as part of their California road trip for the 2000-01 season. The Devils were rolling at the time as they won two games before trip, they beat Anaheim the night before this one, and the Devils would close out November with a six-game winning streak. I am spoiling the result to this one - this game went exceedingly well for the Devils.
The Result: Now this is more like it. The Devils out-shot the Kings 35-24 and the goaltender, Jamie Storr, was not near-perfect like Khabibulin, Waite, and Burke before him on Thanksgiving nights. The Devils actually converted two power plays. The scoring, well, that still started with the opposition. Luc Robitaille scored his 11th of the season by converting a 5-on-3 power play. That would be the last time Brodeur was beaten that night. Shortly after that goal, Steven Reinphrect took a holding call. Sykora made him pay for it with a PPG by the A-Line. A little after that goal, Lubomir Visnovsky was caught holding a stick. This time, Randy McKay made LA pay the price with his tenth of the season, assisted by Rafalski and Gomez. In the second period, the Devils broke through at even strength. John Madden scored on Storr twice. Pandolfo and Niedermayer helped on the first one, with Sergei Brylin helping on the second. In the third period, the Devils tacked two more goals on. Scott Gomez scored his fifth of the season with helpers by Alexander Mogilny and Brylin. Mogilny made it 6-1 with assists by Pandolfo and Gomez. The Devils crushed a pretty good Kings team by five goals on Thanksgiving. It really kick started the Devils’ season as they went into the game with a not-as-amazing 9-8-3-0 record. It would end up being the third win in a six-game winning streak that closed out November.
Did Anyone Else Play on This Day?: Yes. Edmonton defeated Ottawa 5-3 and Montreal shut out Atlanta by a massive 6-0 score.
Other Notables: The three stars of the game were, in order: Gomez, Madden, and Brodeur. I agree with the first two, but Brodeur? I guess those 23 saves he made were impressive. Plenty were Sykora was blasting away on the A-Line as he led the Devils with six shots. Mogilny was close behind with five while Madden and Gomez each had four each. Niedermayer played the most minutes at 25:57, but Stevens’ 22:09 deserves special notice as he played 7:20 of it on the penalty kill. The Devils took 22 PIM in the game so there was a lot of shorthanded ice time. But Stevens was (is) the man so he handled it rather well. Thanks to the (rudimentary) game and event summaries, I can tell you that the Devils out-shot the Kings in each period, they had more zone time (Back then, the NHL tracked time spent in the offensive zone. I want this back. I think it can be really helpful), and in all situations the Devils out-attempted the Kings 72-56. It is evidence that supports that this 6-1 game featured a strong performance by the Devils. We should all want that on Thanksgiving.
As a final shout out to Devils I noticed on the roster, this game did have Sasha Goc on defense, Jim McKenzie and Turner Stevenson at forward, Larry Robinson behind the bench, and two referees on the ice (Michael McGeough and Brad Watson). Apparently, the NHL started using two referees in 2000 too.
Tonight - Thanksgiving Game #7
Even before the puck drops tonight and Price wants to punch someone, there are some notable Devils-related facts about this game. Tonight’s game is the first one on Thanksgiving in 19 years for this franchise and the seventh one overall. This will be the fifth straight Thanksgiving game on the road. It will be the first against an Eastern Conference opponent. It will be the first time where it is the only game taking place in the NHL on Thanksgiving.
Why was there such a delay? Why the wait for 19 years? Honestly, I think it is a mix between scheduling and the NHL wanting to minimize this day for games. Again, hockey is not the first choice of sports on Thanksgiving in America. It is also kind of rough to expect fans to come out on Thanksgiving evening for a game. That tonight is in Montreal will ensure a very good crowd as A) it is in Montreal and B) Canada has their Thanksgiving day in October so today is just November 28. Most of all, the schedule makers have often kept the Devils and many other playing on the day before Thanksgiving and the day after. The NHL cannot schedule three games in a row, so Thanksgiving becomes a day off by default. Such is the case for the other seven Metropolitan Division teams this season and most of the rest of the league. The exceptions will face off at the Molson Center tonight.
I do not know how you feel about it, but I certainly was not clamoring for a Devils game on Thanksgiving. I could have gone another 19 years without seeing it again. Still, this look back taught me that it has happened before, other games took place on those nights, and it often happened away from home. It has not always been good with the Devils going 1-2-1 on Thanksgiving (Colorado: 0-1-0, KC: 1-0-0) either. It is not like this was a day of previous greatness outside of the beat down of Los Angeles in 2000. Lastly, it was another trip down memory lane in identifying the many Devils stars, heroes, cult figures, and other people of the past through the games. It may be nostalgia but I found it fun.
I hope you learned as much as I did about the Devils’ past games on Thanksgiving. Hopefully, they will find a way to win this one. In the meantime, do you remember any of these games? Do you want the Devils to play on more holidays? Please leave your answers, memories of these games or seasons, and thoughts about these past Thanksgiving games in the comments. As appropriate and always: thank you for reading.