Devils share holiday memories

Players recall their favorite gifts and holiday traditions

Tuesday, 12.22.2009 / 4:49 PM ET / Features
By Eric Marin
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Devils share holiday memories
Brodeur's favorite Christmas gift was the D&R goalie pads he received as an eight-year-old.
The holidays are all about spending time with loved ones and sharing in annual family traditions.

But for young hockey players, it’s also a time for getting new gear. There's nothing like waking up to find that big ticket item under the Christmas tree.

“I was probably five or six and I wanted a hockey net so bad,” recalled defenseman Matt Corrente. “My dad kept saying, ‘Soon.’ I asked for it probably every day for a half a year. Christmas Day, it was in our living room, and I was probably the happiest kid in the world.”

Unlike the “hot” toy of the season, hockey gifts stand the test of time.

“We put it right in my basement, and it’s still there to this day,” Corrente said. “The net’s pretty beat up and there’s some tape covering the holes, along with the holes in the doors right behind it.”

By the time he was eight years old, Martin Brodeur’s gift list already foreshadowed his future calling. Twenty-nine years later, he has the records – wins, shutouts, games played, minutes played – to prove he’s one of the best that ever suited up.

“I got a pair of D&R (Daignault-Rolland) goalie pads,” Brodeur said. “I asked for them, but after that I was ticked off because I didn’t have any other gifts. It was too big of a gift. I was mad and crying, ‘I didn’t get any gifts.’ My parents said, ‘Well, you got a pair of pads, that’s expensive.’ I didn’t get it. For me then, a gift was a gift. I didn’t put a price tag on anything.”

Before Jacques Lemaire had won eight Stanley Cups as a player or led the Devils to their first title, he was a kid following a hockey dream. He has never forgotten the Christmas when he slipped on his very own pair of new skates for the first time.

“I was 13 years old,” Lemaire said. “They were CCM. Not Tacks, the second grade below. They weren’t Tacks. But you know what, they were new, and I had never had a pair of new skates before that.”

When he wasn’t unwrapping a new piece of hockey gear, rough-and-tumble winger Andrew Peters added new toys to his collection. Hockey always came first, though.

“One year, we got a net, pads and blocker and catcher all for street hockey because we had a bunch of kids on our street,” Peters said. “We always got together every Saturday and Sunday and played road hockey.”

Then there was the one year Peters landed one of the legendary playsets of the 1980s.

“My favorite gift of all time was not hockey related… the G.I. Joe aircraft carrier (USS Flagg),” he said. “It was huge. When you’re a kid everything looks bigger, right? It was big enough to fit a couple planes on there. We were spoiled rotten, but didn’t come from a wealthy family. My parents knew that was the only way to keep my brother and I in line: bribe us with gifts.”

But there’s one G.I. Joe treasure that has eluded him to this day.

“I was a G.I. Joe nut, but the only one I never had was Storm Shadow,” he said. “I never had Storm Shadow. It broke my heart that I never had Storm Shadow.”

Captain Jamie Langenbrunner's all-time favorite gift is still in the family.

“My Playmobil playset I got for Christmas, all set up under the tree,” he said. “Santa set it up for me, at least I thought so – yes he did. Actually my kids still play with it  at my mom’s house. She’s got everything in boxes.”

Parise (l.) loved his Sega Genesis, while Bergfors swears by traditional Swedish cooking for the holidays.
Jay Pandolfo is a one-time Lady Byng candidate, but apparently wound up on the naughty list at least once.

“Coal in my stocking,” he joked at first when asked about the best gift he'd ever received. “A Big Wheel, but I don’t know where it is. I think I cracked it up.”

“I got Sega when it first came out,” said Devils leading scorer Zach Parise. “Pando was probably 25 back then.”

Langenbrunner, 34, took his own good-natured jab at Pandolfo, who turns 35 on Dec. 27.

“Yeah, I remember Sega ‘93 hockey,” he said. “I used Pando.” (For the record, Pandolfo was only a Boston University freshman in 1992-93.)

Andy Greene remembered his favorite – his first set of golf clubs.

“I’ve always been fortunate where I’ve gotten pretty good gifts,” said Greene. “I was somewhere around nine years old. That was kind of cool. I asked for it and wasn’t really thinking I’d get them, but they surprised me and got them, so it was kind of nice.”

Did the early start on the links help lower his handicap?

“Not yet, but I’m working on that though,” he said.

Greene’s fellow defenseman Mike Mottau might have had a career in the peloton had he not gone with a career in hockey.

“I got a Schwinn bicycle in second grade,” Mottau said. “After all the presents were opened, it was like, ‘Why don’t you go check in the garage?’ Nintendo was pretty cool too, but I’m going to have to say the bike, number one.”

This was a serious bike.

"It didn’t have a banana seat or a horn,” he said. “There may have been a baseball card already stuck in the spokes.” (Mottau wouldn’t confirm if the card in question was mutton-chop Yaz.)

Bryce Salvador’s childhood toy obsession has stuck with him to this day.

“I got a Lego castle when I was young,” Salvador said. “I’m a big Lego junkie and my kids all have Lego. In our house, we were allowed to open up one present before (Christmas). I was one of those mischievous kids and I would rip little holes in all my presents where my parents wouldn’t be able to see them. I found that I had actually gotten it, so that was when I opened it up – Christmas Eve – then I spent the whole night trying to put it together. I didn’t go to sleep that night and it was probably the only Christmas I slept in.”

Across the Atlantic, holiday memories are intertwined with tradition. Rookie Niclas Bergfors and Johnny Oduya both remember gathering around the television in their native Sweden to watch Christmas Eve cartoons.

“Donald Duck at three o’clock,” Bergfors said. “We have a one-hour special of Donald Duck. It’s more for kids, but it’s like tradition and everybody watches. Donald Duck and Goofy cartoons. You kind of watch it the way you watch a football game here; like Monday night.”

“That’s what it is,” Oduya confirmed. “They show old classics. I don’t know how that started actually, but that’s what people do now. Pretty much after that, you would eat, unless you ate before, then do the Christmas gifts at night (on Christmas Eve).”

A traditional Christmas dinner in Sweden might include turkey, ham, sausage or herring. But it’s Sweden, so don’t forget the meatballs.

“That’s the high point,” Bergfors said.

A taste of Sweden this holiday season might be closer than you think – both Bergfors and Oduya swear by the frozen meatballs at Ikea.

“Those are good,” said Bergfors. “They’re the best ones, actually. I always buy eight, 10 bags when I go to Ikea. I have them for breakfast, usually.”

Oduya agreed: “They are pretty good, actually. I’m the same way.”

To Patrik Elias, Christmas is about food, too.

“We had Christmas trees, hung chocolate decorations and ate Christmas cookies,” he said. “I loved it. My mom was a great baker and so is my wife now.”

The Devils’ all-time leading scorer, Elias is just as focused on the ice as he is about his favorite holiday treat.

“Anything with chocolate,” he said. “I’m a chocolate guy. There’s a tradition that you have to make 12 kinds of (desserts), one for each month. I think that we probably had those maybe more. I just ate everything chocolate; one looked like a small cannoli, but filled with chocolate. Or like a nougat with hazelnuts on top.

“On Christmas Eve, that’s when we celebrate. The tradition is to have dinner at five, six o’clock and you always have potato salad, fish soup and then a traditional Czech sweetwater fish.”

Like many of his Devils teammates, Vladimir Zharkov treasured his first pair of new skates. Now that he’s having a successful rookie campaign in the NHL, his parents might have some ideas on how he can fulfill his own holiday gift list.

“Last year, my mother told me, ‘What you want, you go and buy,’” Zharkov said.

Ho, ho, ho.