Fond memories for Madden in N.J. return

Friday, 04.2.2010 / 3:25 PM ET / Features
By Eric Marin
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Fond memories for Madden in N.J. return
Madden spent 10 seasons with New Jersey, winning two Stanley Cups.
Back at Prudential Center for the first time as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks, John Madden felt like a rookie again.

“I had no idea even where the locker room was when we were walking in, there were so many doors,” Madden said Friday. The Devils were set to host the Blackhawks at 7 p.m. “I was just kind of following the guys and figuring out what to do.

“I was asking, ‘Where do they keep the sticks?’ I’ve never been in (the visitors’ locker room) so it was really strange.”

"Mad Dog" has enjoyed life with the Blackhawks since signing in Chicago last summer. He starred in New Jersey for 10 seasons, winning Stanley Cups in 2000 and 2003 and establishing himself as one of the best checking forwards in the team’s history.

He's trying to bring some of that same success to the Windy City, which hasn't seen a Cup raised since 1961.

Never drafted, Madden was signed by the Devils as a free agent in 1997. He notched a League-leading six shorthanded goals as a rookie in 1999-00, and captured the Selke Trophy as top defensive forward the next season. He still holds the club record with 17 career shorthanded tallies.

Madden topped 30 points six times as a Devil, including a career-high 43 in 2007-08. Though he still rates the 2003 championship as his favorite Devils memory, Madden contributed mightily to the collection of banners that hangs from the rafters in the Rock.

“The memories when you just look around and you see all the banners up there from championships, Eastern Conference championships,” Madden said. “There’s a lot of good memories here in New Jersey.”

The consummate team player, Madden’s favorite moment at the Devils' new home wasn't an individual achievement.

“It was for Marty (Brodeur) when he set the wins record and cut the netting off,” Madden said. “I thought it was very special to be a part of that. Playing so many years with him, I thought it was great to take that away with me.”

That, incidentally, came against the Blackhawks on March 17, 2009. Madden’s new teammates talked about it on the ride to the arena.

“‘The last time we were in this building, you guys came out flying. It was the night Marty won (552),’” Madden said, recounting the conversation on the Blackhawks' team bus. “I was like, ‘Oh yeah.’ I forgot all about it because you think back and you don’t even remember the team you were playing.” 

Known for defense, Madden has had to adjust to a new system in Chicago, which employs an uptempo attack featuring young stars like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

“There’s a lot of flow to the game,” Madden explained. “For example, centers are allowed to swing away from the puck – just kind of small things. But when you’ve been doing them for 10, 11 years, it’s hard to stop doing them and do something else. It becomes a habit, and I had to change the way I play a little bit in that aspect.”

One of the few Hawks with playoff seasoning, Madden has embraced his role as a veteran leader on a young club. At 36, he’s nearly 10 years older than the team’s average age of 27.5.

“A lot of the guys in the room have only been in one or two Stanley Cup playoffs – most of them, just one,” he said. “So having been there a few times, I think there’s a lot of keeping the guys calm at certain times. When we’re doing well, not to get too high or too low. Keep motoring, let them know it’s a process and it’s going to take every single guy in the room. That’s one message that I try to relay.”

Both teams are playoff-bound, but have struggled over their last 10 games: the Devils are 4-3-3, while Chicago has stumbled at 3-5-2. Despite that inconsistency, both have division titles in their sights. New Jersey is one point behind first-place Pittsburgh in the Atlantic Division; Chicago holds a five-point cushion on Nashville in the Central.

Even the best teams start to slide at some point during the 82-game regular season.

“When you play hard for a lot of games and you get a lot of wins, you’re going to have little lulls in a season,” Madden said. “Anyone that doesn’t think that’s going to happen is a fool. I think the team that handles it the best is the team that’s going to make good of it and really learn something from it.”

In their second meeting with the Blackhawks, the Devils hope to make up for the 5-1 setback they suffered at Chicago on New Year’s Eve. Madden is aware of just how different the Devils are with the addition of sniper Ilya Kovalchuk, who arrived in a February trade. Though he hasn’t been able to watch many Devils games, stories of Kovalchuk’s impact have been tough to ignore.

“He plays the point, he does a lot of things for them,” said Madden. “I’m sure it’s helping them, that’s for sure. Just from talking to people in the area last night that have come to a lot of Devils games, they said the games that they saw, Kovalchuk dominated most of the game and it’s fun to watch him play.”

It’s something Madden said the Blackhawks will have to be ready for.

“It creates a whole different dynamic,” he noted. “It must do wonders for a guy like Zach and Travis and Langenbrunner when they’re together as a line. You can’t just matchup your top defensive line or defensive pairing against them all night long.”

Kovalchuk has been nearly a point-a-game player for the Devils, with eight goals and 12 assists in 21 contests.

“You’re going to know a lot about him,” Madden said. “I played against him game in, game out. You went to Atlanta and he was an unbelievable hockey player, just unbelievable. It’s a big, huge lift for the team, I can guarantee you.”

Madden and his family still call New Jersey home, and he plans on settling here once his playing days are done. He signed a one-year deal with the Hawks, but expects to be playing somewhere when the puck drops on the 2010-11 season.

On Friday, though, the former Devil was focused on helping his new team get into the wins column against his old one. He scored a goal against the Devils in that New Year’s Eve contest, turning a 4-1 lead into a four-goal cushion. Brodeur said Thursday that he’d owed Madden one for all his defensive help over the years. 

“If I score again, I wonder what he’s gonna say after the game tonight,” Madden said.