Sykora signs with Devils
Ex-Devil officially set for second stint in New Jersey
|Sykora returns to the Devils. (Getty/NHL Images)|
He returns to the team that drafted him 18th overall in 1995, nearly 10 years after his last game with New Jersey.
“It was a long shot when I got here,” Sykora said. “I believed in it. I got a lot of help from a lot of different guys. I got to play with great players who really helped me to be successful. I tried to work my best, tried to use my strengths. I’m very, very happy with what happened. I’m excited to be here. It’s really exciting.”
He split last season between the Czech league and the KHL and thought he’d give the NHL one last try. He said from the start of camp that he only wanted to be in New Jersey, then opened some eyes with a hat trick in the first scrimmage.
He wound up on the right side with Zach Parise and former linemate Patrik Elias, and tied for the team lead in preseason goals (2) and points (3).
“He scores,” said coach Peter DeBoer. “It’s no secret we were the lowest scoring team in the League last year. This is a guy that’s come in and he’s managed to create offense and create it consistently through training camp and exhibition. He’s got the skills to do that. He’s done it in the past and we’re hoping he’s got another year in him, at least, here.”
But even a shot with the top line didn’t get Sykora thinking too far ahead.
“I just believed that Lou [GM Lamoriello] was going to make me an offer, and he did,” he said. “I’m very happy it worked out and I’m thrilled I’m here.”
With the roster set to be finalized Wednesday in preparation for Saturday's home opener, Sykora arrived to find his number had changed to 15 from 40. Keeping the right mindset was key.
“I think my attitude was good, coming in with a smile, working hard, playing with good players,” he said. “I’m not a flying guy out there. I think I have good hockey sense, I think I’m smart, I try to play the system, and when I’m in good position, I think I can score some goals. You just have to look at yourself as a player and try to use your strengths as much as possible where you can kind of separate yourself from other guys who are trying out, too.”
DeBoer spoke often at camp about the need for players to stand out from the rest of the group with hard work and determination. Sykora, a two-time Stanley Cup champion, including 2000 with the Devils, did just that.
“He came in as a later addition to camp and Lou, obviously, had a history with him here,” DeBoer said. "I went in with pretty much small expectations about what I was going to see and he surprised us. But that’s what you have to do in training camp. That’s how you earn a job.”
Above all, Sykora, who still spends offseasons in the Garden State, feels good to be back.
"This is home for me," he said. "I've been coming to New Jersey every single summer. I have a lot of friends here. You should see my iPhone yesterday, the messages I was getting from so many people. I know a lot of people here. I got a lot of support – I think that's one of the reasons it kind of went the way it did, because I have a lot of support here in New Jersey, so many people cheering for me and making it easier for me to go throughout the camp and not worry about anything else but hockey."