Retired or not, Scott Stevens will always be the Devils captain. He made that big of an impact on New Jersey during his dozen years wearing the ‘C’ that everyone knows there will never be another who commanded as much respect and possessed as much clout as Stevens.
“There’s no question it’s been quite an honor and a feat to be the captain of three Stanley Cup Championships here in New Jersey,” Stevens said. “He’s been the captain of the Devils for so long, through the three Stanley Cups, that when you say the word ‘captain,’ you know you’re talking about Scott Stevens,” defenseman Brian Rafalski added.
For Stevens, it took only one season in New Jersey until all parties involved agreed he was the man for the post. He became the fifth captain in team history on September 24, 1992, taking over from the previous commander, Bruce Driver.
“He’s going to be remembered as one of the greatest captains in franchise history,” Driver said. “His leadership skills were excellent. Scott was never the most vocal guy, but he was certainly a leader on the ice and in the locker room. He didn’t say a lot, but when he did, everyone took notice and paid attention. Scott had tremendously strong leadership qualities.”
“You don’t get to be the captain of three Stanley Cup teams by chance,” goaltender Martin Brodeur said. “It’s because you’ve done something great in your career.”
The soft-spoken Stevens rarely had to raise his voice during his tenure, instead, opting to lead by example. “Maybe three or four times (a year) you say something to the team, have a heart-to-heart with the team and say how you feel,” he said. “I did not make that a habit because it has to come from the heart. “The most important thing is to lead by example. That was my biggest aspect.”
Retired defenseman Ken Daneyko was teammates with Stevens for more than a decade and said that when Stevens spoke, the Devils certainly listened. “Obviously you want to lead by example, but you also want to make sure that when you do speak, it’s profound and everyone listens,” Daneyko said. “He did have an impact when he spoke.
Scotty wasn’t one of those guys who needed too many words. “Just his stare and glare would get everyone’s attention. Scotty had that glare and that look telling us that we had to perform better and to the level that he wanted us to.”
Stevens could afford to glare, because no one in the Devils locker room questioned for a second their captain’s toughness and dedication.
“He had the mentality that not only was he physically strong, but he was prepared to compete against the other teams’ top lines each and every game,” defenseman Colin White said. “I’ve seen him play pre-season games and Stanley Cup Finals games, and he played them both with the same intensity.” “He’d always practice when he was hurt or injured or not feeling well,” Daneyko added. “He’d always give 110 percent.
When your leader is doing that, everyone else better follow and do the same.” For Stevens, it was just part of the job description. “There’s no question that I came to play every night and that I tried to be consistent from games one to 82 and into the playoffs,” he said. “I tried to win every game. I hated to lose. Hopefully, that rubbed off on the team and had an impact on the other players.”
Rafalski said he’d never forget Stevens’ heroics during the 2003 playoffs when he was hit in the left ear by a shot, yet didn’t even miss the next game. “Taking a slapshot to the head and coming right back to play, showed exactly what type of player he was,” Rafalski said. His willingness to sacrifice has not only made Stevens one of the game’s greatest players, but one of its top all-time leaders as well.
“It’s important, it’s a great honor,” he said. “I think there’s more and more emphasis on the captain and what he has to do. The biggest part is getting everyone on the same page and willing to sacrifice for the team. If I sacrifice and do certain things, it’s a lot easier for the other guys to see that, do that, and follow.”
Stevens knew full well that all eyes were on him all the time – and that he needed to be at the top of his game at every moment. “From working out, to how you eat, to what you do the night before games…all those things are important,” he said. “I could see things I did on the ice, like lay a big hit, snowball with the other guys.”
Most leadership skills are inherent and can’t be learned along the way. “I think I’ve always been a leader; I’ve been a captain from a young age,” Stevens said. “I think how I approached the game helped a lot.” Constantly trying to improve, grow, and learn were other aspects of Stevens’ leadership. “He loved to check out everybody’s hockey sticks and the curves on their sticks,” Rafalski said. “Every time someone got a new stick, he was always checking it out, what he liked about it and what he didn’t. He was always on top of everything.”
Defensive stalwarts past and present agree that Stevens was as complete a package in his captaincy role as possible. “It takes a combination of everything – certainly respect from your teammates and your coaches,” Driver explained. “Scotty also left everything on the ice. I know his teammates also respected him for giving everything he had on the ice every night.”
“He’d do what he had to do to get everybody’s attention if things weren’t going well,” Daneyko stated. “He led our team by his work ethic and his will to win. You can’t really teach that stuff. We were successful because of our will to win and Scotty was the one who instilled that in a lot of guys. All really good teams need a leader and Scotty was ours.”
Daneyko, who will have his jersey no. 3 retired on March 24, said he was privileged to be able to line up next to Stevens for as long as he did. “It was an honor to be able to play with him shift-in and shift-out for all those years,” he said. “Even though we were the same age and he was with Washington, I looked up to him even before he came to New Jersey. I always said that I wanted to be like Scott Stevens.” White couldn’t agree more. “He had a tremendous career,” White said. “Having the most all-time games played as a defenseman is enough said. The way he competed every night was special. The leader he was, the teammate he was, how he went to war every night. He taught us young guys a lot.
“I don’t think there’s anyone in the league who was respected more. The bottom line was that he was there to win hockey games every night.” Rafalski said that even if Stevens wasn’t captain, he still would have everyone’s attention. “He’s someone who’s been through a lot of battles and playoff games,” Rafalski said. “He was a great captain. He earned a lot of respect from all of our players, which is very difficult to do. “Even if Scott Stevens wasn’t a captain, he’d still have a ton of respect from everyone."
"He was just such a leader.” Rafalski and White are still benefiting from Stevens’ leadership skills. “Scotty was great with me,” White recalled. “When I was a rookie, he taught me how to learn the game and learn how to control my emotions. I try to make my game as much like his as possible.” “He was my first partner and helped me adjust to the league,” Rafalski added. “He was very good at helping me learn how certain players played and what they liked to do and obviously how to stop them.”
Driver acknowledged the need for a fit between Stevens, the fifth overall pick in the 1982 draft, and the Devils. If either side’s unrelenting desire for success was unmatched by the other, the marriage never would have worked. “He realized pretty quickly the commitment the organization had to winning,” Driver recalled. “That’s the main reason why he’s enjoyed his stay here.”
In fact, it’s Stevens’ commitment and dedication to playing the game the right way that leaves him barely missing the game that was his life seemingly forever. “Do I miss playing? Not a whole lot,” he said. “I’m not sure about these new rules. I don’t find there’s enough of the physical part. I think the game has lost some of the physical aspect. I’d like to think that if I did come back, that I would have adapted, but I don’t know how much fun it is for a defenseman right now.”
As for the current Devils, who boast multiple assistant captains but no full-time skipper at this point, Stevens said it’s nothing to be concerned about. “I don’t think it’s that important right now,” he said. “I see a lot of teams that have success with three assistants. I think it has to be a no-brainer to be the right person because you really don’t want to make a mistake in that area. I think it’s something you have to be very careful about and make sure it’s the right person.”
He says when the time comes to pick his successor, however, the organization’s choices are endless. “There’s no question there are plenty of great leaders in the room now,” Stevens said. “You don’t have to wear a ‘C’ to be a leader.” “Obviously there will be another captain here someday,” White said. “We’re not looking to replace him. We can’t replace him. He was our leader for so many years.”
Stevens has continued speaking and acting like a true captain since his retirement. He often stops by Devils’ practices to offer an encouraging word or a veteran piece of advice. “I still care a lot about this team,” he said. “That’s why it’s nice to be able to be out here on a part-time basis and help out where I can. Maybe I can say even one or two things to inspire them or get them on the right track.” “He still comes around the rink and still cares about the Devils,” White said.
While the official titles and roles may be different, Stevens’ motives are still the same – aiding the Devils in their quest to win games in any way possible. “I can help in different ways,” he said. “I used to help out on the ice. Now if I can help anybody just by saying the right things or pointing out things I see, it’s nice to be able to make an impression in a different way.”
The impression the Devils’ fans made on Stevens is something he said he would never forget. “I’d like to thank all the fans for all their support,” he said. “I know they respected how I played. It was great to bring three Stanley Cups to New Jersey. I just want to thank them for all the great years.” Devils fans got the opportunity to do the same, as the Captain’s jersey was raised to the ceiling.