There is absolutely no question that Scott Stevens is the greatest Devil to ever lace up the skates. “He’s been a part of all the success that we’ve had,” Devils’ CEO/President/General Manager Lou Lamoriello said. “He’s been a leader both on and off the ice, both as a hockey player and as a person. “To me, he’s right up there with the top defensemen to ever play the game.
There is no question he will be in the Hall of Fame as soon as he becomes eligible.” That’s why it’s only fitting that Stevens became the first Devil to be honored by having his jersey number four raised to the Continental Airlines Arena rafters.
“The Devils recognizing all of Scott’s contributions and the quality of his play, is well-deserved,” defenseman Brian Rafalski said. “The competitiveness that he displayed through 20-plus years is remarkable. Not many players can do that.”
“It’s quite an honor to be the first to have my jersey retired,” the 41- year-old Stevens said. “It’s going to be hanging right up there (in the rafters) with the three Stanley Cup banners.” Captaining the Devils to three titles is only the beginning of the enormous legacy Stevens leaves on New Jersey.
“Being part of an organization that started out at the bottom and built itself into a championship hockey club,” Stevens recalled. “That’s one of the things that I’m most proud of. There are a lot of guys who have to get themselves on a good team in order to win a Stanley Cup. I take a lot of pride in being part of the solution and the building process.”
From the time Stevens arrived in New Jersey in 1991 as compensation for St. Louis’ signing of Brendan Shanahan to when he hung up the skates last September 6, Stevens has never wavered in his focus, intensity, desire, and drive. “I’m a guy who never liked to lose,” he said. “I always played to win.”
Stevens was willing to do whatever it took to accomplish that goal. When he arrived in New Jersey, he did so carrying quite an electric stick, as evidenced by his 78-point season in 1993-94 when he narrowly finished second to Ray Bourque in Norris Trophy voting.
When then-Coach Jacques Lemaire asked Stevens to become more defense-minded, he didn’t hesitate. Always a rugged, physical player, it didn’t take long until Stevens became one of the most feared players in the NHL. “Being a physical presence has been my trademark ever since I was a young kid,” he said. “I loved the physical part and always played the position like a middle linebacker in football. I played injured, never took nights off, and did whatever it took.”
“He was like a linebacker on ice,” fellow retired defenseman Ken Daneyko said. “Not many guys can do that and play that way. He had such an impact on so many games. That was something that was just part of his job. He never wanted to hurt anybody; he did it all cleanly.”
He did that often. The first of Stevens countless big hits came during the Devils first Stanley Cup Finals appearance when his crushing blow wobbled Detroit’s Slava Kozlov and basically set the tone for the rest of the series vs. the mighty Red Wings.
“We were big underdogs to Detroit,” Daneyko said. “That was the first of his many devastating hits. As an underdog, you always need one play or turning point to show that you belong. He nailed Kozlov and he could barely get back to the bench. I knew at that point we were going to win the Stanley Cup.
“That was a defining moment in Devils history. It showed how badly he wanted to win and that he wasn’t going to let anything stand in our way.” The game two hit sent a crystal clear message that the Devils were for real, a fact they cemented with a four-game series sweep.
“All of his big hits changed games and even entire playoff series,” recalled former defenseman Bruce Driver. “Scotty coming across the middle and basically knocking Kozlov for a loop; that was one play that really showed what Scott Stevens could do to impact a whole series and how he could affect a game.”
The hits certainly kept coming. During the Devils next title run, Stevens steamrolled Philadelphia’s Eric Lindros during a deciding game seven that capped New Jersey’s comeback from a three games to one deficit in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Stevens was later awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the entire postseason. When asked to compare the importance of two of Stevens most magnificent body checks, Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur answered, “Kozlov came back and played after, Eric Lindros was never the same.”
Stevens was far from finished. He trampled Anaheim’s Paul Kariya in 2003 along the Devils third title path. “The hits in the playoffs are the ones that everyone remembers most,” Stevens said. “His presence was always there, his ability to physically dominate opponents,” Rafalski added. “The other teams needed to always know where he was on the ice and had to be aware of him.”
Defenseman Colin White believes Stevens’ uncanny ability to deliver the big blow when needed came both from his brains and his brawn. “Scott’s a physical specimen, a genetic freak, he is built like a Greek god,” White said. “He’s strong enough to be able to step up and hit the way he did, but it was more of a timing thing. Scott had the timing down. He could read the play before it happened. That’s the big thing with making big hits like that. Scott was already stepping up and reading a play before it even developed.”
Stevens knew a big hit could carry every bit as much weight as a clutch goal. “I was the type of player who was trying to make an impact every night with a good hit or two to help the team,” he said. “I always felt that, just like scoring a goal, a big hit could give your team confidence and help determine the outcome of a game.”
Hits were far from all Stevens gave New Jersey during his 13 years of service. The Devils could always count on solid, dependable defense from Stevens as well. “To me, he was always a safety valve, knowing that I had one of the best competitors in the game in front of me,” Brodeur said. “He’s one of the best defenseman to ever play this game,” Daneyko explained. “I’ve never seen a player who played the game this hard and practiced as hard as he did. “He loved to play more than anybody I’ve ever seen.”
The selfless Stevens and the team-first Devils were a match made in hockey heaven. “It’s all about hard work, sacrifice, discipline, and determination,” he explained. “We’ve always had a hard-working club that will sacrifice individual awards and recognition for the good of the team. Those types of people are hard to find, so it’s nice to be a part of those types of teams. “I always liked the system and the direction the team was going; that’s important.”
Despite always putting the team first, Stevens, a 13-time All-Star, did rack up quite a few impressive individual numbers. Stevens career spanned 22 seasons with Washington, St. Louis, and New Jersey. He posted 196 goals and 712 assists for 908 points and 2,785 penalty minutes in 1,635 career games, including 93 goals and 337 assists for 430 points and 1,007 penalty minutes in 956 games with the Devils. Stevens is one of just three players in history to appear in 600 games with two separate teams.
“Scott Stevens is one of the most respected players to ever play in the National Hockey League,” Lamoriello said. “Scott gave 100 percent in every practice and every game, and epitomized professionalism both on and off the ice. He gave the New Jersey Devils 13 great seasons, and the National Hockey League 22 great years.”
Stevens passed his former Capitals’ teammate Larry Murphy (1,615) for most appearances by a defenseman in NHL history on November 26, 2003. His games played total is fifth all-time, trailing only Gordie Howe, Mark Messier, Ron Francis, and Dave Andreychuk.
Stevens holds the NHL record for most career playoff games by a defenseman (233), while his 20 years in the playoffs are tied for second all-time. In leading the Devils to the 2003 Stanley Cup, Stevens participated in his NHL recordtying 13th career game seven. He has appeared in 879 regular-season games in which his team has been victorious, the most in NHL history.
As for his mark on New Jersey’s record books, Stevens ranks second on the Devils all-time games played list, third all-time in assists, and tied for sixth in points. He posted a career-high 78 points and leagueleading plus-53 mark in 1993-94, becoming the only defenseman ever to lead New Jersey in scoring.
Stevens 18 goals that season are the most by a defenseman in team history, while his 60 assists still stand as the club’s single-season record. “When he first came to New Jersey, I don’t think anybody could have had any idea of just how good he was going to be,” Daneyko said. “He’s a huge reason why we won three Stanley Cups.”
For Stevens, giving back to New Jersey felt so good after he was welcomed to his new home more than a decade ago with open arms. “It’s nice to get respect for the state of New Jersey,” he said. “I know a lot of people in this state appreciate all the hard work I’ve put in and the team’s put in over the years.”
Stevens is quick to admit that he wouldn’t have accomplished all he has without several key members of his personal support staff, most notably his parents, Mary and Larry. “My parents gave me the work ethic I needed to reach my dream of playing in the National Hockey League,” Stevens said. “My dad always stressed the physical aspect of the game.” Stevens also credits his wife, Donna, with whom he has three children – daughters Kaitlin and Kara, and son Ryan. “My wife has been tremendous,” he said. “She’s been the backbone of my career and very supportive all the way through. She’s been awesome.”
Stevens also gave many thanks to a couple of former Devils coaches for helping him grow up on the ice. “Jacques Lemaire and Larry Robinson had the biggest impact and still taught me a lot after I had already played for so many years,” he said. “It was really fun and amazing when they showed me how they learned to play the game. How being in the right position could help me so much. That was the start of a lot of good things to come for the New Jersey Devils and me personally.”
Good things began to become reality for Stevens when he had just reached his teens. Former professional hockey player Myron Stankiewicz was Stevens’ youth hockey coach – and the first person to tell him he had what it took to make it to the big time. “I had some good coaches, but Myron really had a big impact on me,” Stevens recalled. “He was the first guy who was important in saying that I had a chance when I was only 13 or 14.”
It has now all come full circle for Stevens. As he rose through the NHL ranks, he was often compared to those that had played before him. Now, the glowing and flattering comparisons are about Stevens. “I’ve always tried to be an all-around player,” he said. “It’s nice to hear someone reference another player and say they remind them of me. It’s kind of nice to hear things like that.”
One thing is certain to NHL fans worldwide: There will never be another Scott Stevens.