From NYHJ: Devils' Salvador born for the captaincy
by David Kolb/Correspondent
NEWARK, N.J. — Moments after the New Jersey Devils leveled last year’s Eastern Conference finals series against the New York Rangers at two games apiece, defenseman Bryce Salvador was one of the first players available to the media in the Devils dressing room.
Salvador had tallied a goal and an assist. The goal, opening the scoring at 8:10 of the first period, set the tone for the game. Still perspiring and wiping his brow with his Gatorade towel, he sat in his stall wasted, yet sported a half-smile when asked how he can account for the offensive prowess he continued to display during the postseason, which contrasted his low numbers during the regular season.
“It’s just throwing pucks at the net,” said Salvador, who with his goal on that night passed his 2011-12 regular season point total of 10. “Guys are doing a good job of getting bodies in front of the net and screening (Henrik) Lundqvist.”
On that late spring night, with 50 to 60 national and international media members congregating in the Devils dressing room, Salvador showed poise and gave a thumbnail look into his leadership abilities, as he spoke to every last one of them.
“I never like to put myself in a situation where I’m surprised,” said Salvador, when asked if his offensive numbers had shocked even him. But he could have been talking about a number of things.
Salvador spoke that night as if he were a captain. As it turns out, he was preparing himself for that very role as captain of the 2013 Devils.
His contributions in that swing game could not be understated. The Devils had their backs up against the wall. With a Game 4 loss, they would have been facing an elimination game at Madison Square Garden. Instead, Salvador wristed home the opening tally and placed the Devils on course to eliminate their crosstown rivals.
Coach Peter DeBoer said, “The first one was a big one and it lifted some weight off of us. We played a little bit looser from then on.”
The Devils never lost momentum after that pivotal goal. They went on to eliminate the Rangers in six games, winning the last three.
Salvador continued his stellar two-way play in the Stanley Cup Finals, finishing second among defensemen in scoring during the playoffs with 14 points (four goals, 10 assists). Remarkably, his career high in regular-season points is 16, coming during his first full Devils season in 2008-09, after he was acquired the previous spring in a trade from the St. Louis Blues for Cam Janssen.
He was a mainstay on the Devils backline, until a cochlear concussion cost him his entire 2010-11. Entering last year, there were questions about whether the steady veteran had fully recovered. He answered all the critics, playing in every regular-season game. His point totals were low, as he failed to score a goal while notching only nine assists.
In the playoffs however, offense seemed to find him, as he kept his game simple, always making the smart, conservative play.
“It’s been a really interesting last two years for me personally, to miss a season and not really know what was going to happen, what the future was going to be,” Salvador said. “Then, the team has a good year last year and now to be named captain, I don’t know what the odds would have been for that in Vegas two years ago. But, that being said, it’s the team around you, too, that builds the captain.”
His 14 points in 24 playoff games earned him a new three-year, $9.5 million contract from the Devils this offseason.
More importantly, the organization saw leadership in Salvador’s game on and off the ice. After former captain Zach Parise bolted as a free agent to his hometown Minnesota Wild over the summer, the Devils were in need of a new captain.
Observers predicted one of last season’s alternate captains — Patrik Elias or Ilya Kovalchuk — would get the nod; however, DeBoer named Salvador captain a few days after the lockout ended, a few days into training camp. Salvador was informed of the decision in a meeting before the team’s practice the Thursday before the season began.
“What a tremendous honor,” said Salvador, who had never been a captain before at any level in his hockey career. “I think it’s just a huge compliment that an organization like New Jersey, with the success and just the history they have and all the previous captains.”
Elias and Kovalchuk remain alternate captains.
“The strength, I think, of our group is the depth of leadership in that room,” said DeBoer. “As tough as it was to pick a captain, it was tough to not put A’s on certain guys, too. That’s a real strength for us. I think whomever I picked would have been right. Sal is a consummate pro, leads by example and has developed into a great leader and a great player in this league.”
In Salvador’s rookie season in St. Louis, he was paired with Blues captain and future Hall of Famer Al MacInnis, who was a major influence on how to prepare and how to be a professional. “To me it’s not a surprise that a team would name Bryce captain,” said MacInnis. “The one thing that stuck out for me with Bryce is that he was a true professional from day one. He came in as a quiet young man. His eyes were always wide-open and he’d listen to everything that was going on. He wanted to be a better player every day.
“Most offensive defensemen love playing with a solid, shutdown guy you can trust,” he added. “If I’m going to jump up in the play I knew that Bryce was not going to be ahead of me. He’s very dependable and played within himself. He literally turned himself into a solid, dependable NHL player. … I can’t say enough good things. I can’t find one bad thing to say about Bryce Salvador.”
The pick received no second-guesses in the Devils dressing room.
“I was excited to hear that, that a guy like him would get it,” said forward David Clarkson. “At the end of the day, I believe they picked a guy that’s a true leader and a heck of an individual.”
Kovalchuk added, “I can’t say that he’s so quiet. He says the right things in the right time. He leads by example and shows the young guys how to prepare themselves for the games.”
Salvador aims to continue to improve his game, despite his age (36). He will now receive on-ice guidance from former Devils captain and Hall of Famer Scott Stevens, who recently was named an assistant coach. He said he understands and appreciates the opportunity given to him to lead.
“It’s a huge honor, huge privilege, especially for a great organization like this,” said Salvador.