August 11, 2012

From NEHJ: Close but no champagne

By Jesse Connolly

Nothing in sports hurts quite as much as coming oh-so-close to your goals, only to fall short. For Mark Fayne (Sagamore Beach, Mass.) and the New Jersey Devils, a surprisingly deep playoff run filled with many fun and memorable moments ultimately ended in agony.

After falling behind three games to none against the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup finals, New Jersey fought back valiantly, winning Games 4 and 5, and believed it had as good a chance as any team to complete a historic comeback. Alas, it wasn’t in the cards, as Los Angeles ran away with a 6-1 win on home ice in Game 6 to clinch the Cup.

“Yeah, it was definitely tough, especially after coming so close in the first two games and losing in overtime,” said Fayne, who quietly played a big role on the Devils’ back end, averaging more than 20 minutes a night during the postseason. “Winning those next two games, we felt like we could get that Game 6 and bring it back to Jersey (for Game 7). We were pretty confident in ourselves, but it just didn’t go in our favor.”

Fayne said that, in the time since, the unavoidable Kings’ Cup commercials have been tough to watch, and that “somebody’s got to win.” Although being within sight of the finish line only to lose stings, the second-year pro had a magical time during his first trip to the playoffs.

“I’ve never experienced anything like it,” he said of NHL playoff hockey. “It seemed like every game it just ratcheted up. That’s the cool part about it. Every game had that intensity, and every guy on each team was playing like it was do or die, from the Florida series on. It’s just interesting to see how your team reacts and how different guys play.”

Fayne and the Devils also can take solace in their Eastern Conference championship, as New Jersey defeated their heavily favored rivals, the New York Rangers, in six games. 

“It was amazing,” Fayne said of the series. “It seemed like every shift you were playing like it was the last minute of the game. No matter what the situation was, you didn’t want anyone to take a shot. It just seemed like every play was so critical, and it was that way the entire series. They were playing the same way, blocking every shot and that made us start playing that way as well. It was a great series to play in and real fun.”

Now, of course, the Devils’ goal is try to complete their Cup quest next spring, but they’ll be doing so without high-scoring forward Zach Parise, who left via free agency, signing a 13-year deal with the Minnesota Wild.

Fayne, a former standout in Hockey East at Providence, knows what it’s like to have a new captain on a yearly basis, having gone the college route to reach the NHL. He talked about what the loss of Parise — who wore the ‘C’ for the Devils in 2011-12 — will mean.

“It’s different,” the 25-year-old defenseman said. “Once Jamie Langenbrunner was traded my rookie year, we never actually filled in the captain spot for the rest of the year. You also have leaders in the room. There’s Marty (Brodeur), Patty (Elias) and Colin White was there. It seemed different to me than college where the captain was always the one who spoke. His role was different in college. Up here with the Devils, there are so many great leaders and so many veteran guys that, when they speak, you listen to them. It doesn’t matter what their title is or however long they’ve been with the team.”

New Jersey also made changes behind the bench. After losing assistant coaches Adam Oates (Washington) and Larry Robinson (San Jose) to other teams, the Devils announced that Hall of Fame blueliner and longtime captain Scott Stevens would be filling one of the voids.

Fayne is looking forward to working with Stevens, who arguably was the most feared defender in the game during his NHL career.

“I’m really excited to see him on the ice,” said Fayne, who’s splitting his offseason between Boston and Cape Cod. “How can you not listen to a guy like that? I’m excited to see how he’s going to be as a coach and what he can teach us. We have a veteran group of defensemen, and I still think that with him being there, he can teach those guys and myself and Adam, the younger guys, a lot. Larry was a great coach and I was learning a lot from him, so it doesn’t hurt to have another Hall of Famer back there.”

As a fifth-round pick out of Providence in 2005, Fayne has done a remarkable job of quickly solidifying his role in the NHL. He spent just 19 games in the AHL in his first year as a pro and followed that up by playing in all 82 games for New Jersey in 2011-12.

“My biggest thing was just trying to stay consistent,” he said. “As a young guy, you can’t afford to have a night off or a couple periods off where you’re just not into it. You’ve got to be at the top of your game, so I just tried to keep everything as simple as I could.”

Fayne underwent wrist surgery shortly after the playoffs ended, having suffered the injury early on in New Jersey’s run against Florida, but he is confident he’ll be ready in time for the season. The restricted free agent inked a new deal with the Devils in July, agreeing to a two-year pact worth $2.6 million.

“It’s definitely nice,” Fayne said of getting his contract squared away. “Now I just have to focus on getting better and getting ready for camp.”

There, Fayne will begin a mission that he and the Devils will all share. It’s one he believes they can accomplish.

“I think anything short of winning it all is definitely a letdown, especially after last year,” Fayne said of his goals for next season. “I know it’s going to be a battle to get back there to the Stanley Cup, but I think this team can do it.”

The Stat

Benn Ferriero has played against all but three NHL teams. One of them is his new squad, the Penguins.

Aucoin lands with Leafs

After four years in the Capitals organization, veteran forward Keith Aucoin (Chelmsford, Mass.) is heading north to Toronto. A prolific scorer in the AHL — where he’s racked up 344 points in 238 games for two-time Calder Cup-winning Hershey — Aucoin appeared in 27 games for the Capitals in 2011-12. He had three goals and eight assists.

The 33-year-old Norwich alumnus appeared in the NHL playoffs for the first time, helping the Capitals reach Game 7 of the second round as a strong role player on the team’s fourth line.

In 102 career NHL games, the 5-foot-9 winger has 11 goals and 26 assists. Aucoin will make $650,000 at the NHL level and $350,000 in the AHL with the Leafs’ top minor-league affiliate, the Toronto Marlies.

Janik, Mauldin to Europe

Two Hockey East alumni are leaving the NHL to continue their pro careers in Europe.

Doug Janik (Agawam, Mass.), a standout defenseman at the University of Maine from 1998 to 2001, signed a one-year deal with Adler Mannheim in Germany. The 32-year-old blueliner had been in the Red Wings’ organization for the past three seasons. Most of his time was spent with Grand Rapids (AHL), where he had 33 points in 67 games in 2011-12. In 190 career NHL games, Janik has 19 points.

Greg Mauldin (Holliston Mass.) is off to Switzerland to join HC Fribourg. Mauldin spent three seasons at UMass-Amherst before turning pro back in 2004. He had a breakthrough season in 2010-11, appearing in 29 games for the Avalanche and registering 10 points. Mauldin spent all of last season in Lake Erie, where he had 34 points in 59 games. A seventh-round pick of the Blue Jackets in 2002, the 30-year-old winger previously played for Oskarshamn IK and Huddinge IK in Sweden in 2006-07.

Wilson stays with Preds

Colin Wilson (Greenwich, Conn.) and the Predators agreed to a three-year deal totaling $6 million in late July. The former Boston University standout set a career-high with 35 points in 2011-12 but played sparingly after Nashville acquired Andrei Kostitsyn and Paul Gaustad at the trade deadline. Wilson appeared in just four of the team’s 10 postseason games. He recorded his first career playoff goal in Game 5 of the Predators’ second-round series against the Coyotes.

This article originally appeared in the August 2012 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Twitter: @JesseNEHJ