Pardon me if I get personal — okay, really choked up — telling you about Patrik Elias and his #26 Retirement Ceremony on Saturday night at The Rock.
I bring this up to you up front because the Elias comeback to this moment and the banner-raising of his #26 will be the one of the most uncanny I ever have witnessed.
I was there with him in the Summer of 2005 when he was like a dead man walking, and that is not an exaggeration.
We were at a park in West Orange discussing the Hepatitis A that almost killed him during the lockout season of 2004-05 when he played in Russia.
Shooting an outdoor TV feature about his hoped-for comeback that day at the park, I couldn’t imagine that he would ever wear a Devils jersey again. Patty was so frail and had difficulty walking. Pathetic is the only word that described his condition.
“All of his doctors were saying that he would never play in the NHL again,” his wife Petra revealed. “Patrik almost died.”
Patrik Elias made a triumphant return after missing the first 39 games of the 2005-2006 season due to Hepatitis A, scoring 45 points in 38 games that year.
So, when I give Patrik a hug on Saturday at Prudential Center, I will still find it hard to believe that he not only returned to the Devils after hepatitis almost killed him, but went on to star for them in the 2005-06 season.
“I didn’t realize how sick I really was,” Elias said.
Which explains the immensity of his comeback. Incredibly, he put up 45 points in 38 games, catapulting the Devils from the league’s subterranean depths to first place in the Atlantic Division. So, what inspired him?
“Our fans are really the reason we come to play,” he said Thursday during a media scrum at The Rock. “For them to come to the arena and cheer us on. And when you win championships you develop special relationships with the fans.
“You — the fans and Devils — share something that we all wanted to accomplish — winning the Stanley Cup.”
That “special something” was shared by teammate Ken Daneyko who sat with Patrik on the dais. Mister Devil articulated what made Patty so special to him.
“His presence, his poise and his humility meant a lot to the team,” Ken asserted. “When a star like Patty is willing to go out of his way on and off the ice to achieve a championship, that goes a long way with the guys and is a reason we won two Cups.”
Many of us have vivid memories of Patty’s best moments, but the one I savor most was told to me by MSG Networks’ Devils host Deb Placey.
Her favorite Patrik episode took place on Dec. 17, 2011 against the Canadiens in Montreal, when he tied John MacLean‘s record with his 347th goal — on a power play early in the second period.
Look back on the night Patrik Elias became the Devils' all-time leader in goals scored with two tallies against the Montreal Canadiens.
“I had some time to think about what I would ask him in the intermission,” Deb recalled to me. “I kidded him that there was still time to score again. And he did right at the beginning of the third period.
“It was perfect that Petr Sykora assisted on the goal for Patty to break the all-time Devils record. He told me that for some reason he had a feeling it would happen. He always loved playing in Montreal. I’ll never forget any of it.”
Lifelong fan Sharon Levine of Fort Lee, New Jersey, told me that her top Elias moment took place on March 17, 2009 when she took her nephew Craig to a game.
“That was the night that Patty broke the scoring record in the same game that Marty Brodeur broke the all-time goalie wins record. The Rock was packed and it was so exciting that two beloved Devils broke records in the same game.”
On a night Martin Brodeur became the winningest goalie in NHL history, Patrik Elias surpassed John MacLean to become the Devils' all-time leader in points.
Then a fan, now covering the Devils for New York Hockey Journal magazine, Leo Scaglione, Jr. remembers Patrik’s comeback from hepatitis as the highlight of the Elias Effect.
“What I’ll never forget,” Leo told me, “was how thoroughly inspirational Patrik was to the rest of the team, both on the ice and off. A dead team turned full of life.”
In the first game of the 2006 playoffs against the Rangers, Patrik delivered two goals and four assists in the 6-1 romp. That marked him as only the 10th player ever to tally six points in NHL playoff history.
The Devils went on to sweep the Rangers in four games while Elias enjoyed his best points-per-game post-season with six goals and ten assists for sixteen points in only nine games.
[Watch Full Coverage of the Elias Ceremony Saturday at 6 PM on MSG+ & MSG GO]
“I never considered myself a goal-scorer,” Elias modesty said. “I liked to pass the puck. I wanted to create plays. That’s why I never envisioned myself scoring so many goals in the world’s best hockey league.”
When it comes to Patty’s all-time assists, naturally, most fans gravitate toward the Elias radar pass to Jason Arnott in Game 6 of the 2000 Final after which Hasten-Jason deposited the Cup-winner.
Longtime season ticket holder Erin Miller of Fair Lawn, New Jersey vividly remembered the play.”
“The second overtime had me on pins and needles; torture.
“I remember holding my breath when Patrik got the puck and then passed it to Jason. When Arnie scored, I jumped, screamed and then hugged everyone around me.”
Relive all the magic from Game 6 of the 2000 Stanley Cup Finals, as Patrik Elias assisted on the Cup-winning goal.
Like other New Jersey aficionados, Miller also savored Elias’ clutch playoff goal on May 26, 2000 against the Flyers in Philadelphia.
The 2-1 Game 7 victory was All-Patrik. He scored the first goal early in the first period, but with the game tied 1-1 late in the third, he beat goalie Brian Boucher at 17:28 of the third frame to dagger the Flyers.
Take a look back at Patrik Elias' heroics in the Game 7 win of the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals against the rival Flyers.
“That was my favorite Elias moment,” Devils radio play-by-play man Matt Loughlin told me. “It was so typically Patty, coming through in the clutch the way he did and with so much at stake.
“People forget that he always was a ‘Plus’ player yet so often skating under the radar (partly because Martin Brodeur captured the headlines.) But that game in Philly proved that if it was going to be a stirring series, Patrik would be at his best.”
The A-Line (Elias, Arnott, Petr Sykora) should have been united for more than two years, but in that short time, Patty said it was “the most fun of my career.”
Not only the Garden Staters’ all-time leading point scorer (1,025), Patrik also holds records for most career goals (408), career assists (617), playoff goals (45), assists (80) and points (125), among many other meaningful marks.
Drafted by New Jersey in the second round with the 51st overall selection in the 1994 NHL Draft, Patty played all 18 full seasons of his NHL career in New Jersey. He led the club to Stanley Cups in both 2000 and 2003.
While those accomplishments impress longtime Met Area journalist Andrew Gross, he insists that his favorite Elias moment is rooted in Patrik’s last game as a Devil.
“This happened to be Pavel Zacha’s rookie season,” said Gross, soon to be reporting for Newsday, “and the kid looked up to Patrik as his idol. It did my heart good to see how the Czech veteran made the young man so happy.”
As it happened both Elias and Zacha each recorded assists on Kyle Palmieri‘s goal leading to a 5-1 victory that included a goal and pair of helpers over Toronto.
“Being on a line with Patrik is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” said Zacha.
Take a look back at Patrik Elias' emotional final game with the New Jersey Devils, where he scored his last career goal.
Another Patrik “helper” happens to be Mrs. Elias, alias Petra, a former TV reporter in the Czech Republic. They have two daughters, Sophia, 7, and Kaila, who will be 4 on Sunday. He considers fatherhood, “One of the biggest things in my life.”
“Family means everything for him,” Petra revealed. “He became an amazing father; the type who likes to go to their clubs after school.”
Patrik will tell you that the Devils were his second “family” from the moment he played his first NHL game Dec. 7, 1995.
In no time at all, Elias was teamed with his Czech buddy, Sykora, who made his New Jersey debut on Oct. 28, 1995.
It wasn’t until Arnott was traded to the Devils on Jan. 4, 1998 that the A-Line was welded into a formidable trio. For two seasons, they romped like three kids having a ball both on and off the ice.
But when all is said and done, reflecting on the banner-raising, the records and the Cup wins, it all seems to come down to a miracle that this marvelous man survived to tell the tale.
If any headline could be affixed to the Patrik Elias saga, it would have to be RESTORED TO LIFE.
Few could have put a better tagline on the man than his wife who remembered the endless days of her husband’s hospitalization.
Patrik Elias' wife Petra talks about how they met, what Patty's family means to him and how much he loved being a member of the New Jersey Devils.
“It helped him a lot as a person because Patrik understood that when something so strong, so important, so close to death happens, that he had to get back.”
Nor will I ever forget that day in the West Orange park when a wizened Elias looked like he’d never play hockey again.
Which is yet another reason why there’ll be more one tear in my eyes when #26 is hauled toward the roof of The Rock!
[Watch Full Coverage of the Elias Ceremony Saturday at 6 PM on MSG+ & MSG GO]