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Schwartz: Former Owner John McMullen Set To Become First Inductee Into Devils Ring Of Honor

By Peter Schwartz
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June 24, 1995.

Tears of joy came streaming down the face of Devils owner Dr. John J. McMullen after his team had just beaten the Detroit Red Wings 5-2 in the Meadowlands to complete a sweep in the Stanley Cup Final.

Thirteen years after bringing NHL hockey to New Jersey, McMullen was hoisting the Stanley Cup for the first time and was smiling ear to ear.

"I know what it meant to him," former Devils defenseman Ken Daneyko told "The smile on his face is still engraved in my mind. All of his hard work and dedication to the game, to the Devils and bringing them there paid off."

The Devils would win one more Stanley Cup with McMullen as owner in 2000 before hoisting the Cup yet again in 2003. But it was the night of that first title that would cement McMullen's legacy. After all, he was the man who purchased the Colorado Rockies on May 27, 1982, and moved them to the Garden State, where they were renamed the New Jersey Devils on June 30 of that year.

McMullen, who died in 2005 at the age of 87, will become the first person inducted into the team's Ring of Honor on Friday prior to the Devils' game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Prudential Center. He will be represented at the ceremony by his wife, Jacqueline; son Peter; and other family members. There also will be Devils alumni on hand, including Daneyko, John MacLean and Glenn "Chico" Resch.

"It's certainly going to be a very special moment," Daneyko said. "I couldn't think of anybody else as far as starting a Ring of Honor."

John J. McMullen
Former Devils owner John J. McMullen (Photo courtesy of New Jersey Devils)

Daneyko is one of four Devils to have his number retired -- his No. 3 jersey hangs alongside Martin Brodeur (30), Scott Niedermayer (27) and Scott Stevens (4) in the rafters of "The Rock." But when the Devils were sold to David Blitzer and Josh Harris in August 2013, the new management not only wanted to celebrate and maintain the team's existing traditions, but they also wanted to create some new ones.

The Devils Ring of Honor will be located on the north side of the Prudential Center below the championship banners along about 12 different panels above the seats on the 100 level. It will celebrate those people who had a significant impact on the franchise but might not be a player who would have his number retired.

"We see this as something that stands alone from the performance on the ice and at the level of getting your number retired," said Hugh Weber, president of the Devils and the Prudential Center. "It's another opportunity for us to recognize folks beyond just retiring numbers."

As McMullen becomes the first person to be honored, there will certainly be a lot of emotions running through everyone in the building, including his family, members of the organization past and present, fans and, of course, the alumni. Daneyko had a very special relationship with McMullen, whom he called "Dr. Mac."

"He was like a second father to me, and no doubt I loved the man," said Daneyko, who is currently the Devils' analyst on MSG+ telecasts. "He was there for me, not only on the ice but more importantly off the ice. He taught me a lot about life, always had my back and was loyal to a fault at times. That was just the man he was."

So for everything he meant to the Devils and to hockey in New Jersey, McMullen will be honored on Friday by an organization that he built basically from the ground up after the move from Denver.

"It became obvious that we would start with someone like Dr. McMullen because there would likely not be an NHL team in New Jersey if it were not for the effort of what he did in the '80s to make sure that the team was moved from Colorado," Weber said.

McMullen transformed what Oilers star Wayne Gretzky called a "Mickey Mouse operation" after a 13-4 loss to Edmonton during the 1983-84 season into a Stanley Cup championship team.

"To go from a dysfunctional organization from when he bought the team, when people thought he was nuts to do it, to being a championship team and winning three times -- he was the architect of all of that," Daneyko said.

John J. McMullen
Owner John J. McMullen and the New Jersey Devils visit President Bill Clinton at the White House after winning the Stanley Cup in 1995. (Photo courtesy of New Jersey Devils)

It took a lot of patience and vision, but McMullen eventually pushed the right buttons, such as with the hiring of team president and general manager Lou Lamoriello, who will be on hand for the ceremony to honor the man who gave him a chance in the NHL.

"(McMullen) was taking a risk with a college guy in his 40s to turn this thing around and then to make us respectable," Daneyko said of Lamoriello.

For years to come, McMullen's impact on the Devils will be remembered both inside and outside the Prudential Center.

As part of the Ring of Honor ceremony, McMullen will be also be honored by the Devils and the City of Newark with the dedication of the stretch of Lafayette Street adjacent to "The Rock" between Broad Street and Mulberry Street in his name. During the game, the Devils will wear their current white jerseys to honor McMullen's first Stanley Cup win in 1995 while the alumni will wear original white, red and green jerseys during the pregame ceremony. All players, past and present, will wear a limited-edition patch that will honor the Devils former owner.

Also, the first 9,000 fans in attendance will receive a commemorative Ring of Honor pin. It would be appropriate for fans to place that pin over their hearts because McMullen poured all of his into the Devils, and he respected others who did the same.

Devils Ring of Honor pin
The first 9,000 fans in attendance at the Devils' game on Jan. 6, 2017, will receive a commemorative Ring of Honor pin. (Photo courtesy of New Jersey Devils)

"If you wore your heart on your sleeve, wore a Devils logo crest, and you believed in it, he was going to go to the umpteen degree for you," Daneyko said. "He certainly did that with me, and he was a very special friend."

NHL hockey arrived in New Jersey on Oct. 5, 1982, when the Devils played the Penguins to a 3-3 tie. There were many down times that followed, but the good times began in 1988, when the Devils made the playoffs for the first time. Then, the fun really started when Lord Stanley arrived in 1995. He would come back again two more times.

None of it would have been possible without Dr. John J. McMullen.

Don't forget to follow Pete on Twitter @pschwartzcbsfan.

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