Now that my jaw has been put back in place after being on the ground for most of the day…
With the bombshell news that Adam Henrique and Joe Blandisi have been traded to Anaheim for Sami Vatanen…I lost the two players that bridged my 7 years covering–and being a fan of–the A-Devils.
Let’s start with Rico, since I’ve known him the longest.
Back in 2010, when New Jersey returned to Albany after a 4 year hiatus in Lowell, I had to start making the transition from knowing who was who in the Hurricanes organization to refreshing my memory on who was still with the Devils. About 95 percent of who was with the River Rats in 2006-the last year of the original NJ-Albany partnership-had moved on to other teams. I only knew a few names from that last season in Lowell (i.e. Stephen Gionta, Tim Sestito, Louis Robitaille), and I hadn’t really done my homework on who New Jersey had drafted in the last 4 years because, well, at the time I wasn’t that into watching draft picks.
So, as the new team arrived and I started watching, getting to know the players and their skill sets, Rico was probably one of the few more consistent guys on that 2010-11 team (remember, this was back in the days of Lou, David Conte and the AHL team got whatever body off the scrap heap that may have a shot).
Off the ice, in the rare chances I got to interact with anyone on the team (remember, what’s social media in 2010?), he was always one of the players I talked to the most. I never had a problem with asking and getting autographs or photos with him (and he had the Rico smile, even back then). I still tell everyone the story of how at the Booster Club bowlathon midseason I needed someone to take a photo of me and Nathan Perkovich on the lanes, and he volunteered to do it. And nearly took a selfie of himself with my camera (if only he actually did take a photo…) in the process.
So when he finally made New Jersey for good back in 2011-12…I had found my favorite NHL Devil. Of course, I’ll forever be grateful for that one fateful goal…the one where I screamed so loud at Recovery Room in Troy I’m sure people in Vermont heard me…
When he came back down to Albany in 2012 during the lockout–this was a few months later–he still remembered the fanbase, actually coming right to my group one night post game early in the season. Now, normally I can handle myself around players, but on this particular night, when I saw him in the doorway in the back entrance of the arena, I was literally star struck. Luckily, I got myself together just in time. Unfortunately, an injury in late November that year cut his visit short, and he would return to Jersey to rehab till after the lockout ended.
But the best moment was probably that first home preseason game in September 2015, the first official Welcome to the Shero Era night, I guess you could say. A friend and I decided last minute to get tickets for that game, and I remember standing in line at a Starbucks on the Thruway and finding out via Twitter we could meet Rico before the game. HOLY CRAP!
So…we waited for the right time to get into the Rock–Cory, Palms, and Andy Greene were also part of the welcoming committee–and followed the rush of people upstairs to the concourse and waited patiently. When it got to be our turn, he saw both of us and his face lit up instantly. The fact he still remembered who we were after all this time…thismoment is why I’m involved in hockey. It was a very quick 30 second conversation and a photo, but to me, it was worth it. Of course, stupid me doesn’t get my newly lettered Rico jersey signed at that time (smacks self hard again).
On the same night this happened, I was introduced to Blender. Well, the on ice version of him anyway.
The kid was all over the place in that game against the Islanders. Fighting, scoring, you name it. I was so impressed that I figured I’d never see him come down to Albany.
Well…a couple of weeks later, there he was, walking around at the preseason Fan Fest at the arena. I introduced myself to him and had mentioned how much I liked his play in Jersey, that I was happy to have him in Albany and I wasn’t going to let him leave (he laughed at that comment).
Blender, to me, was one of those players you couldn’t help but love watching him play, no matter what he did on the ice. Pregame habits–soccer, jumping into the glass during warmup–became normal parts of my game day the last two A-Devils seasons while he was here. Off the ice, he was such a wonderful person to get along with. I even got to know his mom a bit since the family came down from Ontario to visit quite often.
Out of everything I miss with the move to Binghamton, I think my conversations with Blender postgame (when I actually did stick around) are one of the things I’m missing the most so far. Just simple non hockey talks about random stuff, basically. Luckily, I did get to see him in both my trips to see the Devils this season. I had told him I’d see him in Utica in December…well, I guess not now.
Adam and Joe…thank you so much for helping shape 7 years of local memories for me. Enjoy the sun in Anaheim. I’ll miss you tons, but hopefully I will see you on the ice again soon.