NEWARK, NJ — Patrik Elias may have grown up in Trebíč, Czechoslovakia, but the New Jersey Devils legend and West Orange resident has formed an unbreakable bond with the New Jersey community.
Saturday night at Prudential Center, the Devils’ all-time scoring leader skated with his team one final time after announcing his retirement from the National Hockey League (NHL) last Friday. Devils fans of all ages flocked to “The Rock” in droves to pay their respects to one of the greatest players to ever don the red and black Devils sweater, as he participated in a skate around prior to the night’s Devils-Islanders game.
Elias had nothing but praise for those fans, many of them from local communities in New Jersey.
“You don’t realize how much a big deal it [local fan support] is to you, how much it influences your life and effects your daily life,” Elias said.
Elias’ stardom gained as a New Jersey Devils has even given him some unique experiences, even privileges, in local communities.
“Thursday, I was going home after the game and they were fixing a road up in West Orange, and I couldn’t get home, couldn’t make a turn and they were sending me a different way. I roll my window down and the guy goes: ‘Oh, you’re lucky you’re retired, just go ahead!’ And the policemen, they were nice and it was great — I didn’t make anything illegal or anything — but I had to get home,” the 40-year-old Elias said. “Those are the kinds of things that you don’t realize — that you are part of the community and they know you because you’re a public figure, and you just appreciate it so much, that they notice and that they appreciate what you do.”
Elias nearly came to tears Saturday night when his family accompanied him on the ice during his puck drop ceremony prior to the game. His daughters, Kaila and Sophia, along with wife Petra, have also been welcomed with open arms by the Devils and Garden State community. The community’s support of Elias’ family has made the five-time all star even further admire and salute the locals.
“Especially when you have kids, all of a sudden they [the community] realize you a lot more, with the schools and the Kindergartens, Pre-Ks, everything. The people have just been unbelievable to me and to my family,” said Elias.
Selected in the second round of the 1994 NHL Entry Draft by the Devils, Elias spent all 20 of his NHL season in New Jersey with the Devils. The left wing helped the Devils win Stanley Cups in 1999-00 and 2002-03. He is the Devils’ all-time leader in goals (408), assists (617) and points (1,025). The Devils have announced his jersey number 26 will be retired next season.
And the local community will be supportive of “Patty” — a legend — every step of the way.