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20 years ago Stephane Richer and the Devils changed the NHL
Jacques Lemaire's defensive system won the Cup on June 24, 1995
When the Devils brought back most of the 1995 team in March to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the franchise's first Stanley Cup championship, Stephane Richer was one of those who could not make it.
It was not because the talented right winger didn't want to come.
"I had four promotions with the Canadiens and they were already booked for almost a year and a half. I couldn't cancel because there were promises made to kids and I was way up north with Chris Nilan," Richer told NJ Advance Media two weeks after the actual June 24,1995, anniversary.
"I was at the tip of northern Quebec. Lou (Lamoriello) tried his best to try to find me a flight in time, but there were no flights from up there. It was impossible for me."
Richer, now 49, believes that '95 Devils team changed the course of NHL history by playing a defensive style that is still used: Jacques Lemaire's neutral zone trap.
"Jacques was a genius. He made us believe we could win by playing the system," Richer recalled. "We had Marty (Brodeur) in the net and some toughness up front. That's how we beat the Flyers and Detroit."
It was, he guesses, the first time that system was truly implemented.
"I guess you can say that. Some other teams probably would have liked to play that system but we had the talent to do it," Richer noted. "We had great defensemen, guys like Nieder (Scott Niedermayer), Dano (Ken Daneyko) and Scotty Stevens.
"We had guys who could score 30-35 goals a year but we believed in our system. I would've liked to score 45 goals, but that wasn't the plan. The plan was for all of us to play well defensively.
"People make me laugh when they mention the trap. Everybody plays the trap now. I believe the Rangers did in the playoffs and Tampa did a great job playing it against Montreal. And with video now, you don't see many goals. That's how Tampa beat Montreal in the playoffs. They scored one more goal on the power play every game and that was the difference."
It's been 20 years since that team started the Devils' dynasty and changed hockey. On July 10, 1995, nine members of the organization were invited to the White House.
"It seems like yesterday. It was an unbelievable ride," Richer remembered of that run. "We weren't supposed to win. People said we didn't have enough experience and we didn't have enough good players to win the Cup. But we shut down Detroit in four games.
"I'm always proud to say I was part of that group. Look at the careers guys had --Billy Guerin, Brian Rolston and Bobby Holik. It's funny now to see Martin with St. Louis. It's amazing that group. Lou and Jacques and Larry (Robinson) deserve all the credit for that."
After one more season with the Devils, Richer was traded to the Canadiens on Aug. 22, 1996, for Lyle Odelein. Richer eventually returned to the Devils to play 10 more games in 2001-02 before his NHL career ended.
"I wish I could've been in better shape once in a while mentally," Richer reflected. "I don't want to talk anymore about what I went through. But what I did despite my personal situation is play over 1,000 games, play a lot of playoff games and be a part of a lot of Stanley Cup Finals. I can't go back and correct anything. I was hoping to play one game in the NHL and I played over 1,000. I'm happy."
Four months ago the Devils held a '95 anniversary reunion game on Mar. 7 and a ceremony on the Prudential Center ice Mar. 8.
Goalie Yann Danis returns to Devils; defenseman Marc-Andre Gagnani signed
Danis backed up Martin Brodeur in 2009-10
Ray Shero has found the free agent goaltender on his list and he's a familiar face.
Yann Danis, who backed up Martin Brodeur and played 12 games for the Devils in 2009-10, signed a 1-year, 2-way contract for an NHL salary of $575,000.
The Devils also signed defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani to a 1-year, 2-way deal for the minimum NHL salary of $575,000.
Danis, 34, split last season between Norfolk and Hartford in the AHL. He was 5-6-0 with a 2.72 goals-against average and .914 save percentage in 11 games for Norfolk and 12-7-4 with a 2.35 GAA and .921 save percentage in 24 games for Hartford.
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Gragnani, 28, played the past two seasons in Switzerland. He's played in the NHL with the Sabres, Canucks and Hurricanes.