The last time New Jersey Devils’ center Travis Zajac played in front on his hometown crowd it was when he was sixteen and playing junior hockey. Tonight Zajac finally has the opportunity to play the Winnipeg Jets in Canada after the team moved from Atlanta last year.
Last season, Zajac missed out on both road games to his birthplace and off-season home since he was recuperating from surgery on his Achilles tendon.
It was disappointing and he is looking forward to playing his first NHL game in his hometown.
When he was a boy, Zajac used to dream of pulling on a jersey for the Jets.
“Once they left,” Zajac reminisced to reporters after practice. “You thought they were gone for good. It was exciting to see them come back.”
Another childhood milestone was watching Teemu Selanne setting the NHL rookie record for goals scored. Selanne netted seventy-six during the 1992-93 season.
“Selanne’s rookie record for goals sticks out more than anything,” Zajac continued. “That was cool. Throwing the glove up and shooting it. I’m sure I did that a lot growing up on the outdoor rinks.”
The 27 year old won’t be pretending to shoot any gloves tonight though he would like to put one in.
His goal on Sunday was his first in five games and his second in seventeen. The Winnipeg native hasn’t exactly been setting the goal on fire since signing his eight year contract extension for $46 million in January shortly after the lockout ended.
However, Coach Pete DeBoer isn’t overly concerned.
“I like Travis’ game,” DeBoer told reporters earlier this week. “He does so many little things well that you don’t notice on the score sheet. From a statistics point of view, he’s not where he wants to be. I feel he has obviously more upside there. It’s never for a lack of effort with him. For me, it’s just a matter or time. Hopefully, last game’s goal gets him going in the right direction that way.”
Perhaps a trip home will be the shot in the arm Zajac’s game needs.
“Just another game,” Zajac quipped with a smile. “There will be a lot of friends and family at the game. It’s pretty exciting. I haven’t had a chance to play in front of a lot of these people. So it’s going to be a neat experience.”
It’s also a must win for the sliding Devils.