The New Jersey Devils unveiled their Ring of Honor back in 2017. They honored their original owner and founder of the team, John J. McMullen as the first inductee that same year. Since then, the Devils have not only not inducted anyone else but haven’t even acknowledged the Ring of Honor still exists. That is until last week when the team announced that they will induct the second member in the Ring of Honor in a game on Jan. 20, 2024, vs. the Dallas Stars. There are certainly a ton of great options when it comes to choosing who should be inducted.
Some names that will come up will be Mike “Doc” Emrick, Jaques Lemaire and even Lou Lamoriello. While all three and others rightfully deserve to be recognized, there is one player that has yet to be given the recognition or honor that they deserve. His resume truly speaks volumes for what he has meant to New Jersey. He is the only member of all three Stanley Cup teams that doesn’t have his name retired. He’s top 20 in goals, assists and points in Devils’ franchise history. He played his entire career in the Garden State and is still coaching for the organization to this day. That man is Sergei “Sarge” Brylin.
Brylin’s Mark in New Jersey as a Player
Brylin was drafted by the Red and Black in the second round of the 1992 NHL Draft. He played in the league from 1994-95 to 2007-08. He spent his entire 13-year career with the Devils and had a major impact long-term. He was undoubtedly a gamer and was as reliable as any guy during the late ’90s and early 2000s. Even if he never put up league-shattering numbers, the Russian winger was always ready when it came to being clutch. This was never more apparent than in Game 4 of the 1995 Stanley Cup Final.
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His first and only goal of the Cup Final put the nail in the coffin vs. the Detroit Red Wings and all but wrapped up a shocking sweep of Detroit to earn New Jersey’s first Cup win. Legendary writer Stan “Mavin” Fischler put it best when talking about that goal. “Sergei’s goal in Game 4 of the 1995 Final against Detroit proved a key to the remarkable sweep.”
Another example of Brylin’s ability to impact a Stanley Cup championship was in the 2000 Final vs. the Stars when then-head coach Larry Robinson put the winger on a line with Jay Pandolfo and John Madden. This proved to be the key shutdown line vs. Dallas’ top talent in Mike Modano, Brett Hull, Jamie Langebrunner and Joe Nieuwendyk. With the success of that shutdown line, New Jersey was able to knock off the defending champions in six games to clinch the franchise’s second Stanley Cup in five years.
A final example showcased Brylin’s versatility as a forward. Since he was able to play on both wings as well as the center position, head coach Pat Burns was able to pencil in his name for any game and any matchup the team faced. Brylin did well being a bottom-six grinder forward as he routinely found ways the get the puck out of his zone quickly and set up the high-end forward talent the team had. This selfless play was perfect for New Jersey as they were able to defeat the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in seven games for the team’s third Stanley Cup.
His Invaluable Coaching Efforts
After Brylin retired, he immediately made an impact on New Jersey as a coach. He began his career within the organization with the Albany Devils, the team’s American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate. They later became the Binghamton Devils, and before the 2020-21 season, switched to the Utica Comets. That season, Comets head coach Kevin Dineen announced that Sarge would be one of his assistant coaches. In his time in the minors, Brylin has helped guide and develop many of the Devils’ prospects. Players like Fabian Zetterlund, Nolan Foote, Kevin Bahl, and Alexander Holtz have all in one way or another benefited from the veteran’s knowledge.
Finally, just before last season, the Devils brought Brylin back up to the big club as they announced him as an assistant coach under Lindy Ruff. It was received unanimously as a great hire, and he did not disappoint at all. Last season, Brylin ran the man advantage unit (21.9 percent power-play percentage in 2022-23) and built close relationships with young players like Alexander Holtz and Kevin Bahl during his stint in Utica. Plus, his “eye-in-the-sky” experience this season played a major role in Ruff’s game-to-game adjustments. (From ‘Why Devils should promote assistant Sergei Brylin after Andrew Brunette departure’, NJ.com, 05/31/2023)
With his help, the Devils finally broke out of their long rebuild, and with a historic season, made it back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In doing so, many players had breakout seasons, including Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt and Dawson Mercer. Heading into 2023-24, Brylin will continue to provide his knowledge and expertise to a Devils’ team poised for a Stanley Cup run.
Brylin has given everything to this organization. As a player, as a coach, as a mentor, and as a symbol, Brylin is without question what it truly means to be a New Jersey Devil. While he should have his No. 18 jersey hanging in the rafters, the next best thing would be to finally give him his flowers and have him inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor. A tribute like that is truly worthy for a man who is a New Jersey Devil through and through.