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Devils offer unique blend of players - many Americans, few Euros

And one European, Swedish-born defenceman Johnny Oduya, didn't play in the first three games of the Devils' NHL Eastern Conference playoff series against the Ottawa Senators.

There has long been a strong contingent of Americans on U.S.-born general manager and coach Lou Lamoriello's clubs, but he said the dearth of Europeans is not due to any bias or preference where nationality is concerned.

"It's just something that occured," he said Wednesday. "You draft players that you feel will fit into your system.

"We've drafted as many from Europe as we have from anywhere else and, as they come up, they sort of decide who is going to play and who isn't."

In an era when more than half the players on some clubs are from across the Atlantic, New Jersey's only European regulars are playmaking winger Patrick Elias of the Czech Republic and checking forward Sergei Brylin of Russia, both career Devils.

The Senators are tilted the other way, with 14 Canadians, two Americans and six Europeans, making the series almost a Canada-U.S. showdown.

That counts star winger Dany Heatley as Canadian, although he was born in Freiburg, Germany.

Some could say the Devils' tight-checking, low-scoring style is partly to do with the low number from Europe, which produces many free-wheeling scorers.

But the Anaheim Ducks, who score a lot, also only have three Europeans, and one of them is backup goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.

The flashy players in this series are Canadians Heatley and Jason Spezza for Ottawa and Elias as well as Americans Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez and Zach Parise for New Jersey, plus the Senators' Swedish captain Daniel Alfredsson.

Lamoriello's view is that a player is a player, and it is not the mix of nationalities that decides the character of the team.

"It still comes down to the personality of the individual, no matter where they're from," he said. "That's the one thing that doesn't change, personality."

On the Devils, that means players who play smart, disciplined hockey and are focused on winning. And it's partly why there was no sign of panic when they went down 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.

"It's the personality of this team - it's unique," he said. "They understand when they're wrong or right and getting ready for the next game is the most important thing."

Whatever the mix, Lamoriello's clubs have been successful, winning three Stanley Cups since 1995.

The 1995 team had four Europeans, in 2000 there were seven and in 2003 it had five.

Brylin and goaltender Martin Brodeur played on all three championship teams.

"The teams that we had success with had some Europeans," said Brodeur, a Montreal native. "The makeup of a team has nothing to do with the nationalities of the players.

"It's how you blend together and how you try to be as jelled as possible."

The Devils' other Canadians are defencemen Colin White, Richard Matvichuk and Brad Lukowich and forwards John Madden and Travis Zajac.

The playoff team using the most Europeans is Detroit with 12, followed by the New York Rangers with 11 and Buffalo with 10.

The International Ice Hockey Federation reports that the percentage of European players in the NHL has decreased from 30.3 per cent in 2001-02 to 27.2 per cent.

That is partly due to the lack of a transfer agreement with Russia, which has kept some Russians at home. The Russian league is also encouraging players to stay home with attractive salaries and low taxes.



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