By Jeff O’Connor
Tom Chorske is a former New Jersey Devils forward who spent four seasons with the organization, including playing a role on the 1994-95 Stanley Cup championship team. He was named Mr. Hockey for the state of Minnesota in 1985 and had a 13-year NHL career. He is currently a business professional in the Minneapolis area as well as a hockey analyst for Fox Sports North. Tom recently took some time to sit down with us for a Q&A.
Devils Insders: Tom, you remember going through a shortened season due to a lockout in 1994-95. What do you remember, on and off the ice?
Tom Chorske: I remember it being a pretty awkward experience. It doesn’t feel good from the stand point of a player-organization relationship or player-fan relationship. I remember being relieved and it excited when it was over. For us, we were in a situation where we had so much success; we were dying to get back at it and try to carry the forward the momentum we had created. We were essentially the same group, maybe even better and a little wiser. Guys like Brian Rolston were one year older…Scott Niedermayer, Martin Brodeur. These guys were just coming into the peak of what turned out to be great careers.
Devils Insiders: What was the biggest goal you scored during your time in New Jersey?
Tom Chorske: Probably1 994…I had a two-goal game in a playoff series against the Boston Bruins. We came home and won to end their season. (Editor’s Note: The Devils fell behind in the series 2-0, but Chorske had two goals and one assist in Game Three at Boston, including the game-winning goal to send the Devils on their way to four straight wins in the series)
Devils Insiders: When you got to New Jersey, the Devils fanbase was really starting to grow as they got further away from the “Mickey Mouse Era”. What do you remember about the fans during your time there?
Tom Chorske: I got there and they went through that evolution of rebuilding. We had a smaller core group of fans, but they were really diehards. Early on, the Devils Fan Club was pretty well subscribed and very loyal. They were big supporters. As we started having success and winning, that obviously allowed people to sit up and notice and maybe feel good about pulling for us as opposed to pulling for the New York Rangers, which they essentially had grown up on. People would always say, “You guys are doing great; no offense, I’m a Rangers fan.” They would say, “I used to go to the games as a kid or my dad would bring me to the games.” You can’t argue with that but once in a while you’d say, “Well you’re a big boy now, you can make your own decisions.” It took winning games and having success in the playoffs to turn the tide. A lot of credit goes to Lou Lamoriello and the scouts and Jacques Lemaire that they really built a culture that lasted. They always had a core group of players that were very committed to the system and built that culture that educated any players that came after them. That really set the tone that there was a certain culture that exists with the New Jersey Devils that was a good one. Lou takes criticism for certain things, but he really protected the culture of the lockerroom and the Devils style and brand.
Devils Insiders: Have a favorite teammate during your time with the Devils?
Tom Chorske: Craig Billington…I consider a good friend and a wise, smart guy. He was helpful to me. Johnny MacLean was always a great teammate. Love Ken Daneyko, he was another guy who I spent time with in my early years. He was a character and fun to be around. Billy Guerin…was another guy that was fun but a really solid guy. Even Bruce Driver and tons of respect for Scott Stevens. I didn’t spend tons of time away from the rink with him but it was an honor to suit up and play with him because he was such a competitor and a really strong leader on the ice.
Devils Insiders: Have a favorite spot to hang out after games?
Tom Chorske: We used to head back to where we were living and the Verona Inn was kind of our spot in the 93-94, 94-95 era. It was a quiet spot…tucked out of the way. People didn’t bug us very much. It was right in our backyard. We weren’t going into the city routinely to hang out. You went to the city to maybe try a new restaurant or to take in a new show.
Devils Insiders: You were waived by the Devils four days before the 1995-96 season. After being claimed by the Ottawa Senators, you played the Devils on the final day of the regular season and scored a couple of goals to bury their chances of making the playoffs. Can you go through that swing of emotions?
Tom Chorske: It was tough to leave. I tried to put on a brave face and accept it as going to a team that needed me and wanted me. It was awfully hard to leave behind the team that I had just won the Stanley Cup with. It stinks. No question. You can kind of reason it out that they had some young players that were going to come into the system and my number was up. It was a tough adjustment once I got to Ottawa. The culture in NJ had evolved to something that was unique and special. Ottawa hadn’t quite got there. They were playing in their old, original building which was in downtown Ottawa. I went from a winning culture and a very close-knit culture to an environment that hadn’t quite found its way yet; a lot of players coming in and out of the lineup; getting called up and sent down and traded away. That year, we went through three coaches and two general managers. It wasn’t until the end of the year when we had Jacques Martin and Pierre Gauthier as GM; we made some major trades. We got Damian Rhodes as a goalie. By the end, we were settling into something. We were playing a little better. We had gotten a fresh start. We went into our last game of the season and New Jersey had to win it. The hockey gods were smiling on me. I don’t remember feeling revengeful going into the game. I remember feeling that we had nothing to lose, to try and win the game. I wanted to play well. I’m sure we did say, “Let’s spoil their season,” but that doesn’t stick out because I think its overshadowed now because I did score two goals. I think I scored the tying goal and then the final goal, which put it out of reach. I remember afterward feeling pretty satisfied that some sort of justice was served. I wasn’t wallowing in the fact that those guys hadn’t made the playoffs, which was obviously very disappointing and maybe embarrassing and disheartening, but I was happy for myself. For how hard it was leave, it gave me a little bit of a boost in that I was able to come back and show them that I was a good player and that maybe they made a mistake.
Devils Insiders: You’ve spent some time off the ice, doing on-camera and radio work in hockey. Do you ever see yourself getting back into the NHL as a coach or front office executive?
Tom Chorske: I guess those are hard jobs to get. They’re not easy to find and there’s not that many. I guess I’m enjoying watching the game and being around it. I’m coaching at the high school level and I do TV work at the college level. I do think about coaching more and more. I’ve toyed with the idea at times of scouting as a starting point to returning to the NHL. I don’t think it’s realistic that I would ever be given the opportunity to coach in the NHL. At this stage, it would be a long road to get there. I love the idea of it because I love being around the game and I love working with players and helping them figure out how to improve, change their game or get back on track. Helping them is what’s so rewarding for me as a coach of a high school team in Minneapolis along with another NHL player in Joe Dziedzic. I’ve also toyed with the idea of getting into a front office job more so than a coaching job. I’ve been in the business community now for 12+ years. I’ve learned a few things. Helping an organization like the Wild from the front office standpoint is something I think I can do. I understand the business side; marketing, branding, corporate relationships, etc. I believe I do have a skill set to do that but again, those jobs aren’t easy to come by. If I don’t have it on my resume, I can plead my case but someone may not take a chance on me. But I’m around a lot. It’s fascinating, the business side of NHL organizations. It’s pretty intriguing.