Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Joe Cirella

Long time New Jersey Devils defenseman Joe Cirella took a while to find his NHL groove. It did not help that high expectations were heaped upon him back in the 1980s when the Devils were one of the weakest teams in the league.

Cirella was actually drafted 5th overall in 1981 by the Colorado Rockies, and played his rookie season the following season in Denver. In 1982-83 the Rockies packed up and moved to New Jersey, but aside from 2 games Cirella did not. He was returned to junior, where he probably should have played the season before, too. He had only one season of junior behind him, and though he was dominant with the Oshawa Generals (at the end of the millennium he and Bobby Orr were named as the two greatest dmen in Generals history), he was clearly rushed into the National Hockey League and his confidence was shot because of that.

Cirella returned in 1983-84, this time to stay in the NHL for the next 13 years. Much of that time was spent with the Devils, but he also played with the Nordiques, the Rangers, the Panthers and ever so briefly with the Senators.

Cirella offered a big and strong presence in front of his own net and in the corners. He was not afraid to hit hard or to do the dirty work. He was certainly no heavyweight, but he was known to drop the gloves a few times each season.

Defensively he could be caught wandering out of position, and struggled with his back skating at any great speed. As he matured he learned to play within his limitations and offer solid minutes of play. He may be best remembered in New Jersey for playing on a tandem with Randy Velischek.

Skating forward was a strength for Cirella. He had a strong burst of speed off his first couple of strides, and caught the opposition by surprise by carrying the puck out of the New Jersey zone to relieve the pressure. He never had much agility or puck skills to do much more than hit the center line and dump the puck in.

In 828 games Joe Cirella scored 64 goals, 211 assists for 275 points. Most of his offense came from point shots from the blue line, though once in a while he would surprise everyone by jumping into the slot for a one timer.

Joe Cirella was a solid NHL depth defenseman for many years. Had he not been rushed out of junior and had better coaching and support early in his NHL career, he may have come closer to achieving the high expectations placed upon after his amazing junior season and high NHL draft ranking.


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