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Tom and Trish Zajac need different TV sets to watch their son play hockey

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NEWARK, N.J. -- Tom and Trish Zajac can't sit in the same room when they watch their son Travis playing for the New Jersey Devils on TV.

"She likes to yap. I have to say she's the typical parent in that she knows everything. When the coach is wrong or the referee or whatever," said Tom, who along with Trish and their three other sons will be tuning in today when the Devils meet the Los Angeles Kings in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final.

"I don't like to tell her this... well... you know most hockey parents don't know near as much about the game as they think they do, but she's almost always right. But I can't tell her that."

The Devils trail the Kings 3-1 in the best-of-seven and remain on the brink after getting their first win on Wednesday.

"Our focus in Game 4 was to get back to New Jersey. Now we'll try and get back to L.A.," said Travis Zajac. "We can't look past this game and worry about the challenge. It's just win another game for us."

Zajac is the oldest of four hockey playing brothers who grew up in Tom and Trish's Garden City home. Younger brothers Darcy and Kelly are also in the Devils organization and both players finished last season with the AHL's Albany Devils.

Nolan Zajac, the youngest of the brood, is headed to the University of Denver next season where Tom played in the 1970s.

"We played a lot of hockey together growing up. It was always Nolan and I against the two middle brothers and then whoever was losing would get my dad," said Travis, following the Devils workout on Friday. "We did a lot together and we learned a lot about hard work from our parents."

Zajac played his community club hockey at Vince Leah and then graduated to the Winnipeg Hawks before heading out west for a couple of seasons with the BCHL's Salmon Arm Silverbacks, where he was recruited by the University of North Dakota.

Selected by the Devils in the first round of the 2004 draft, Zajac spent two games in the AHL before moving up the bigs where he's been ever since, scoring 91 goals and 164 assists over 423 games.

"He does so much that you guys don't notice," said linemate Zach Parise. "He doesn't have to be on the scoresheet to have an impact on a game for us. He plays in all situations and is our No. 1 centre. He's a big part of what we do here."

Brandon native and Devils veteran Bryce Salvador says he and Zajac became good friends this season and underneath Zajac's quiet demeanour lies a sneaky sense of humour.

"He's a silent leader. I've gotten to know him a lot better this season. We found that our Manitoba connections led to us having a lot in common," said Salvador. "He doesn't say much but when he does it usually leaves you laughing. It's like the way he plays. He's under the radar and a lot of people don't realize how effective he is and what a solid two-way player he is. But I can tell you that 29 other GMs in the league would love to have him."

The Zajacs run a Co-op gas station on Henderson Highway and Travis worked there for a number of years.

"My dad might tell you it was to teach us about hard work but it was really just so he could have four workers that he could pay less than minimum wage," said Zajac. "Nothing comes for free in life and if we wanted money to spend on going to the movies or whatever, we went to work."

Now that movie money isn't as much of an issue, Zajac is in the middle of a four-year, $15.5-million contract, big brother helps out when needed.

"He's a good big brother. When he has an opportunity to make things a little easier on his brothers or do something for them he does," said Tom Zajac. "But they don't expect anything from him. When he helps they are thankful. They're a pretty good group. The younger guys are always paying attention to what Travis is doing. But he spends just as much time following up on them."

An Achilles injury kept Zajac out of the lineup for most of last season and he struggled down the stretch but coach Pete DeBoer knew what a return to health for his top centre would mean to his team.

"I did have a good idea of what we were getting, how good a player Travis was. I had the luxury of coaching him last year in the world championships. He was a key guy for us over there," said DeBoer. "Having worked with him for a month, I knew his upside, how important he would be. I also recognized the huge hole and the loss when we found out in late August he would be missing most of the year with an Achilles. When he came back, it didn't come easily."

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 9, 2012 C1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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