Today, the New Jersey Devils opened up the lower concourse of the Prudential Center for their second annual season ticket holder BBQ. OK, it wasn't outdoors and didn't feature open grilling, so feel free to quibble that it wasn't a traditional barbecue. Nevertheless, a good turnout (considering the New York Giants were
shooting themselves in the foot playing in East Rutherford at the same time) of season ticket holders showed and had a good time. As a season ticket holder myself, I took it upon myself not only to show up in a In Lou We Trust t-shirt and enjoy the event; but to take plenty of pictures as well. (Note: The following links go to pictures, those after the jump won't be linked but embedded. Be forewarned.)
When you list it out, one realizes that there was quite a bit to do. One could eat some free food like burgers (Example: here is Andy Greene's burger) and pulled pork sandwiches in the Fire Lounge. The kids could play some floor hockey or do some shooting on an inflatable target. One can get your face painted, get a picture on the dream team bench for free, and/or put on some hockey gear. There were several games one could play: hockey video games, air hockey, magnetic table hockey, and the standard table hockey, just like Travis Zajac and his handler did in this photo. If one felt inclined, one could buy some merchandise by the Verizon tower. Or you can just hangout and talk with your friends by a Lincoln automobile. All with a DJ spinning some records in the background, with Matt Loughlin cutting in at times to announce prize giveaways. Of course, one could take pictures with the mascot and eventually the players and coaches.
That's the big reason why this is a perk for season ticket holders (and it's generally good business to give some perks to the STHs). The New Jersey Devils players and coaching staff come out onto the concourse to mingle and take pictures with the fans. To me, this is always a mystifying occurrence to see the players we write, think, talk about, and witness on a regular basis in person in street clothes, ready to shake your hand and engage in some small talk. It's hard to not to get a bit star-struck, even if you've met them before, much less write about their performances. That's why this event is such a good idea, the fans want to see the players up close - it never loses it's appeal.
If I could make one suggestion, though, the players should wear name tags or jerseys for future events. Since it's hard to recognize a non-legend without their helmet and/or jerseys. It's disconcerting that I almost didn't notice all 230 pounds of Anton Volchenkov because I didn't know he had medium-length blond hair (it is good hair, mind). It's embarrassing to admit that I was on a line for a player, and I didn't recognize him and had to ask to find out it's the #1 center, Travis Zajac. Oops. I've never been great with names, but considering that even I, who write about the Devils nearly every day, doesn't recognize some of these guys outside of a helmet and uniform is telling. Some sort of visual identification like a name tag or wearing their jersey would eliminate the awkwardness of people saying within earshot of the player, "Who is he?"
In any case, I had a lot of fun at the event and it was a good way to spend the afternoon. The official site has a small gallery from the event; but like I said, I took plenty of pictures. I didn't meet everyone at the event but I can confirm all of the veteran players along with the coaches were out and about on the concourse. As expected, Zach Parise (seen here), Martin Brodeur (seen here), and Ilya Kovalchuk (seen here) were so popular that I didn't even bother getting on those incredibly long lines for a picture and some chit-chat; I just took pictures from distance, as in at least 20 feet away. Those I did get to talk to, I have pictures and a little commentary after the jump.
The first Devil I got to talk to was defenseman Mark Fraser. You see him as a physical player on the ice, but up close, you really get a sense of his size. I asked him that given he played a lot of soft competition and limited minutes last season whether he felt he was ready for more responsibilities. He told me that he did; that even though he didn't play a lot, getting a full season at the NHL level was important. Fraser feels more confident heading into 2010-11, and that's a good attitude to have.
The next Devil I saw wasn't a player, but assistant head coach and one of the greatest defensemen to have ever played the game: Larry Robinson. I didn't see Saturday's game yet, but based on Kevin's recap and the box score, it was a nightmare for the Devils' penalty killers. I casually asked him whether he'll be drilling the team on the PK on Monday. Robinson proceeded to give me a very candid response.
According to him, the Devils haven't worked all that much on the penalty kill. Every day is broken up already into multiple sessions and the personnel in those sessions change from day to day, so it's difficult to establish consistency. He didn't tell me that they won't work on the PK, just that it hasn't been a focus just yet in camp. That's understandable given that they have players to evaluate first and foremost in camp. Going back to Robinson's answer, he also told me the main problem with the penalty kill on Saturday was that they were too aggressive. With the Devils attacking the Rangers too much, it created more space for the Rangers to operate and that's exactly what you don't want to give an opposing team with a man advantage. He also explained that the last goal was especially bad with Johan Hedberg losing his stick and taking Anton Volchenkov's; that only served to make, again, more space for the Rangers that they took full advantage of on the ice.
Basically, Robinson is amazing if only for giving me a full answer as to what went on. For what it's worth, I think the PK is going to become a focus soon enough.
The next player I got to see was Travis Zajac. I let him know that statistically, he was one of the best defensive forwards in the NHL last season. He just laughed. Hopefully that made his day.
I said hello to head coach John MacLean next. He told me that he was pleased with how training camp and preseason has gone. While the results haven't been good, MacLean's happy with how the players have performed, the tempo they are playing, and that everyone's cooperative so far. He feels that the wins will come. Let's hope they do, especially when the games begin to count.
Henrik Tallinder somehow didn't attract a large crowd when I saw him. OK, so Zach Parise was nearby with a line nearly 5 sections long. Anyway, this picture doesn't do justice to Tallinder's size. I know these pictures make me look as tall or taller than some of the players; but I was definitely in the foreground here. I assure you, I had to look up to speak with him. Anyway. After joking about how many of Urbom's messes he's cleaned up so far, Tallinder had a lot of positive things to say about Alexander Urbom, including that he feels that Urbom's poised enough handle himself right now. I can't really disagree given what I've seen and heard about his performances. Given that Tallinder has been in the NHL for a while, that's some high praise. Tallinder is happy to be here and has said he hasn't had a lot of problems fitting in due to his experience and skillset.
I asked Brian Rolston about the challenges of trying to work his way up the depth chart with the new acquisitions. He took the question in stride, saying that he plans to work hard in practice and make his case on the ice bit by bit to the top two lines in addition to the power play. He recognizes the difficulty, but he doesn't seem put off by it. Best of luck to him all the same, regardless of how you feel about him.
Note the large mark on Bryce Salvador's forehead. He's certainly a trooper. I made a mistake in asking whether he knew he led the defense last season in fights. He didn't (Fraser and Matthew Corrente had 4 majors each); though he led them in minor penalties. Oops. All the same, Salvador took it in stride and says he'll see about taking fewer calls in the coming season. I certainly hope so, it's hard to make plays while sitting on the rink.
Check out Rod Pelley's mouth. Yes, he is indeed missing his front teeth. I asked Rod Pelley whether he preferred to play wing, like he did last season, or center, like he has been recently. Pelley said he was willing to play either, though he was a center for most of his time in hockey. He went on to briefly explain how much different the positions are. The center has more responsibilities on defense and winning draws is so important (he agreed with Gabe Desjardens' finding on the effect of losing defensive zone draws). Pelley said that pretty much everyone at this level is "good" on draws, so it's important to keep working at getting better. I was impressed with Pelley's candor, to say the least.
Anssi Salmela was the only player who asked me about my shirt. He was impressed with the name, asked me about the site, and said he'll check it out. Salmela also requested that I write good things about him - I told him that I will if he does good things on the ice. I briefly asked him about his rehab, and he said things are progressing. So it is. Every player and coach has been accessible and personable. But Salmela is definitely charismatic. Hopefully he'll recover fully, fight his way back into the lineup, and do good things on the ice in 2010-11.
With Johan Hedberg, I asked him the requisite, "How many games do you think you'll play?" question. Hedberg answered honestly that while he would like to play plenty of games, it's dependent on how he's performing, how the team is playing, and so forth. Ergo, all he can do is be ready for when the coaches put him in. You may think it's a stock answer, and perhaps it is - that doesn't make it any less true. I did tell him that I hope he got 10-15 games, which put a small smile on his face.
Incidentally, I saw Andy Greene earlier in the Fire Lounge about to go eat a burger. I didn't want to interrupt him (or Dainius Zubrus or Patrik Elias who were also trying to get some eats) from having that burger. Fortunately, I did see him later to I congratulated Andy Greene for having such a big, important 2009-10 season. I asked about playing so many minutes last season; Greene said he didn't mind the workload, and would be willing to take on more. Considering he averaged 23:31 last season, that's a lot. Greene's obviously looking forward to the season, though I personally don't think he'll be playing 23 minutes per game this season.
Oh, there was this other person in the organization I met.
All I did was wished him luck for the upcoming season. Grateful for all the compliments, as usual. All class.
I'd like to thank the players for coming out, taking pictures with the fans, and mingling with them for a little bit. OK, it was a team-mandated event; but, again, all of the players and coaches were personable and had good attitudes. A few moments with the players you cheer for may not sound like much, but those moments are remembered by the fans for a long, long time. Hopefully, they were good for all of the fans at today's event, as they were for me.
One more thing, I met a number of readers at the Rock, and I got to say, I was heartened by that. I'd like to say I am definitely appreciative of their compliments as I was when you've told me this afternoon; thank you for reading.
If you're a season ticket holder, did you go to today's event? If so, what did you think of it? Did you have fun? What do you think the Devils should do for future events like this one, if you have any suggestions? Please let me know what you think in the comments.