As you may or may not know, I'm not just someone who has the title of managing editor of the New Jersey Devils blog, In Lou We Trust. I am also a full season ticket holder of the Devils. I put my money where my digital mouth is when it comes to supporting the team. Through the lows (missing playoffs, 2009 playoffs) and highs (2012 playoffs, the 2008-09 season), as long as I am able, I plan on continuing to be a season ticket holder. Yet, amid all of the player and team analysis, I forget that this gives me a perspective of being a fan that I should put up here once in a while. So I'd like to do that in discussing what the Prudential Center looked like for the team's first preseason home game. In short: there's a lot the organization needs to do to get prepared.
Plenty was missing from the Rock. Some were new changes. Some were continuations from last season. Some were expected as it was just a preseason game. Some surprised me. Here's some pictures from what I saw in the lower concourse.
Most of the walls were bare and white with the exception of this one near Section 3. This just looks poor. I imagine it will be in the process of being repaired. However, this is a far cry from just a few years ago where the top would have local youth and high school jerseys displayed and there would be graphics of the state scattered about the walls. Say what you want about how they looked, but it gave people something more to see than just a blank wall. I would recommend the Rock fill in the walls with, well, something. Another picture of the team. Stills of great team moments. Random art deco shapes. Something. Don't leave it blank. Oh, and fix this wall.
What gives me a little confidence that the wall will be fixed up was when I saw this. The Devils Den, a team merchandise store, behind the Ice Lounge was closed off. Now's a good time as any to do renovation. Preseason games won't draw large crowds. Those that want merchandise can go to the main Devils Den store just outside of the PNC Tower or the two smaller spots on the lower concourse. There wasn't much there on the concourse, but I suspect that will definitely change by opening night.
Last season, the organization moved the massive collection of local youth and high school jerseys to this corner in the alcove coming up the other tower. They all have been removed. No more giant mural showing the lineage of Devils arenas. No more jerseys. Just another blank corner on the walls and what appears to be storage past the Devils bench mural and a history of the franchises' jerseys. This is a lost opportunity. I really liked seeing the local jerseys around as it gave the walls some character. The Devils bench mural was awesome. They actually used to charge people for pictures - the big gap in the middle helps - and it was very popular. I don't understand why that is tucked away where no one can really go. Same for the jerseys. It's neat to look at, it's good to show off to new fans or those unaware of the team's past, and there's a little entertainment area right across the escalator that it would be perfect for. I really hope the Devils don't ditch both or leave it unused. It would be a shame. Just like removing all of those youth jerseys.
I sit in Section 1. This door is directly across from the hallway to that section. I can't say I enjoy getting a nasty draft in the Winter as hundreds of people go through this door to the designated smoking area. This was closed off all game. I wonder if that's going to be a permanent thing, or whether it was just for preseason. I don't smoke, so I personally don't mind it's closure.
Incidentally, there were no new food vendors that I could identify. There were plenty of stalls with the shutters down. I assume that's because it was a preseason game and therefore there wouldn't be enough demand to command all of them to be open and ready. It would have been nice closed
During the game, I noticed that the back wall of Section 122 was entirely bare. That's not a good sign for The Diablos. I know a number of them are active here, so I will defer to them about their future. I have a feeling they will join the fate of the Devils Dancers: who were also not at all present and all signs of them were removed. The now-former leader of the Devils Dancers, Randi Robert, was tweeting a few weeks ago to confirm that they are done. Your mileage may vary as far as how much either may/will be missed.
Lastly, the team has been promoting their new tagline for this season: We're All Devils Inside. I like it. It's not as good as Jersey's Team. But I like it a lot more than the pun-tastic Get Your Jersey On. However, the organization still hasn't changed their corner graphics. Here's a blurry picture of evidence:
I'm pretty confident that will change by the home opener October 18.
I don't know if it qualifies as "new," but the sound system was extraordinarily loud. Not just for the goal song, which continues to attempt to drown out and deter people yelling "You suck" and thankfully failing. Not just for the bridge of the goal song, which was a pro-wrestling-style piped in "New Jersey Devils" that stuck out like a sore thumb among the crowd of not-even-ten-thousand. All night long, it was just booming. This made another new addition even more grating: a hostess.
My memory tells me that the Devils used to have an in-game host. Someone to explain things, run a few diversions during the game, and a little promo work. She wasn't bad. This new woman, I didn't catch her name. Her voice combined with the sound system made her sound far more piercing than necessary. She may be a good hostess but unless she or the soundsystem takes it down several notches, it's going to be a grating experience. Given that the Devils haven't had an in-game hostess for a few years now, I suspect the organization will learn that lesson eventually too.
What wasn't as grating from the soundsystem was The Imperial March from Star Wars. Every un-sponsored power play began with graphics to imperatively ask the crowd to make some noise (they did) and the opening of The Imperial March. I'm not sure why the association with Darth Vader is necessary, but they could have done a lot worse. Still, a problem was presented on Sunday night since the Devils had seven power plays. I know that's an uncommon occurrence and so many man advantages can turn any song clip old. It wouldn't be a bad idea to have a second song to mix things up. It shouldn't be difficult to find one; it like the crowd is going to go dead for a man advantage - at least, not until one actually begins. Before you ask, the Devils are still hyping Jersey Boys for every penalty call with Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons' classic "Big Girls Don't Cry."
Anyway, the inter-period entertainment was different. In lieu of Score-O, the second period intermission featured a competition between two people firing pucks into an empty net from the blueline. The first person would get 15 seconds to get as many as they could and the second person would have to beat it. The two people who got to do that didn't do very well, and it didn't play well to the crowd. I suspect Score-O will return. No sense giving away cars in preseason (yes, there was a Ford car on the concourse).
For the first period intermission, there were Mites on Ice. With a smaller rink to play in:
I think this is an improvement. The skaters are young kids. Having them go the length of the NHL rink led to some obvious mismatches and a lot of nothing happening. This will make the action have more, well, action in it. It also means a little less ice to scrape at what would be the Devils' end of the rink for the second period.
By the way, pay attention to the RockVision board. Your eyes are not deceiving you, the Devils logo is upside down. They were doing some of the camera work from the Ice Lounge balcony as opposed to the usual from the Fire Lounge. There was a camera there, too. I want to say during the actual game, that camera aired it on the big screen. However, I may be wrong because the view from all of the screens on the concourse were from the Ice Lounge. Very disconcerting at first, since I'm so used to the Fire Lounge side featuring the main camera. Overall, not the biggest deal but it was different.
Also different was a new camera view used more often. Any time the puck got near the crease, the camera on RockVision would switch to an overhead of the goal. That's actually useful for scrums and when there are a lot of bodies in the area. I sit in Section 1, so it's really helpful for the second period. However, the Devils were crashing Rob Zepp's area quite a bit. With them coming off rushes and Flyers defenders trying to make crucial stops, there were a lot of quick cuts to the overhead. By the time the view registered with me, the play moved on. It's not a bad idea in theory, but I think the Devils should cut back on those cuts.
Other than that, the bits on the RockVision were mostly the same. SmashBurger is a new sponsor and their bit was the Smash of the Game. It was during the early part of the second period so there wasn't much of a smash. Just a routine hit by Jordin Tootoo.
Lastly, I noticed this little area filled with things to do next to the corner Devils Den store. I'm calling it an entertainment area as calling it Devils Den would just be confusing. There were some air hockey tables. That one foosball-like hockey table is on the left side of the room. A few replica lockers that's good for taking pictures. Given that people like to congregate to stuff like that, having a separate area walled off makes sense. They can do their thing while not making a big crowd mixing into the people walking along the concourse. I don't know if it's big enough, but adding those old jersey displays would be a good addition. The bench would too, but I don't think it would fit.
As I've said throughout this post, it was a preseason game. There wasn't a need to have every food vendor stall open, and I know there are plans for new vendors this season. There wasn't a need to have everything perfectly ready as if it was opening night. That's when they'll be expecting larger crowds, if not a sell-out on opening night. There would be more to please then.
That's what I'm hoping because my impression is that they weren't ready. Yes, it's just a preseason game. It's also a first impression for fans, like me, to go back to the arena we keep coming back to for a new season. That first impression left me wanting. I can understand some of the changes (I can't say I'll miss the Devils Dancers much) and I can understand there's still some work in progress (though I would have liked to have seen and maybe try some of the new food vendors) and I can understand the Rock has been busy with other events. But before someone in the organization tries to set me straight on those points that I'm conceding, I want to point out that these impressions matter more than ever. Fans like me see stuff like this, we take pictures, we Tweet them, we Facebook them, we put them on forums, we put them on blogs, we put them on Reddit, and we discuss them. I'm fully confident the Rock will look a lot better and be ready for primetime on October 18 There's just a long way to go.
So that's what I saw at the game other than the game itself - which I recapped here. If you were at the game, what did you notice? I didn't go up to the upper concourse, so I don't know what's new up there if there was anything new. If you're a Diablo, what's going on? What would you like to see at The Rock this season in terms of presentation in the arena and during breaks in the game action? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the Prudential Center itself in the comments. Thank you for reading.