I had the good luck this past weekend as a New Jersey Devils fan living in Connecticut to be able to come and see the team play live for the first time in a long time. To be honest, I think this may have been my first live game since Martin Brodeur’s final Devils appearance, so I was expecting a very different Prudential Center than the one I had last seen in 2014. In my opinion, there’s nothing like the experience of live hockey, and as I get to experience it rarely (and unfortunate side-effect of moving further and further northeast) I wanted to share my experience as a way of encouraging others who are closer to get out and see more live games.
A quick aside right here, as you may be wondering the purpose of this article. I’m writing because there may be some readers, be they veterans of the site or discovering AAtJ for the first time, who have never been able to experience a Devils game live. Additionally, there may be some fans who have been away from The Rock for a while, as I had been, and I wanted to speak to how the presentation reflects nowadays.
The game that I was fortunate enough to attend was the Devils Saturday matinee when they hosted the Vancouver Canucks. That’s right everyone: all it took for Jack Hughes to score his first NHL goal was for me to travel the 2+ hours to watch him play. You’re welcome fellow Devils fans!
All kidding aside, the game was incredible to see live. First of all, I have to give the staff credit for getting fans into the arena as quickly and professionally as possible; the Devils have a lot of friendly, efficient people on staff, and it makes the atmosphere more inviting. My wife and I arrived roughly five minutes before the game started (shout out to Newark traffic) but still managed to get to our seats before the puck dropped. We wound up sitting in section 1 in good view of the ice, but I can safely say there aren’t many bad seats in the house. I have been in a variety of locations each time I have come to see live games, and I have never been able to complain about the view.
The on-ice product for the first period was exactly what I was hoping to see for that game: the Devils played a strong period where they tried to keep the puck deep by Thatcher Demko while also keeping the dangerous shots heading towards MacKenzie Blackwood to a minimum. The Devils also had to stave off an early penalty kill, and The Rock came to life as they did.
Speaking of coming alive, every Devils fan in attendance (myself included) had their dream for the afternoon come true 14:08 into the first, and the roar of approval was deafening. Not only did the Devils take a 1-0 lead, not only did the team cash in a power play, but Jack Hughes potted the first of his career and against his brother to boot. The crowd was thrilled with the lead; once everyone knew it was Hughes, the cheers got louder. I watched the TV replay after the game, and while I offer props to Steve Cangialosi for selling the moment, the TV mics don’t do the moment (or the volume of the moment) justice.
The Devils also have a number of small, entertaining moments they provide their fans with during games that add to a live experience. From all of the different cams (the one where parents hold up their kids like Simba in The Lion King possibly being my favorite) to appearances from many Jersey personalities (ranging from Dano to Devils fans Q and Joe from the TV show Impractical Jokers) shows the team is trying to build a sense of camaraderie and community. The team wants to see the fan base keep growing and I think the fact that they try to entertain their fans even when there’s downtime from the on-ice action shows their dedication.
Speaking of entertainment, I believe I read somewhere that the team is doing this every time they play a team from Canada, but the opening line of Nickelback’s “Photograph” when an opposing player gets sent to the penalty box. Maybe it’s a small, corny touch (I’m vehemently anti-Nickelback) but it seemed a good portion of fans enjoyed it. The better moment was N.J. Devil coming over to a pair of Canucks fans one section over from my seats, and “presenting” them with a very large picture of Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger and a couple of (I believe) NIckelback CDs. Seeing N.J. interacting with not only our fans, but also opposing fans in a friendly, humorous manner also continues to grow the vibe of the Prudential Center being an environment where all fans are welcome.
Well...maybe not the guy in the Vegas Golden Knights jersey. One “unlucky” fan was subject to this call-out on the Jumbotron, being informed that he was in the “wrong arena” as it was not even a Nikita Gusev Knights jersey. The Devils pounced on the opportunity as well, advertising the first meeting of the teams this season on December 3rd at The Rock. The fan was a good sport, smiling and laughing as the announcement finished. Speaking of fans, the guy sporting the “GOOOOOOSEV” jersey a few rows in front of my wife and myself wins my just made up award of “Best Jersey of the Game” for that afternoon.
I won’t lie to anyone reading this experience as well; I was ridiculously nervous for the final five minutes of the game. For a team that’s blown a few leads already this season, one win over Our Hated Rivals wasn’t enough to chase that lingering feeling away. Thanksfully, Blackwood and the defense of the team came through and the Devils took home a big 1-0 victory to send the fans home happy.
If I would have any critique of the experience, it would be that the PA announcer is very difficult to hear (at least from my seat) no matter the volume level of the fans. If someone from another section could offer their thoughts, I would appreciate it, as while the general gist of what was being announced could be heard, there was a lot of words going in and out. The refs were clear when announcing penalties though, so I’m not sure where this audio issue was arising from.
Watching the Devils on TV is great, don’t get me wrong; but if you can afford any tickets in the arena (and you’re not 2+ hours away as I am) I encourage you to get out to the Prudential Center as often as you can. I’ve had my fair share of experience at different arenas at different levels (major, minor, college), and can honestly say with only a smidge of bias towards my favorite team that the Prudential Center is by far the best experience. Devils fans are pretty easygoing and not once did I see anyone with a Vancouver jersey on looking uncomfortable; in fact there was a pair of Canucks fans who had a Devils fan take a picture of them in front of the glass!
The on-ice product at this point in the season is a work in progress for sure, but when it clicks, man the Devils are a fun team to watch. Kudos to both goalies, as they made the game a nail-biter by stealing a couple of goals away from their opposition. If you’re on the fence about attending tomorrow’s game against the Arizona Coyotes, do yourself a favor: see if there are tickets in your price range, purchase them, and get out to The Rock. In the immortal words of Patrick Warburton/David Puddy, “Ya know, support the team...gotta let ‘em know you’re out there!”
Feel free to discuss this article, and share your own Prudential Center experiences in the comments section below. Thanks as always for reading!