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FanFirst Fridays: In-Person Edition

My son and I traveled 3000 miles to attend two Devils games in person this week. We had no idea we’d be there for history when we first bought the tickets.

My son finally gets to see the goat’s statue.
Tyler Bleszinski

The streak is officially over. 13 games and it ends with a little, no, a LOT of help from the NHL and its pathetic officiating. I was lucky enough to there this week. Not only for the franchise-tying victory against the Oilers, but the madness that ensued against the Maple Leafs.

Last year, my son discovered hockey. I mean, he was never much for sports in general, but then I thought I would take him to a Devils-Ducks game in Anaheim and he absolutely fell in love with the sport. Why exactly, I’m not sure. The Devils got crushed by the Ducks 4-0 at Honda Center. Yet, he wanted to go see the Devils in their home arena.

I talked to my wife and she had no qualms about immediately making plans to fly to NYC. My wife and daughter are huge Broadway fans. They get to go to Broadway shows while we root HARD for our Devils at the Rock. It’s literally the perfect location for all involved. We went last year during President’s Day weekend and saw the Islanders game, a 4-0 win and a loss against the Boston Bruins (I think the final was 5-2 but it was a lot closer than the score). It was probably Mackenzie Blackwood’s best game of the season against the Isles.

The games last season were fun but this year wound up being next level experience. First of all, last year, the Devils were already running off the tracks. So the crowd reflected the energy of where the team was. Stadium was only about three quarters full, if that, for the Islanders and about the same for the Bruins game, with a LOT of Bruins fans in attendance.

This year, you all know the context. 12-game winning streak heading into the Edmonton game. We took the train from Penn Station to Newark Penn Station and we were pumped.

My son and I appeared live on the Let’s Go Devils podcast with Sam Woo from American Whiskey and we talked about our superstitions (my son’s Gravy jersey was great for us while it lasted!), our travels to get to the games and our predictions for the game. My son was the closest to right, saying it would wind up 5-3. I predicted 4-3 in overtime.

And the stadium was absolutely LIT. A sell out and very few Oilers fans. I was excited because it was the first time I was getting a chance to see Jack Hughes live. He was hurt last season in game two and was out for all the games I attended last year. He did not disappoint. Everything he does is absolutely electric and if I was a defender on the ice, he would terrify me. He’s seemingly impossible to predict what he’s doing or where he’s going. McDavid is also insane in speed, ability to shift gears, etc. But John Marino was not phased. He played him beautifully all night and as we know, the Devils won the game 5-2. People were wooing in the lobby, outside and all the way to Newark Penn Station. 13 wins in a row. 13 for a team that was expected to make incremental improvements this year and steps forward, not one giant leap for Devilkind. I mean this team was suddenly putting their names alongside those of Stevens, Niedermayer, Brodeur and Elias. Who could’ve predicted anything like this when I bought my tickets this past summer the moment tickets went on sale?

Now the wait for a possible record-setting 14th straight. My son and I were excited but REALLY wanted to be there for history. We had no idea what we were in store for. It will likely be long remembered in history for altogether different reasons.

I won’t recap the game as that’s already been done here. What I can tell you is there are things you see when you watch live hockey that you will never catch from the comfort of your couch at home. Like this:

It was an unbelievably egregious hold and this was right before the called-off Bastian goal happened. Realistically, that “goal” never happens because the Leafs had touched the puck. Devils would’ve been on a power play instead. So yeah, three goals called off. And yet, one of them would’ve never happened if a ref had seen the flagrant Marner hold. Refs weren’t just screwing the Devils on the non-goal calls. Interference, in general, has crept quietly back into the NHL game. And it’s happening all over the place. Even the Devils had one or two last night.

In between periods, we went to see Sam Woo near where MSG records. Lo and behold, who do we run into on the way but Mr. Devil himself, Ken Daneyko. It was a thrill to see him and he was intensely discussing the second disallowed goal whereas it should’ve either been a penalty on Tatar OR the goal should’ve stood. I love how intense Dano is about our Devils. He truly is one of us.

And onto the main event of the night. When Erik Haula scored an apparent shorthanded goal at 11:07 of the third period, then it went it got disallowed for the third time in the game, the powder keg at the Rock just exploded. The first beer came flying from a section next to me and I told my son, here we go. A pause and others began flying out of the crowd. My son grabbed my beer can and handed it to me, basically encouraging me to join and I told him, that’s not how we show our displeasure. You scream, yell and chant all you want but you don’t turn objects into weapons. I viewed it as an opportunity to let him see how to properly handle ourselves. And believe me, I was angry as hell.

The final five minutes were the most insane I’ve ever seen in a live event. Not because of anything other than I’ve never been in a stadium so charged with that much energy. No one sat. It was like the crowd was trying desperately to simply WILL the team to win in spite of all the odds stacked against them. Granted it probably would’ve taken the Devils scoring two more goals in order for one of them to count, but I was proud of the energy the Rock brought.

As the game melted away, my son got a gift from the Prudential Center memory maker team (I guess traveling 3,000 miles to the Rock was appreciated - maybe me being a fan since 1986 helps too?).

Even though the streak was stopped, it will always be something that my boy and I will remember forever. Again, in my wildest dreams, I never thought some random games in November would ever have this much meaning, be so damn packed, loud and intense. It was like being at a Stanley Cup Finals game (only one I’ve ever been to was the Canadiens-Kings in 1993 in LA because I had a friend playing for the Canadiens that year who left us tickets). We fly home Saturday morning, so we can’t go to the Caps game Saturday night. My wife didn’t want to fly on the busiest travel day of the year.

Regardless, my boy and I are seeing the Devils twice more this year. Once in Anaheim and once in Colorado (my son is a big Avs fan and it’s surprise for his birthday). There’s nothing like live hockey and if you live anywhere close to the Rock, I encourage you to go as many times as you can this year. This team is worth supporting. It’s worth yelling for, screaming for and pulling for as hard as you can. Let’s GO DEVILS!!!