With the holiday season upon us, more and more people are looking for gift ideas. One such gift idea would be tickets to an upcoming New Jersey Devils game. After all, they’re in first place in the Metropolitan Division. The team is good and fun to watch, and more and more Devils fans should be looking to make the trip to downtown Newark to see this team in person.
It might have been awhile since you have been to the Prudential Center though. That is understandable, as there are a variety of reasons why you might not have been to the arena. Before this past month, the last time I was at Prudential Center was on November 27th, 2018, a 3-2 win over Florida early in the 2018-19 season. Until earlier this month, I hadn’t been back to the arena since then. The 2018-19 team failed to build off of the success of the 2017-18 team and suffered a lot of injuries in the second half of the season where it wasn’t worth going to see lineups like this. The 2019-20 season was literally a disaster from the start. Aside from the Opening Night debacle, that season saw the Devils trade Taylor Hall, fire John Hynes and Ray Shero, and come to an abrupt (but not soon enough) early ending with the COVID-19 shutdown in March 2020. Fans weren’t allowed to attend any Devils games until late in the 2020-21 season and many more stayed away last year for some combination of the reasons I pointed out already. So it’s been awhile for me as well.
I had been looking for a reason to get back to The Rock though, and not just for Devils hockey. I’m also a wrestling fan (what can I say, I’m a fan of the performing arts), so once I saw that AEW: Full Gear was going to be at The Rock on November 19th, I made it a point to be in attendance. Going to a wrestling show isn’t the same thing as going to a Devils game though, so before I even heard about the AEW show, I made plans with a friend I hadn’t connected with in awhile to attend a game on a mutual night off. We randomly picked a home game on the schedule, which turned out to be the Devils home game on November 23rd vs. Toronto. A quality opponent in your building on the night before Thanksgiving in front of what should be a lively crowd? Seems like a good atmosphere for a hockey game if you ask me. The fact that the Devils happened to be going for a franchise-record 14th consecutive win as well just turned out to be a bonus.
So after avoiding The Rock for four years, I wound up going twice within the span of five days. Funny how that works, but it gave me the idea to write about the arena experience in general. Of course, that was before I saw that Tyler wrote about his experience attending the same game with his son, which is a great piece that I’d recommend reading. And I decided to write about the arena experience before seeing this debacle in person. I almost scrapped this project entirely after that because how can one praise how great the Devils fans in attendance were when we saw the ugliest parts of the fanbase in full display? I decided to proceed though since I’d like to believe a couple, dozen, drunken morons aren’t representative of the Devils fanbase as a whole and that this was a one-off.
Prudential Center is already 15 years old and I’ve been to roughly 50-60 Devils home games in Newark over the years (and countless more at the Meadowlands), plus concerts, wrestling, basketball, and other events. The bulk of those home games I attended came during the 2012 Stanley Cup Final run when I attended all but three home playoff games. I have also purchased a partial season ticket plan in the past. I’ve only been to a handful of NHL games in other arenas (one in MSG, one at Barclays Center, and one at the now defunct Nassau Coliseum). I think I have a good perspective on the arena experience and how it has evolved in recent years but I want to talk specifically about going to events in 2022, what they do well at The Rock, and what can be better.
First though, let’s start with an event that isn’t a Devils game.
Attending AEW: Full Gear
I arrived at The Rock right around the time doors opened for AEW at 6pm on Saturday, November 19th. Fortunately, the wait to get inside wasn’t too long, nor was it too cold outside, so it was a relatively pleasant experience waiting for your turn to go through the metal detectors and up the escalators to the main concourse. Or at least it was as pleasant as waiting on line can be.
My go-to concession of choice at Devils has typically been the plastic helmet full of nachos, but after walking across half of the lower concourse, I couldn’t find the cart selling nachos and I wasn’t about to go upstairs just to try to track this particular craving down. Time to call an audible. For a preshow meal, I decided to go with the chicken tacos at one of the concession carts instead. To borrow a phrase from AEW star Danhausen, the tacos were a “very nice, very delicious” alternative.
As I mentioned already, I have been to a bunch of events at Prudential Center, so I’ve sat in a variety of sections in the arena over the years. The 100s, the 200s, the lower bowl, and literally in the first row behind the glass. You name it, I’ve probably sat there at least once. My favorite area to sit in, by far, is the loge club seats. I’ll get into the view from those seats in a bit, but what I had forgotten about the loge club seats after not being to the arena in 4 years is that you have access to the buffet, so I unnecessarily spent $12 on chicken tacos prior to going to my seats. Live and learn, I suppose, but a lesson for next time.
The lines for AEW merchandise were absolutely out of control, although I’d blame AEW for that moreso than the arena itself. Fortunately, I had no interest in this particular line that wrapped around the front of the Devils Den on the main concourse (there was another comically long line around Section 6 for another merch stand). To the Prudential Center’s credit though, they did a good job keeping the main concourse relatively clear so people not interested in standing in line can get to wherever they were going.
One last thing I noticed at the concession stands during my pre-show walkaround....nice touch by coming up with specialty cocktails named after a few of the performers.
After walking around the concourse a bit, it was time to head to our seats. Aside from the seats in Section 28 being wider than most arena and stadium seating (which is great news for me, a large man), the view is fantastic. For Devils games, its on the end where they shoot in the 1st and 3rd periods. For AEW (and I would imagine most concerts as well), its facing the stage.
I won’t bore you with the details of the AEW show itself other than I came away satisfied with my decision to attend and I was entertained throughout the program. Once me and my buddy got back to our seats, I took advantage of the buffet grabbing a slider and a few pretzel bites. My friend got up around 8:30pm or so to grab a few of the assorted bite-sized cupcakes and other desserts and some water. I got up around 10pm to use the bathroom and try to get another soda but the staff had already cleaned up for the night, which was a little annoying for a show that had roughly two hours to go. The show ended right around midnight and it fortunately wasn’t too much of a pain in the neck to get out of downtown Newark, so I was home by 1:30am. Not too shabby considering I live approximately an hour away.
Attending a Devils Game
I mentioned that I thought there would be a buzz in the air going into the Devils home game against Toronto on November 23rd, but I had no idea when I bought the tickets that they’d be going for a franchise-record 14th consecutive win and that the atmosphere in the arena would be electric. Obviously, the Devils came up short and in somewhat controversial fashion, but I want to talk about the experience moreso than the game itself.
Let’s talk about pregame rituals for a moment. I don’t drink alcohol anymore, so I can’t recommend any of the bars across the street from the arena since the only one I used to frequent pregame when I did drink was Loft 47. But I am a creature of habit and superstition. One of mine in particular is to purchase a new Devils hat whenever I attend the game. There is one hat that I had seen some of the players wear when doing their media availabilities, but I haven’t seen available online. Fortunately, the Devils Den next to the box office came through where Fanatics and the online NHL shop could not. Unfortunately, this set me back $40, which is a little more than I’d like to spend on a hat, but you also have to know going in that when you buy anything at the arena, you’re paying markup prices.
I mentioned wanting nachos whenever I go to the Prudential Center, and I arrived early enough where I had time to go hunting for them. It’s one thing to settle and not get what you’re craving, but I’m not going to settle with a Devils 13-game winning streak on the line. I’m getting my nachos, dammit. But I’m going to have to do a lap around the lower concourse and work for it.
Along the way, I passed by one of my favorite features of Prudential Center with the wall of high school hockey jerseys across the state of New Jersey. I’m pleased to see that that feature is still intact. I did not go to high school in New Jersey, but I’d probably be thrilled if I saw my school represented in the arena of my favorite team.
I continued my trek along the lower concourse, passing up the more traditional concession stands until I finally found what I was looking for. Nachos. Gimme ALL the nachos. The cheese, the chicken, the salsa (no jalapenos, please). I mean, just LOOK at that dollop of sour cream. Or should I say scoop. It’s a damn ice cream scoop sized dollop! No, its not in an oversized, overpriced plastic helmet, but I got what I wanted. NOW, the game can begin.
Time to head for the loft club seats again, except I’m in Section 29 tonight instead of 28. No, I did not learn my lesson about the included buffet and bought food anyways. Yes, I might’ve snacked on some chicken fingers after devouring those nachos. No, I don’t care for you judging me. Yes, the view from the seats is amazing, as you’re high enough up to see plays develop but close enough where you don’t need binoculars.
Here are some general observations from the gameday presentation and the game itself....
- You know it’s a big game for the Devils when they have Arlette sing the national anthem(s). As per usual, she did a wonderful job and comes in at #1 on my power rankings of “People who sing the national anthem before a Devils home game”.....with all due respect to Shane Daneyko who is also very good.
- I thought it was a nice touch to have NJ Devil (and I believe a season ticket holder as well although I didn’t catch the name) use the glowing pitchfork to “light up The Rock” as a way to generate pregame hype. This is different from years past where the mascot would touch the ice surface with the pitchfork or a flag and the gameday presentation team coordinated that with the projection technology used to display images onto the ice. I’d love to see a little more creativity with this but I love stuff like this. This adds to the in-arena experience.
- Full disclosure: I do know the Devils new PA announcer Adam Hamway personally as we both worked for the same employer for years. With that out of the way, I believe he’s the best PA announcer the Devils have had since Kevin Clark retired. You can watch Adam introduce the starting lineup from this game on his Twitter feed below.
- The scoreboard above center ice is very impressive. It’s not the first time I’ve seen it in person but it definitely pops, as its usually the first thing you see when you walk from the concourse towards your seats. I just wish that the Devils showed more replays of the controversial no-goals that were overturned. I don’t recall how many replays we saw of the second and third overturned goals, but I know for a fact we only saw one of the first one. I don’t know that additional replays would’ve made the fans feel a whole heck of a lot better by the time the third goal was reversed, but we have the technology to at least better educate the fans in attendance so they don’t feel like the Devils are getting a raw deal. Keep in mind that hockey is a fast game and you can miss things when watching in real time....for example, I missed the Haula kick because I was watching Murray at the same time while glancing over to where Bastian was on the play, so while my friend caught the Haula kick in real time, I did not.
I suspect there might be a reason why we get so few in-arena replays at times, whether its the lack of time between stoppages in play, gamesmanship against the visiting team, or perhaps even some obscure NHL rule about replays that I don’t know about. I don’t care. Give me more replays.
- The entertainment during TV timeouts and stoppages in play is fairly routine stuff. A T-shirt toss, various games and trivia, NJ Devil’s hijinks, a message on the scoreboard telling fans to make some noise, a public acknowledgement and thank you for active or retired military members or first responders, and cameramen roaming the stands to find people to wave on the jumbotron. It’s not that any of this is bad, far from it. Its just that its the type of thing you’ve likely seen 100 times if you attend any sporting event in the US. If this is your sort of thing, you got plenty of it. If it is not, then its a good time to check Twitter until the game picks up again.
- During the first intermission, I went to go meet the one and only John Fischer outside of Section 1 since I’ve never actually met him in person. We had a good conversation about the team and what we saw during the first period (aka, he listened while I complained about the first overturned goal), although we were standing in an area where people thought we were in line for concessions. It was also around this time that I noticed how crowded this particular area of the concourse was as there were a few concession options nearby and the hallway narrowed a bit. Still, I think Prudential Center probably manages this as well as they could’ve as I didn’t really have much issue walking back to my section for the start of the second period. If anything, I probably didn’t help matters standing in an area of the concourse while other people are trying to get online for a drink or a hot dog.
- Putting aside the whole “idiot fans throw trash on the ice” episode in the third period for a moment, I thought the fans in attendance were great. In fact, that’s part of why I was as disappointed as I was that a few morons had to go and ruin the experience for everyone else. Yes, there were a lot of Leafs fans in the building, and that’s to be expected as they have a large fanbase, but the Devils fans who were there were loud and boisterous with their support for the home team. Go back and rewatch the final five minutes of that game and tell me that building wasn’t the loudest it’s been since “Henrique, it’s over”. They weren’t just loud because they were getting on the referees (who did a terrible job even without the overturned goals, so the fans were right to get on them). They were loud waiting and hoping and praying that this team would pull a rabbit out of their hat to get the equalizer, extend the game and eventually, the winning streak. I can only imagine how loud that building would’ve gotten had they actually done it. The Prudential Center should be an intimidating place to play hockey, but for the right reasons. Not because some idiot fans want to make an ass of themselves, but because 16,514 Devils fans are so loud in support of their team, you cant hear yourself think as an opposing player and coach. I want that environment for this group so badly, and you can tell that the after so many years of losing, Devils fans are ready to cheer for a winner.
You know by now what happened, as Toronto held off a late barrage to win 2-1 and deny the Devils their 14th consecutive win. If there is a positive, it’s that even with the packed house, its relatively easy to get out of the arena itself, especially if you’re on the lower concourse to begin with. It didn’t stop me from grumbling about the loss, lamenting that the Devils got screwed under my breath (again, I don’t have the benefit of replay), and being pissed off the Devils lost the one game I decided to go to, but such is life. You can’t always get what you want. I made the walk back to the parking deck where my car was and was home around 11pm from a game that ended around 9:40pm.
Addressing the Elephant in the Room
There’s no way for me to talk about my experience at the arena without addressing what happened in the third period. It would be like if I were writing a restaurant review. The dinner, ambiance, and service are great and gets A’s across the board.....until the waiter spits in your dessert right in front of you.
If you’ve watched sports long enough, you have likely seen idiot fans throw trash onto the field/court/ice during a game. Heck, the Devils game wasn’t the only such incident like that within the last week. Let me get one thing out of the way and be perfectly clear about how I feel. I don’t care how many calls go against your team or how poorly things are going, this type of behavior is unacceptable. Period. This isn’t something that is up for debate or negotiation, and if you disagree or are trying to justify it, you are wrong. Be better.
With that out of the way, I’ve thought a lot about what Prudential Center could possibly have done differently to prevent a situation like that from happening in the first place. The NHL, the Devils, and Prudential Center share a responsibility of providing a safe and welcoming environment for everyone to come watch a game, concert, event, etc.. For most of Wednesday’s game, it was business as usual and the only thing that went wrong was the result of the game itself, but unfortunately, an ugly incident is forcing us to have this conversation. For as many morons that managed to clear the boards and netting and throw something onto the ice, there were plenty that came up short and likely struck an unsuspecting person who is simply trying to sit there and watch a hockey game. Those people didn’t ask to be in the middle of this and its unfortunate that stuff like this paints the fanbase, as a collective whole, in a bad light.
It’s not like Prudential Center has done nothing or is failing to keep up with the Joneses in respect to curtailing bad fan behavior. They’re like other large stadiums and arenas that cuts off alcohol sales at a certain point in the game, or has an anonymous text hotline to report unruly fans. It’s not like they don’t have security on hand to escort people who are out of line out of the arena (Ironically, I witnessed one such instance during AEW where a couple fans got into a fight, but not the Devils game). Unfortunately, the Prudential Center likely lacks the manpower to handle a situation where dozens of people are spontaneously and simultaneously throwing trash onto the ice.
I get that its easy to just chalk this up as an isolated incident and not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things. It is an isolated incident, and that one incident shouldn’t ruin the fan experience for everyone. But I also wonder how many families and small children narrowly missed getting hit by a beer bottle and are now reluctant to return to a Devils game because the NHL/Devils/Prudential Center don’t have control over the situation. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I’d like to see a little more than a message on the scoreboard to address it.
Fortunately, it appears that nobody was seriously hurt, but it shouldn’t take an injury or something worse to be proactive and not reactive when it comes to this sort of thing. Hopefully, we as Devils fans can get back to only throwing hats on the ice, like they did on Saturday night.
Other Suggestions For Improving the Fan Experience
- It’s nice that I can order some concessions from my phone and presumably pick it up and skip the line, but this seems like an underutilized option judging from the concession lines I saw during the first intermission when I was talking to John. And unfortunately, the Devils and Prudential Center app don’t do a good job of telling me where to go if I just want a specific item (in this case, the cart where I can get my order of nachos I’ve referenced several times through this piece). Nor do they do a good job of reminding me that I can order food on my phone and not deal with the lines at all. I get that this is where technology is heading where everything can be done on an app, and I get that some people are old-fashioned and will not want to deal with that, but a little reminder that I have the option would be appreciated. You wouldn’t believe how lazy I am. I’ll order Grubhub because I don’t want to put shoes on and go outside.
- Unfortunately, this one is a state of New Jersey plastic-bag ban issue moreso than a Prudential Center issue, but I really don’t want to have to carry any merchandise I purchase by hand because the only bags provided in the team store are a recyclable bag I can purchase for an extra $4 in the team store. Nothing says they’re trying to nickel and dime you like being offered to spend $4 for something that had always been free in the past. It’s something to keep in mind unless you or someone you’re with is bringing a bag that is compliant with the arena’s bag policy. Of course, since I knew going in that I was buying a hat while wearing a hat inside, this one is also on me since I simply could’ve worn said hat that I purchased instead of carrying it in my hand. Again, I never claimed to be smart or have all the answers but at least you can learn from me being a big dummy.
- If you are one who likes to proclaim that “I’m simply here to watch game and don’t care about any of that other stuff”, I get that. But if you attend games regularly or watch every game on TV, its very noticeable on TV when the in-arena DJ plays from the same setlist every game to the point where you can set your watch to whenever “Mr. Brightside” airs over the speakers. It’s a perfectly cromulent song from The Killers. They also have 100 other songs that are better. There’s roughly 10,000 songs that are better. A little variety with the music isn’t a bad thing.
- I mentioned it already but will say it again. More replays on the big scoreboard. Please.
Fifteen years into the Prudential Center era, the arena is as gorgeous as it was the day it opened. The sightlines are great and its a wonderful venue to see a hockey game, concert, wrestling, or any other show. Its not perfect by any means, as I’ve pointed out some of the flaws, and while I prefer it over the other NYC-metro arenas, I don’t have a good feel for how Prudential Center compares across the NHL. The Devils have a history of their own, but they don’t quite have the rich history that you might see if you attend a game in Montreal or Detroit. It might not be the same as taking in a game in a hockey-crazy market like Toronto, or as nostalgic as going to the old barn known as the Nassau Coliseum, or the sheer spectacle that a newer franchise like Vegas has made their games. But it’s still our home arena. They have done a good job reminding you that its the home of the Devils and located in New Jersey with how the interior of the arena is decorated and how they present the product.
With the team finally making the shift from rebuilder to contender, its exciting as a fan to see an energy and buzz back in the building. Hopefully, we continue to see Devils fans make a lot of noise as they cheer on our team and make The Rock as intimidating an environment as there is in the NHL. In a good way, of course.
You’ve heard enough from me though, so its time to hear from you. What do you like about The Rock? What can be better? How does Prudential Center compare to other NHL venues that you’ve been to? What are some of your pregame rituals? Can The Rock do anything to prevent a repeat of what we saw Wednesday night? Please feel free to leave a comment below on anything pertaining to the arena and the gameday experience and thank you for reading!
(All photos in this article are provided by me unless otherwise noted)