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FanFirst Friday: In Person Edition (The Sequel)

I traveled to NYC with my family this week and got to attend two Devils games. There isn’t anything like live hockey.

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at New Jersey Devils
The Beauty from Newfy celebrating his first career hat trick. What a moment to witness live.
John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

When my daughter got accepted to a couple of New York-area universities, I went immediately to action in convincing them to take one more trip to the East Coast to stay in NYC and go to a couple more New Jersey Devils games in 2022-2023. I mean, it’s been a LOOOOONG time since the team has had a season like this so I figured I might as well enjoy it as much as possible.

We came in November and saw the Devils 13th win in a row against the Edmonton Oilers then were there in person for probably the craziest game I’ve ever seen live. The Toronto game. Ah, the infamous Toronto game. I won’t go into it, but suffice it to say it was the loudest I’ve ever heard a stadium in my entire life for the final six minutes of a game.

So myself, my son and my daughter went and saw the New Jersey Devils absolutely dismantle the Pittsburgh Penguins Tuesday night. The Devils looked fast, often creating odd man rushes, attacked the center of the ice repeatedly and basically ran the Penguins out of the building. It looked as dominant as could be. And the hockey stat card reflected this:

Total domination. Especially Dawson Mercer.

It’s funny because earlier that day in our hotel room, I was telling my family that I’d never seen a live hat trick. I’m 51 now and I’ve been going to hockey games since I was 8. I’ve been attending hockey games everywhere from Boston (the old Boston Garden) to San Jose to New Jersey to Anaheim to Hartford (RIP Whalers) to Colorado and I’d never seen a hat trick live in all my years of hockey games. I’ve seen a ton of two goal games, but that elusive third hasn’t happened. Dawson Mercer, the beauty from Newfy, decided to make himself the answer to my own personal trivia answer in what my first live hat trick was. It was my daughter’s first game at the Rock and she’s been a Devils fan by birth (she calls herself a Devils nepo-baby), but the coolest part is that she’s been talking about getting a Dawson Mercer heritage jersey for months now. But they didn’t sell it in the Devils Den so she decided to buy one instead from Cool Hockey and get it personalized with Mercer and 91.

This decision was made before the game ever started and then the puck dropped and Mercer ran wild all over the Pens. It was as though it was meant to be. Fate and all that stuff.

We went early so my kids could stand by the glass for warmups. They didn’t have any signs or anything but my son wanted to show Ryan Graves he was a huge fan so he turned backwards and we got Gravy to look at him and he gave a huge grin when he saw his name on my son’s back. It was a highlight for him. Then we met John Fischer, the manager of AAtJ, and he gifted my daughter a Devils pride night tee, which was an unbelievably kind gesture and made my daughter extremely happy. The Devils pride night merch was next level beautiful and seeing it in person made me extra proud to be a Devils fan.

Two other things about the game. I got the opportunity to meet Ryan Novozinsky between periods. He used to work at Vox back in the day when he was in college, so he and I had struck up an online friendship. It was amazing to meet him in person. Also, my daughter is a huge fan and giggles every time he tweets “PP time”. So she really wanted to meet the famous Novo. Truly appreciate him taking the time and coming down from the serious altitude of the press box to meet us. I give him, Bill Spaulding (TV voice), Adam Hamway (PA) all the credit for the team being so drastically different in 2022-2023. I’m superstitious like that.

Also, at one point a puck that Nico Hischier was shooting in the zone got deflected by a Pens defenseman and ricocheted in the crowd. It was headed right towards my right and I could’ve probably put my hand out and grabbed it, but it was going at a crazy rate of speed and flipping end over end so I pulled my hand back and it smacked into a kid’s chest behind us. He was immediately bawling hard so I did my best to get the attention of the EMTs and security at the Rock. His Dad said he was okay and eventually he settled down and seemed fine. He handled it better than I would’ve, that’s all I know. Regardless, twas a scary moment that reminded me that live sports can be dangerous. Hell, I was at a lot of games prior to that netting that protected the crowd sitting directly around the goals.

Though that netting made it hard for my daughter to throw a hat on the ice when Dawson Mercer got his hat trick goal. She missed, it landed near someone by the front and that person did her the courtesy of throwing it over and onto the ice. $40 hat sacrificed to the hockey gods.

The final thing of note for this game is that I made friends with a German family on the train from Manhattan to Newark. They were from the Bavarian region of Germany and wanted to see the Swiss trio play in person. The Dad, named Oliver, had been a Devils fan for a long time and said that he once saw the Devils play the Flyers at the Meadowlands and they won 4-1. He said that Paul Coffey was playing for the Flyers at that point, which if I’m being honest, I’d completely forgotten Coffey ever donned the flying P. Regardless, we tend to view things a bit narrowly here in North America, but he told me that the interest in the Devils with the three (soon to be four with Akira Schmid) has spiked significantly in that area of the world. And a lot more NHL games are being shown now. This is nothing but good news for NHL fans in general as you have people flying half way around the world to see the team in Newark. It kind of feels like when the Devils broke that Russian barrier way back when with Slava Fetisov and Sergei Starikov joined the team. Yes there isn’t a barrier to Swiss players and it isn’t making international headlines like that Russian player movement, but I can only imagine how it will continue to inspire growth across the globe for new players, younger players who might pick hockey over a more traditional football (the European one not the American one). Keep more and better talent coming and it’s only a good thing for all NHL fans.

I’ve got one more game tonight (Thursday when I’m writing this) against the Columbus Blue Jackets. I will summarize my full live season in next week’s post. Needless to say, it’s been one fun year of live hockey. Those of you who are lucky enough to live in Jersey nearby should go to as many games as you can because this team is REALLY fun and is about to get a lot more fun when Luke Hughes finishes his college season (possibly as soon as tonight). In fact, I originally bought these tickets with the hopes to catch Luke Hughes NHL debut but alas, his Michigan hockey team was too good. But we got to see Mercer’s first NHL hat trick live, which was a very, VERY fine consolation prize.

Here’s to an amazing season that continues all the way until June! Let’s go Devils!!!