Friday, January 8, 2010

1/8/10: The night the lights went out at Prudential Center

What started as a mundane game between the New Jersey Devils and Tampa Bay Lightning where the Devils fell behind 3-0 despite only allowing seven shots turned into utter chaos midway through the second period, when the lights went out at 9:12 of the second period - and as it turned out after a nearly two-hour delay, they would not be coming back on for the rest of the night. According to Lou Lamoriello in the postgame, or postpostponement if you will, the problem was caused by a circuit breaker that shut down and the PSE&G computer wasn't able to fix it (insert bad power play joke here).

After going to the Rock for games on Tuesday and Wednesday, I sold my tickets for tonight's game, and that turned out to be my most fortuitous decision of the year. I'm not even going to bother to recap the thirty minutes of the actual hockey which went badly enough for the Devils, though they did actually outplay the Lightning some sloppy mistakes led to them falling behind 3-0. Truth be told, after the third goal I was barely paying attention and didn't even realize the lights had gone out at the Prudential Center until a couple minutes had elapsed in what would eventually be about an hour and forty minutes in limbo.
Eventually the delay got perversely comical for yours truly, seeing as I wasn't one of the fans at the arena in limbo I was getting a kick out of MSG interviewing everyone from Grant Marshall to Rob Skrlac to Steven Stamkos and even E. J. Hradek and fillibustering on everything including the Devils' upcoming five-game road trip. Maybe the thirteen days before the Devils' next game at the Rock will give PSE&G time to fix said circuit breaker...or the Devils time to find a new power company first.
What made this all even more bizarre is you're talking about a three-year old arena here. This isn't Boston Garden, where power failures became almost expected. Actually there was very little precedent for this kind of thing in NHL history. Boston did get a Stanley Cup Finals game suspended, but that game was tied in overtime so basically the game was wiped out. This game was 3-0 right smack in the middle. Proof of how unprecedented something like this is was just how little information is actually in the rule book giving the protocol for suspending or canceling a game. Supposedly the Board of Governors have their own rulebook, why this isn't available to the public or at the very least the broadcasters I have no idea.
I can only imagine (thankfully) what it must have been like to be at the arena, getting almost nothing in terms of an update over the PA. I don't even know what I would have done there by myself, maybe the smart move would have been to find a TV and watch the continuing MSG coverage but I'm sure at some point I would have just had it and walked out. Even on a Friday, who wants to stay in Newark until midnight for Game 42 of the regular season with no guarantee the game would ever restart? If by some miracle the game had started right at 10 PM it may have finished by 11, and who knows how late I'd have been staying at Broad Street given train connections.
Clearly the NHL dropped the puck here, in more ways than one. First of all having that long a delay without communicating more information to your fans or even the teams themselves is just inexcusable. Even in the postgame, Andy Greene and Travis Zajac seemed unsure about what would happen next. Obviously they were unprepared for something like this but really they shouldn't have been. There was a quasi-precedent, albeit in sadder circumstances when Nashville and Detroit had a game postponed a few years back because the Wings' Jiri Fisher had a heart scare and nearly died on the bench. That game eventually got replayed, but with Nashville having a 1-0 lead since the game was suspended with Nashville ahead during the first period.
Yet even after the game was officially canceled/suspended/postponed still nobody knew what happened next other than the two teams will meet again somewhere down the road. If the game completely starts over with the score 0-0 that would be grossly unfair to the Lightning. Even giving them three goals but having sixty minutes would be tough as it would give the Devils ninety minutes in essence to tie or win. Although it's also hard to ask the fans to come back for only thirty minutes of hockey if you really had a fair solution and just started the game from the exact moment it ended. And what happens if there are significant roster changes for both teams by then due to injury or trade...do the new players get to impact the game (they'd have to I imagine)?
It will be interesting to see what the Devils do for the attending fans. I would think free admission to the replay as well as a voucher for a future Devils game, at the very least is in order. While the Devils really can't be blamed for the NHL's incompetence they have to be responsible for their own building and this isn't the first time the Rock has had issues. There are frequent leaks above certain sections (105 and 106 I think), and the seats in the upper deck were tighter than they were supposed to be, ostensibly because the construction company was at fault. Not to mention the Devils also looked silly as the nets were taken off the ice and players undressed their uniforms before the official announcement that there would be no more hockey tonight. As Derek alluded to in his blog, fans could add two plus two and were leaving even before PA announcer Kevin Clark made it 'official'.
I have to admit, I can't wait to see how this thing plays out and what the fallout is. Heads have to roll here.

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