Thursday, May 17, 2012

Bonus time at the Rock

While 18,200 hockey fans, mostly dressed in white, blue and suits descended on Madison Square Garden to be there live for Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, I contented myself with being one of approximately 1,500 or so fans who trekked out to the Prudential Center to another open viewing party for Devils fans inside the arena. The only fee you had to pay was $5 for parking in the garage at the arena (normally around $30 or so on an actual home gameday), not including whatever food and beer you wanted to buy. These viewing parties have been a relatively new but welcome trend with the Devils Army for almost every road game this postseason.

During the first round, the Devils had a limited viewing parties for Games 1 and 5 against Florida, where a couple hundred people won invites in a Facebook drawing, and my friend was one of the lucky recipents for Game 1 of the postseason. For those two viewing parties the Devils actually gave out free food and soft drink, and a nice seat in the restaurant to watch on TV, or on the ledge to watch on the jumbotron. Predictably the seats by the jumbotron filled up quickly but me and my friend still were able to go down there during the third period as some people left just prior to the conclusion of the Devils' 3-2 win against the Panthers.

Subsequently, the Devils have had open viewing parties for Game 7 of the Panther series, Game 5 against the Flyers and last night, all well-attended and all down in one of the club lounges to accomodate over a thousand people. While the food was discounted for one or two of those earlier ones, it wasn't last night - but that hardly affects me since I don't generally eat at the arena anyway. At least you could get water and soda for free still. However, the 'extras' have increased...the only prop used at the first viewing party was the goal horn, which went off after every Devils goal. Last night right as I walked in at 7:30 though, the normal warmup music was playing over the loudspeaker and just before the puck drop the Devils did their typical postseason video intro. While PA guy Kevin Clark wasn't there (he was for one or two of the earlier ones), the substitute did announce scoring after every Devils goal. It was funny hearing the taped message before the game about how you need to watch out for pucks going into the stands. Unless someone brought in their own puck last night, that'd be a little hard to fathom.

I can't say that experience was exactly like a game, but it's pretty close. Just like video games get closer and closer to simulating real-life, the Devils have gotten closer to simulating actual home games. Of course, when I looked down on the floor last night I saw a ton of seats as Kean University had set up a graduation for this morning instead of ice. And some of the upper sections were curtained off, but hey you never know just how realistic this experience may get if we get to the Finals. I don't think we're anywhere near the point yet of being able to fill the building for a viewing party the way they do in Canadian cities though, like Calgary for the 2004 Finals for example.

Not to mention the fans at the arena last night were ready to make noise and chant, to a degree it really did feel like being in a loud section of the arena. Watching the NBCSN telecast on the jumbotron last night, every time they showed the face of Ranger coach John Tortorella and Henrik Lundqvist boos rained down from the heavens. Somewhat surprisingly Pierre McGuire also got the boo treatment last night, clearly he isn't a fan favorite in these playoffs. Although sometimes Pierre can be a little nutty, and perhaps he looked at things from a Flyer viewpoint a little too much in the last series, in his defense let's be honest...when you work for Comcast, it's not always your fault if the telecast takes a certain turn, considering Comcast owns the Flyers as well.

To say these viewing parties have been genius would be overstating it, since it's not like the Devils invented the concept. We might have more regular season viewing parties at bars like Miami Mike's and Texas Arizona in Hoboken than other teams do, but we're (very adroitly) piggybacking on a playoff tradition that's been around for years with certain teams by putting the game on at the arena for fans to watch. Clearly however, the viewing parties and the other stuff the Devils have done through social media as well as an agressive Fan Experience team have helped up the 'buzz' factor. After gaining nearly 2,000 new season ticket holders last year following the Devils' worst season in two decades, the Devils have picked up another 1,100 this spring and counting. Not all of those seats have been in the $22 section that I sit in either, in fact the $22 section has shrunk from last year, as a few rows in each of the behind the net sections have gone up to $24 for next year - mine stayed flat though.

I kinda wish I'd taken more pictures last night (aside from the scoreboard above at the game's end) but after I got in at 7:30 - behind a line that stretched all the way from the practice rink to the parking garage - and used the restroom, the seats down by the scoreboard were already filling up. I did find an open single seat with a good view of the jumbotron and just stayed there for much of the game, with one exception. After the Rangers went back in front 2-1 I stormed out of my seat and briefly thought of going home, I'd had it with everyone and everything by this point. There's no need to go into the details of the game, Derek covered that well enough. However, I saw the clock and that there were only a few minutes left in the second period so I figured I'd stick it out in the lounge and see if they scored before intermission. Lo and behold, Ryan Carter did score on a deflection in the dying minutes of the second and all of a sudden it felt like a new game again.

After getting some water, I went back down to where I'd been sitting and surprisingly, the seat was still open so I stayed there this time and after David Clarkson scored early in the third, sweated out a tense final few minutes before a win that the Devils really needed. The only bad part about being at a viewing party is you can't see the postgame live, although I have to say in this round the monsterous postgame is just trying to serve too many masters. Talk to the Devil analysts, talk to the Ranger analysts, go back to the studio, interview a Devil, interview a Ranger. Why not just have seperate postgames for both teams already? I'm not sure either fanbase like having to listen hearing to interviews and analysis of the other team, although I was interested in what Marian Gaborik had to say about his benching in the third...especially since you knew Tort would gruff his way through another waste of a press conference after about sixty seconds or so and not give an answer. At least taping the postgame, I can fast-forward through parts I don't need to see.

At least the show didn't have the technical difficulties that the arena did. Goofy bounces off the boards, over-watering the ice between periods and of course the penalty box snafu where Travis Zajac got called for a penalty but the door to the box wouldn't open during the second period. Eventually he had to go into the opposite penalty box so as to avoid holding up the game any longer than the few minutes it had already been held up. Even Martin Brodeur took a shot at the arena in the postgame, saying something to the effect of how many millions they (the Garden) spent for renovations to the arena and they obviously forgot about the doors to the penalty box. Something else for the checklist this offseason when Stage 2 begins, I guess.

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