Thursday evening I had an unexpected treat as a friend of mine was able to get complimentary tickets to the New Jersey Devils hockey playoff game.Three of us piled into my car and we drove to the Continental Airlines Arena in the Meadowlands to watch the Devils take on the Ottawa Senators. Since this post is about my experience as a spectator, let me dispose of the score/result in short order.
It was the second round opener for the Devils and they had been favored to win .Unfortunately for Devils fans, the defense let them down early as the Senators scored 4 goals off their first 8 shots. The Devils dominated the second period and clawed back to 4-3 but eventually lost 5-4.
Watching a game live is about much more than the result. If it were only about the game I would have been better off watching it on TV where a fan has the best seat in the house complete with slow motion replays, expert commentary and analysis. Watching a game live has other things going for it.
There was a almost a Carnival feeling outside the arena. Hawkers selling candy floss; vendors peddling beer and soft drinks, pretzels and hot dogs; a four piece band performing on a stage, very loud;TV reporters interviewing random fans; stiltwalkers, clowns and , of course, plenty of Devils fans , a few with their faces painted red, others with the Devils logo stencilled on their cheeks and many, many of them clad in Devils jerseys. We soaked in the atmosphere and bought pretzels( $3.50 ea.) and beers ( $7 each). “A steal at the price”, said the vendor. ” More like highway robbery”, I thought to myself, sourly. Entering into the spirit of the occasion, I had the Devils logo stencilled on my cheek even though I have always been a N.Y. Rangers fan. Good camouflage.
We filed in and took our seats which were above the visiting teams entrance tunnel, to the right, about 15 rows back from the ice and almost in line with the visitors goal . The Senators took the ice for their pre-game practice to a mixture of cheers and half hearted boos. Then the lights dimmed momentarily, spotlights danced over the arena and the crowd let out a prolonged roar as the P.A system blared ” AND NOW, HERE ARE YOUR NEW JERSEY DEVILS!” and the home team skated onto the ice.
The one or two times that I had tried to ice skate I fell more times than I could count. Thus I was able to appreciate all the more the skill of these players who skate backwards and forwards at great speed, controlling the puck while their opponents try to knock them of their feet. Of all the major sports, hockey has to be the most physically taxing as the action is continuous and full speed all the time. Shifts typically last only a minute or two and it is amazing to watch how players change on the fly.
Our seats were good in that they were close to the ice and we had a very good view of the action, watching the play as it developed in our half. However, the play at the other end was more difficult to follow as it was to far awayand we didn’t have the proper depth perception. Unfortunately for us, most of the goals were scored at the other end (we followed the action on the overhead TV screens) though we did get to see two goals scored at our end, as also a number of good saves.
Where one sits is very important as it can give a very different perspective of the proceedings. The previous time I saw a Devils game we were seated in the third row back from the rink and was able to really appreciate the physical, violent nature of the game. When players collided we could see drops of sweat arcing away from them ; when players were run into the boards, we could see their distorted faces mashed against the glass , their mouths open and showing their missing teeth ; hear their grunts. On the other hand, at a Ranger home game in Madison Square Garden several years ago, we were seated high up in the stands and had a good view of the whole ice , able to follow the action at both ends and watch the play as it developed. But , of course, we couldn’t really see the physicality of the game as were too far away to hear the grunting and the collisions as players were “boarded”.
I must say that the Devils fans are a much better behaved lot than Rangers fans. Perhaps it’s because the Devils have won 3 Stanley Cups in the 25 years of their existence while the Rangers have won only once in more than the 60 years that they have been around. Or perhaps , it’s just that New Yorkers are more passionate and more vociferous than suburban New Jerseyites. Whatever, the Rangers fans are downright surly and vicious and I would not like to take a lady or a youngster to a game at MSG.Then again, a playoff game at MSG is ALWAYS sold out; here. there were plenty of empty seats, maybe because the Devils will be moving to a new state-of-the-art arena in Newark this fall and the fans are disgruntled.
The Devils crowd consisted of a lot of fathers with their children, mostly boys but with a surprising number of girls. The youngsters were, more often than not, dressed in Devils jerseys, waving Devils pennants and mostly interested in the food and whether their picture was flashed on the giant TV screens overhead. Whenever it was, they would jump up and wave and yell .For them, the action on the ice was almost secondary but it was fun to see them having a good time.
I couldn’t help wondering at the amount of money people spend on watching pro sports. Our tickets were complimentary but we would have had to pay $ 75 for them had we bought them at the box office. Add the cost of parking ( $12), transportation, food and drinks and it would cost upwards of $ 200 for a father to take his child to a game. Pretty steep. For us, it was a once in a life time experience ( seats generally are sold only to season ticket holders) and one that we would savor. In future, whenever we watch a hockey game on TV, we will remember the time we went to the Meadowlalds and were able to see a game LIVE.