Last night, I ventured into scenic Newark, New Jersey - the Do-Rag capitol of the world - to watch the New Jersey Devils play the Pittsburgh Penguins. Right now, you're probably saying to yourself: "Wow, that sounds terrible - New York City must not be as exciting as its made out to be." And you would be correct.
Since nobody - not even a seasoned veteran of the Newark streets such as myself - wants to venture into downtown Newark alone at night, so I called in some reinforcements - the cool kids from American Hockey Fan. We rolled five deep, and got to the brand-spanking new Prudential Center just in time to watch the puck drop.
The owners of the Prudential Center want people to call it "The Rock," after Prudential's corporate logo. The best stadium nicknames - the rock pile, the green monster, the mistake by the lake, etc. - develop organically over time; they start with the fans and eventually gain purchase in the legitimate media. Here, every broadcaster refers to the Prudential Center as "the Rock," probably because either the league or the team contractually obligates them to do so. No more than 40% of the seats in the arena were filled. Counter-intuitively, the upper deck was far more crowded than the prime seats closer to the ice. We bought our tickets ($65 face value) on eBay for $30 apiece; tickets closer to the ice cost anywhere from $98 to $164 dollars. Is it any wonder the Devils play before half-empty arenas? At these prices, is it any wonder that the Devils' management has to bestow nicknames upon their own stadium? Its difficult for nicknames to grow organically when only 7,000 fans show up for the fourth home game of the season.
The big draw was Pittsburg center Sidney Crosby, the reigning winner of the the NHL's Hart Trophy, for the league's most valuable player, Lester B. Pearson Award, for the league's most outstanding player, and the Art Ross Trophy, for leading the league in scoring in the regular season. Basically, Sidney Crosby is the best young player to enter the league in twenty years, and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see him in person.
The game did not offer much in the way of entertainment. The Penguins shut out the Devils by the score of 5-0, and the Devils managed just 20 shots on goal, only two Iof which were legitimate scoring chances. In fact, the Penguins gave the Devils such a jailpounding that New Jersey Brett Sutter put the entire team, with the exception of the goalies, through a grueling stationary bike workout in the locker room after the game, as punishment. Bummed as I was to have paid $30 to watch that bad of a game, the night ended up being a lot of fun, in the way that Roadhouse is a fun movie. Some highlights:
●On our way to our seats, we pass concession stands selling Blue Moon, Bass, Stella Artois, sushi, and $12 corned beef sandwiches. I'm beginning to think that somewhere between the door and our seats we stepped through a portal and ended up in the East Village.
●Continuing on, we pass a vendor selling Molson Canadian and large soft pretzels covered in enough rock salt to de-ice the Jersey Turnpike. Finally, something that reminds me of a hockey game!
●The Devils can get nothing going on the offensive end. Meanwhile, the Penguins are getting all sorts of sweet plays set up deep in the New Jersey end. Crosby looks as if he's got the puck on a string - the only other players I've seen stick-handle like him are Paul Coffey and Gilbert Perrault. This kid is legit.
●Sidney Crosby scores a cheap, Rick Vaive-style rebound goal and is roundly booed by the 7,000 New Jersey Devils in attendance.
Jen: Crosby wears #87? That's an unusual number.
Me: I think he wears it because he was born in 1987.
Jen: Shit. (a beat) That makes me feel really old. (a beat) I need another beer.
●Jen, Doug and I went out for a beer, and happened across the Prudential Center's 'organist,' who plays from a weird sort of perch that looks exactly like one of those seatless concrete pads they reserve for people in wheelchairs. Unlike the Boston Garden and Buffalo's War Memorial Auditorium, which had pipe organs built into the walls, The Rock just plugs a $200 Yamaha electic keyboard into a set of amplifiers. The weirdest part was that the keyboard makes NO local sound. Like a laptop computer, once you plug a cable into the 'line out' jack, its speakers are automatically muted. The sight of a bald, headphoned, scarlet-blazered organist pounding away at a perfectly silent keyboard is actually pretty disturbing.
●During a stoppage in play, the Jumbotron scoreboard shows close-ups of fans scattered throughout the arena, hoping to get a smile or a friendly wave. Without exception, the fans they choose to show fall into one of three groups: pretty girls, little children, and old people. This being a hockey game, it was mainly old people and little kids. Also, not a single person they zoom in on is looking at the scoreboard, so nobody knows to smile or wave. Good times!
●The Pens score a pretty goal, their third of the night. Are these goals actually pretty, or, like Joseph Addai's run at the end of the first half of Sunday's Patriots-Colts game, is it impossible to tell where good offense ends and bad defense begins?
●The Jumbotron displays an idiotic electric card game in which a fan, selected at random, has to decide whether they second card displayed will be higher or lower than the first card displayed. If he guesses correctly, he gets a 'prize pack' full of promotional items for the movie Fred Claus. I'm not making this up.
●Devils' defenseman Zach Parise just levels an on-rushing Penguins forward with a questionable hit at the blue-line. Its a high-sticking penalty. Its also the most exciting thing to happen all game.
Doug: Hey, are we going to be able to make it back to the train station after the game? The streets of Newark are pretty dangerous at night.
Ben: I figure, if we're attacked, they can only take one of us, so my plan is to kick Jen in the knee and make a run for it.
Doug: Okay, now I need a new plan.
●A quick beer run turns into an odyssey when the beer stand closest to our section accounces it is out of Blue Moon, and the second-closest beer stand announces it is out of Stella Artois. You know you're with real hockey fans when the concessions stand runs out of Blue Moon and Stella Artois. No word on whether there's any sushi left.
●People we passed in the corridor: fat chicks in Devil's horns, little girls in Devil's horns, goateed 40-something man in a throwback Colorado Rockies jersey, guy in a suit talking into his Blackberry, a little boy wearing a baseball mitt, an entire family wearing matching Scott Stevens jerseys, and the winner of the Paulie Walnuts look-alike contest.
Me: This game is out of hand. Maybe every time a Devil touches the puck from here on out, we should just yell: "shoooooooot it!"
Doug: Wade, don't you think its a little optimistic to expect a Devil to touch the puck again tonight?
●Sidney Crosby scores again (this guy is good) on a sweet one-timer from Brooks Orpik. This brings down a round of boos as hearty as the remaining crowd of four or five thousand fans can muster, which in turn is followed by the Devils calling a timeout, which in turn is followed by a significant portion of the remaining fans getting up to head for the exits.
●No more than twenty seconds after the puck drops, somebody on the Penguins' checking line rips a shot off the crossbar from 30 feet out. The Devils gather the puck, head down the ice, and set up in the Pittsburgh end before a New Jersey defenseman rips a slapshot off the ass of a Devils forward, who just happened to be passing in front of the net, with his stick down (of course). Its been that kind of night.
Me: (45 seconds into a Pittsburgh possession) Wait . . . shit.
Doug: What's the matter?
Me: The Devils are on the penalty kill.
Doug: Yeah, what's weird about that?
Me: I just figured the Devils were so bad that the Penguins were controlling the puck like that at full strength.
Jen: So did I, until just a second ago.