Is there anything more satisfying than heading to the arena water closet, sending a few beers back out to sea, looking down and having your team's logo staring back at you from the top of the flusher? Of course not, and that's one of the reasons why the Prudential Center, the Newark-tastic new home of the New Jersey Devils, is, as the kids used to say, "the shizz."
I was in the house for Opening Night at the new ice barn, after two-and-a-half torturous decades in that cement sedative now known as the IZOD Center. The less said about the Devils' pathetic offense -- which looked about as dangerous as a blind double-amputee trying to stab someone with a plastic spork in their 4-1 loss to Ottawa -- the better. Let's focus on the positive ... or at least as positive as a Jersey-born blogger can be, considering the fact that cynicism was actually a study unit in my kindergarten class.
After the jump, photos by yours truly and others, as well as reviews of the Devils' new den ...
For the first time in the franchise's history in the Garden State, a Devils home game was easily accessible by New Jersey Transit rail service. Which meant that tailgating could take on several new dimensions: booze in the train station parking lot, on the train platform and on the train itself, if you knew how to sneak it or if your conductor was that apathetic. Taking rail to Newark is going to be an interesting journey during the season. You see, there are plenty of Devils fans in Central and North Jersey. There are also plenty of Rangers fans, some of whom were headed to see their team at MSG against Toronto on Saturday night ... on trains filled to the gills with red and white jerseys. The Devils fans on my train would cheer whenever a fellow fan entered their rail car, and jeer whenever a Rangers fan came aboard. It was all in good fun ... but I wonder if the atmosphere will be a tad more tense on Nov. 14.
Once in Newark, the partying options were a little less well-defined. It reminded me of when the MCI Center opened in D.C., as there were only a few watering holes and restaurants in what is now a booming area for downtown nightlife. In Newark, there are a few decent bars, but it's clearly an area that might see a little economic transitioning; as my father pointed out, the ratio of nail salons to professional hockey arenas was quite disproportionate.
We settled into Arena Bar, pictured above, which is a few blocks from The Rock, which was absolutely packed with Devils fans. It was loud and it was a rowdy -- the first "Let's Go Devils" chants of the night echoed through the pub. Just like on the train to the game, there was a nearly unprecedented vibe from these fans: A feeling of community and camaraderie that I've only detected three times before ... only this time, Scott Stevens wasn't lifting the Stanley Cup in a parking lot.
This is a police cruiser with its lights on. Let's just say there were more than a few of them driving around before and after the game; or, as one fan put it to me, "There are so many friggin' cops out here, it looks like a P.B.A. convention." Any fears for safety by Devils fans were eased fairly quickly; even Tom Brady didn't have this kind of protection over the weekend.
Getting into the place was a little rough. Lines at the entrances were several dozen deep, and the ticket-taking and metal detection slowed the flow to a crawl. It left plenty of time for fans to visit the team's spiffy new gift shop, and to point and shout "Hey, it's Silent Bob!" when they spotted director Kevin Smith walking by, inconspicuously dressed in a giant black trench coat over a Devils jersey. But once inside, it was quite a spectacular entrance: A large logo on the floor in front of the escalators, and a huge silo-like tower with lights that made it appear to be filled with flames ...
Pretty cool, right? I hear it's a perfect replica of the brainwashing chamber Lou Lamoriello uses in contract re-negotiations with Marty Brodeur.
I know what you're thinking: The team finally stops playing the trap, and NOW they start passing out the blunts? Actually, this was part of the opening night festivities: The chance to watch some dude roll tobacco smokes on the concourse. I wonder if they're Zdeno Cigers?
There were a number of really nice touches inside the arena. Some are permanent: Huge murals featuring Devils players, Devils history and other New Jersey sports images; jerseys from area high-school teams hung around walkways; and some upscale bars and restaurants for fans looking for something more than an $8 beer and a $7 Italian sausage. Some other touches were temporary, like this large Devils puck that fans could sign with white markers. I heard one of the "puck handlers" say that any "Rangers Suck" messages would be painted over; better start mixing the Dutch Boy.
The aforementioned $7 Italian sausage, with peppers and onions and marinara. Surprisingly, this caused less indigestion than the Devils' power play.
A view from the ice. Add up all of those uniform numbers above, and the sum is the number of shots the Devils need to take for every goal they score.
The interior of the arena is very sleek, very modern. I sat in Section 11 downstairs, so I'm not sure about the sight lines from the upper deck. I can tell you that there are $10 tickets to every home game in the corners of the highest level, and I was told by one of the fans up there that it was a better seat than most of the cheap sections of the Meadowlands. The scoreboard above the ice is impressive but a little distracting: Sometimes the digital ads on the Jumbotron and on the video screens around the mezzanine change in unison during the play, cause a sensory overload slightly less overwhelming than a Michael Bay film.
Good acoustics inside the joint. The "Scott-y Steve-ns" and "Rangers Suck" chants carried about as well as actress Emmy Rossum's rendition of the National Anthem before the game. (A quick word about Ms. Rossum: "Fetching.")
Snark and opening-night hiccups aside, the Prudential Center is an absolute marvel and the kind of arena you might need to visit three or four times before you take in all there is to see and do. I make no secret the fact that I'm a lifelong Devils fan; at the risk of sounding like I'm the kind of guy who gets the sniffles while watching "The Notebook," I'll admit to getting a little misty-eyed during my first glances inside The Rock. Because after 25 years and three Stanley Cups, this was the first time that the house matched the prestige of its tenants. It was the first time I felt there was a chance for Devils fandom to reach beyond the die-hards who braved the Turnpike for every home game. And it was the first time -- after decades of stressing over box score attendance figures and occasional relocation rumblings -- that I could finally breathe a sigh of relief; my Devils are going to remain the New Jersey Devils, and the next Stanley Cup parade isn't going to be in Lot A -- it'll be down Broad Street, Newark, NJ.
Other Looks At The Rock:
Rally around 'The Rock' - NorthJersey.com
Sights and sounds from the Devils' Prudential Center Opener - Star Ledger
A Night of Firsts - Star Ledger
Something From the Heart - 2 Man Advantage
10 Things You'd Never Guess About The Rock - Interchangeable Parts