It was a bit of a quiet night for hockey fans riding from Penn Station to Newark about an hour before game one of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night. There was no raucous celebration or pep rally in Times Square or Penn Station, which probably would have occurred if the Rangers were facing the L.A. Kings. However, the Devils prevailed in the Eastern Conference Finals, leaving those at MSG to tend to the latest piece of their renovation, probably of the building and of the two teams, the Knicks and the Rangers, who play in “The World’s Most Famous Arena.”
However as you got within a few blocks of the Pru, the jerseys, Springsteen songs, NHL Network’s studio, even a pirated “D” from the Hollywood sign all emerged, as well as thousands upon thousands of younger red and black clad Devils fans. It is a big change from the last time the club vied for the Cup, when rumors of unsold tickets at the last minute had officials scrambling to fill what is now the IZOD Center. No, it’s not Gotham per se, but the Devils brand is healthier in New Jersey than it has ever been.
In some ways it has been a rocky financial year for the team from many fronts. The issues with minority ownership and the recent issues with Mayor Cory Booker have given the team its share of fits. Yesterday NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the team’s financial issues will be settled in a few weeks, giving more hope that the franchise will shed one of its clouds.
However, those two issues do not detract from where the team has come from. The Devils’ commitment to its growing fan base through social media engagement, its alumni work and the positive outreach by its players has made the season for the brand of the Devils better than any since the franchise relocated from Colorado and eventually moved to The Pru.
The Stanley Cup Final remains a bit of an anomaly as far as “big” sporting events go. The Super Bowl, the World Series, the NBA Finals and All-Star Game have really become national corporate sponsor activation platforms. While the NHL has moved to be bigger and better with the Final, and the Cup remains so iconic, the games themselves are still full—at least in New Jersey—with long-suffering and passionate fans and much less of a corporate environment.
A look around the arena saw a sea of red, and you could not go more than two or three seats in any direction in any section without seeing a face painted or a jersey of the hometown team. The team’s Twitter and Facebook accounts lit up all night with fans watching on NBC, and the advantage of being on WFAN Radio (although last night was bumped to Bloomberg 1130 for the Mets) as their prime carrier also is a huge improvement from the last time the team was in the final.