“When there was a lockout (the Albany Devils) were the reason why we couldn’t say that there was ‘no hockey’ this season. While they played there was hockey.”
During last season’s NHL lockout, many hockey fans flocked to AHL arenas or the homes of other leagues to get their hockey fix. One league’s loss was another league’s gain, if you will. Sure, more attention during the work stoppage could be focused on football, basketball, video games, or long walks in the park but it simply is not the same as attending a live hockey game. Many fans that got to experience the AHL for the first time are more than happy they did. Now, they have another team to follow, cheer for, and another arena they can call “home” instead of just skimming over their AHL affiliate’s stats for the next possible NHL star. I spoke to several fans recently that attended Albany Devils games for the first time during last season’s NHL lockout about why they are returning to the Times Union Center or other AHL arenas to see their Albany Devils on the road this season when the Prudential Center is much closer to home. The following is several of their responses:
“Albany was a lot of fun because the people that were at the game really knew about the players and the game. In the NHL setting some people are just casual fans that don’t really know the players or the game.”-Michael
“If you go to a game in Albany, you are going for the love of the game since the experience level of the players is lower.”-Bob
This is an excellent observation and I certainly agree with Michael and Bob. Attending Albany Devils games is about more than just a night out. It is about a passion for the team and the game as a whole. There is innocence and purity with the game at the AHL level. There is a real connection with the fans and the players. These players do not have the contracts like their counterparts do in the NHL. Fans can relate to the Albany Devils players because of their blue-collar work ethic. They do not have the exposure like their NHL brethren. The fans can embrace these players as they work to reach their dream. There is also another aspect that allows the fans to feel a deep connection with the Albany Devils. They feel closer to the action and the rise and fall of the players because, frankly, they are much nearer the ice. The fans can see the hard earned gap between Rod Pelley’s teeth. They can see the reactions on the faces of the players after a shot was robbed by the opposing goaltender. They can see the look of despair on the face of one of their defenseman after an opposing forward danced around him to score a late goal. They can share in the endless smile that is always on the face of Stefan Matteau when he scores this season. They live and they die with the players because they share in the players’ love for the game.
To the New Jersey fan that looks at the box score and never watches the AHL squad, Joe Whitney should be playing in Newark because of his success in Albany and his excellent statistics. He is nothing more than a replacement for a current New Jersey player on the roster. The Albany fan and the flock of New Jersey fans that have watched Whitney live understand how special of a player Whitney is on the ice. He digs in the corners for the loose puck. He uses whatever strength he can muster in his small frame to battle in front of the net with much bigger defensemen. He is crafty and generates enough speed in those little legs of his to be a constant threat every time he is on the ice. New Jersey fans that got to witness this live and up close understand he is more than just a potential replacement for a player in Newark. He is a special kind of hockey player that only Albany Devils fans and New Jersey fans that have watched him play at the Times Union Center can truly appreciate.
“It’s also interesting to see the turnout at games (primarily New Jersey Devils fans) because the Albany Devils aren’t exactly located in (NJ) Devils territory.”-Michael
Michael’s second quote is intriguing. He was impressed with how many NJ logos can be seen in the crowd at the Times Union Center. Fans in the Capital District have limited television exposure to New Jersey Devils telecasts because of the NHL blackout policy. The NHL does not feel that Albany is in the territory of the New Jersey Devils so Michael is technically correct despite this ridiculous notion by the NHL. Instead, fans are subjected to telecasts of the Buffalo Sabres. Buffalo is about five hours via car from Albany while the Prudential Center is less than three hours away from Albany. (Then again, this is the same league that had the Winnipeg Jets in the Eastern Conference for one year too many.) So while the NHL tries to build the Sabres fan base in Albany, New Jersey fans still come out to support the Albany Devils. New Jersey fans that got to witness Albany Devils hockey for the first time were drawn to the hard fought battles as each player tries to make it to the next level. Devils fans that normally would only see the Devils at the Prudential Center or in the immediate NYC area (MSG, Nassau Coliseum) in the past are now willing to travel a little further north to watch future New Jersey stars play in Albany. This brings me to another fan’s thoughts.
“Even though the players (are still developing) I love watching them play for their dream. One day they may be playing for New Jersey. They play their hearts out each and every game. They are fighters.”-Christina
This is what the American Hockey League is all about. This is what the Albany Devils are all about. They play with passion and fight every game. Their ultimate goal is to play in the NHL and they are now one step away from reaching their dream. Are Albany Devils fans proud that they got to witness the development of Eric Gelinas? Ask any A-Devils fan and the answer is a resounding, “Absolutely!” Now, New Jersey Devils fans can say they also got to be a part of the development of Gelinas, Adam Larsson, and hopefully Keith Kinkaid.
“They always have great promotions for kids and adults like dollar dogs or $2 drafts. They care about the fans. It is (now) a home for a lot of people. I feel like I am going on a road trip to another home arena!”-Christina
From dogs being able to watch a hockey game to happy hour before a game, minor league promotions are always an absolute blast. Leaving an arena with a bobble head doll is always a thrill for adults and children alike. The A-Devils have a lot of excellent promotions, as I mentioned last month.
The Albany Devils welcomed New Jersey fans with open arms a year ago and continue to do so. By visiting the Times Union Center for the first time last season, New Jersey Devils fans now keep returning and it really is another home away from home. There is familiarity in the arena. Maybe it is the horns on the “A” that are similar to the “NJ” or the identical jerseys save for the logo. Maybe it is Tommy Albelin or Sergei Brylin behind the bench. Maybe it is the “This Is Our House” by Bon Jovi goal song (just kidding). Whatever the case may be, the Times Union Center is now a home for New Jersey Devils fans as well as Albany Devils fans.
Leo is in his second year with THW. He covers the 3-Time Stanley Cup Champion New Jersey Devils and the Albany Devils of the American Hockey League. You can follow Leo on Twitter, @LeoScaglioneJr.