Opening night at “The Rock”

On a busy sports weekend which featured a World Series game between the Boston Red Sox and Colorado Rockies, college football Saturday, and two other games/events in close proximity, the Breeders’ Cup and the New York Rangers vs. Toronto Maple Leafs, the New Jersey Devils played their home opener in the brand new $375M Prudential Center (the Rock).

We drove in to downtown Newark for the first time to catch this game. As you entered the area, a certain vibrancy surrounded the arena. Though nearby, remnants of Newark long ago exist causing initial skepticism about building the arena there, it seems the area may be ripe to continue in its development.

Entering the arena, most of the crowd came through a huge glass enclosed entry way which extends from top to bottom of the building. Moving up long escalators, you arrive on the wide open concourse level featuring local New Jersey youth hockey jerseys hanging throughout, similar to the Minnesota Wild’s Xcel Center. It is clear the large building has all the modern amenities (suites, club seating, restaurants) of the new arenas which have been built by many NHL teams over the last decade.

At the start of the game, the capacity crowd, along with the state of the art sound system and video board, started to literally “rock” the house. The pre-game ceremonies included an introduction of the Devils’ players followed by the ceremonial drop of the puck by Devils’ owner Jeff Vanderbeek, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, Mayor Cory Booker, and former Devils’ Ken Daneyko and NHL Hall of Fame inductee, Scott Stevens along with the respective captains Patrik Elias and the Ottawa Senators’ Daniel Alfredsson.

Bettman commented that the Meadowlands lacked soul. Any sense of that existing in the Prudential Center was eliminated from the start. Though it was an excellent fan experience, the Devils lost the game 4-1. They will have to play well to establish interest and draw the largely suburban community to downtown Newark as the building’s anchor tenant with only a small number of lower priced tickets. The only other complaint heard was from some of the players about poor ice quality after a Bon Jovi concert the prior evening. Devils’s ownership has built a first class arena in an urban city trying to rid itself of crime and establishment of its growth potential which will be an interesting story to follow.