The sights were incredible. Gazing upon Yankee Stadium decked out in NHL logos was quite a sight. There was a buzz even before you entered the stadium. With media crews working to get fan interviews and photos, it was clear that this event was so, so much more than just a regular game.
I met a large group of fans for the game and we enjoyed standing outside of Gate 4 as the droves of people entered the stadium. It was cold, but it was fitting. I couldn't help but feel that the outdoor game in Los Angeles lacked something because it wasn't exactly "hockey weather."
Walking into the stadium, it hit me that this chance to play a game outdoors, with a "neutral site" game was so rare. Yes, the NHL plays the Winter Classic every year and there will be plenty more Stadium Series games to come, but never have they played a game between two bitter rivals that are located so close together.
There were tons of fans for both teams. Some were surprised at how many Devils fans showed up for the game, but those are just people who don't understand the passion and dedication of the New Jersey Devils fan base.
The fans were fantastic. Between some good natured ribbing and tailgating in the few parking lots around the stadium, it was a sight to behold. Swarms of people dressed in red and blue, ready to support their teams.
This game did something for the New York area in terms of hockey coverage. It showed everyone that hockey DOES matter to a lot of people and that a major event involving hockey can fill up a baseball stadium.
Inside the Stadium
Upon going inside and getting to my seats for the game, it was truly a sight to behold. The snow covering the ground was incredible. The cold and the wind... I think it made it better. Between people wearing layer upon layers, everyone still managed to wear a hockey jersey over their cold gear. Have to support the team, right?
The two logos carved in snow were great. The colorful banners and outfield wall covers made it feel like a home away from home for both teams. Even the stage, which featured the letters NHL changed to look like subway lines was fantastic. They even included what was a play on a subway map just to give it a more unique feel.
Surprisingly, a lot of the seats were pretty good. I was lucky enough to sit up top. The presentation inside the stadium included musical performances and even some fireworks. In front of the rink was a smaller rink that had young hockey players skating on it all day.
Even some of the lower seats were pretty good, this one a view from the 200 section.
The moments leading up to the game were interesting. Both fan bases began to make themselves heard and the chants were going back and forth. When the two teams were announced and the Devils took the ice in their timeless throwback jerseys it became real. The Devils and Rangers were actually set to play in front of a raucous crowd.
As the game progressed, the buzz continued to grow. When Patrik Elias scored, the building erupted and continued to do so through much of the 1st and 2nd periods as the teams traded goals.
When snow started to fall late in the game, it was a perfect culmination of the day.
Though the third period certainly left a lot to be desired. As a fan of the game of hockey, a close game would have made for a more intense atmosphere and a more compelling game, but when all was said and done, the Blueshirt faithful left happy with a win.
Devils fans may not want to think about this game right away, but it's not always about the wins and losses that make it special. Whether you were covering the game as a member of the media, working at the stadium, or sitting there as a fan with a group of friends, the game was a one in a lifetime moment. No matter how many outdoor games they may have in the NYC Metropolitan area, nothing will ever compare to this one, the first time everyone got to see the two teams tussle without a roof.
A Lasting Impact
With the Super Bowl taking place at the Meadowlands and the basketball season continuing, hockey will go back to it's place as the 4th biggest sport in the area. That gap between the sports is starting to dwindle. With ticket prices through the roof for NFL, NBA and MLB games, hockey for a lot of fans is the most affordable ticket. Fans were made yesterday and whether they root for the Devils or Rangers, that is a good thing. Whether people were watching from home, or experiencing the stadium in person, the impact of this event for the NHL was enormous.
Though the NHL has had it's share of troubles over the last few years, events like this are what is helping to build the brand. Between the 2012 series pitting the Devils against the Rangers and now this, hockey is beginning to make real strides in the New York market.
It's back to the back page once again for hockey, but the growth was seen and heard in a resounding way from Yankee Stadium on Sunday.