Last night the New Jersey Devils allowed their AHL affiliate from Lowell to play a regular season game at the Rock, facing off against the Ranger affiliate Hartford Wolf Pack. It was the third time this season that they did it, once in preseason and once earlier this month. I missed the one on January 6th (a Devil 3-2 win) but made it to the preseason match and last night's 3-2 win in overtime.
In Lou We Trust was there as well and posted a Devil-centric wrap. So here are some of my observations; sorry no photos as I have a contentious relationship with my camera at the moment:
*Minor league hockey is really fan friendly - it is cheap entertainment that is great for families. It is a shame that this game wasn't promoted more as it surely could have gotten more people. As is, there were a decent number of fans - probably a few thousand. The entire upper bowl of the Rock was cordoned off and most was blocked by black curtains but the lower bowl's luxury seats (between the bluelines) were all full - something that never happens during Devil games. It was general admission for $15 a ticket ($10 for kids) so everyone got to enjoy the high life for a bit. And perhaps the best thing is that the youngsters got to sit by the glass to see the speed and everything up close, which is only good for the future of the sport.
*Even with the game not getting much advance talk on the blogs or the papers, there was still a good showing of Ranger/Hartford fans. At one point I sat a few rows behind a guy wearing what looked like a game-worn Wolf Pack Blair Betts sweater. That's awesome.
*It was very quiet, which was creepy. When the Hartford power play did it's best impression of the Blueshirts special team, I pointed out that they indeed had the man advantage and it reverberated around the arena. Very strange, but funny. I had a bunch of high school kids chanting "sit down, shut up" clap-clap-clapclapclap which was utterly hilarious and something I plan on stealing for use in the Garden. Of course, these same high schoolers were unattended by parents and used vicious blue language that should have gotten them ejected as there were so many little kids around.
*As I mentioned, the Wolf Pack power play was pretty damn bad. They ended up going 1-7 with the lone tally coming from Brodie Dupont working the slot.
*Dupont was the best Hartford player on the ice. He went to the net, he carried the puck, he backchecked, killed penalties ... he was all over the place and his effort was exceptional.
*Evgeni Grachev? Notsomuch. If this kid is the future of the franchise, then our franchise is f-ed. Grachev was abysmal and was kept off the ice in the overtime. He definitely has size, he definitely has hands but he just couldn't get his act together out there. I saw him cough up the puck several times in the first period and then didn't notice him at all.
*The game went to overtime because Hartford clung to their 2-1 lead late in the game and collapsed into their own zone. Lowell was able to move the puck around to get the equalizer in the last minute and had what would have been the game-winner go over the goal line inside the far post past the sprawled Matt Zaba just a second after the final buzzer. Talk about saved by the bell...
*Zaba plays an entirely different game from Chad Johnson. Where DosNueve is economical with his movements, Zaba is outright twitchy. Still, he made several big saves and couldn't be faulted for at least one, if not both of the goals against.
*His counterpart, Mike McKenna, is a long goaltender like Valley who uses his pads well. McKenna had a clear view of Dupont's overtime game-winner (with 20 seconds left in the extra frame) and it just eluded his glove. He got a taste of the NHL last season but will need to do better than he did on this night if he is to get back to the show.
*Jordan Owens, who fed Dupont for the game-winner, kept himself involved all game. I would like to think he will get a shot at the show as a Higgens/Sjostrom-esque grit and goals guy but I didn't see enough of his offense to make a fair judgement.
*Earlier in the season I asked why Corey Locke wasn't given a shot when the Rangers suffered through so many scoring woes but now I see why. The diminutive center is easily shut down by tight checking.
*I would like to say good things about Ilkka Heikkinen but I didn't really see him doing too much. Still, he has to be an upgrade from Rozy and should be more comfortable in a Blueshirt with fellow Finn Jokinen around so let's give him a shot...
*The Devils' Louis Robitaille is an obnoxious thug. He is just the kind of player you love to hate and I definitely hate him. The guy cheap shots, takes big liberties with his hits and tries to start fights from behind the officials. Basically he is Cam Janssen with less courage (if that's possible). It was great seeing Devin DiDiomete land a few punches despite being hugged to death when the two tussled in the first period.
*Few Devils stood out other than that clown. Tim Sestito scored on a sweet shot over Zaba and was a major part of the Lowell offense but even then, that isn't saying too much as they play typical Devil hockey.
And even with the Devils being tight and boring for much of the penalty-filled affair, it was still a enjoyable experience and one that will hopefully happen again. Perhaps the next time they will advertise it better so more people can get in on the inexpensive fun.