NEWARK NJ - JULY 20: Team owner Jeff Vanderbeek and Ilya Kovalchuk of the New Jersey Devils field questions during a media opportunity announcing Kovalchuk's contract renewal at the Prudential Center on July 20 2010 in Newark New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
As most of you already know, Jeff Vanderbeek, Devils alumni, and other management personnel have been going around the state networking with fans. Last night was the third stop of Jersey Tour, which was held at Morton's Steakhouse at the Shops at Riverside Mall in Hackensack. John attended the inaugural event in Long Branch in late July. Here's his take and summary of the event. The second stop was in Hoboken at the Hoboken Bar and Grill. Here's a recap from the Devils website.
The panel included Devils Chairman and Managing Partner Jeff Vanderbeek, Devils Co-Owner Michael Gilfillan, and Devils alumni Ken Daneyko, Grant Marshall, and Bruce Driver. The event was emceed by Devils play-by-play radio announcer Matt Loughlin from WFAN. After a period of mingling with some food and drinks, fans were able to ask the panel some questions regarding the Devils, Prudential Center, and of course a certain Russian hockey player.
John was able to obtain an invitation for ILWT and I through the New Jersey Devils, and I thank both for the opportunity to go. There wasn't a separate media portion, thus here is a summary of the introduction, the Q and A session, and some additional information I gathered afterwords. All after the jump.
Overall, there were around 70 fans at the event (this is an estimation, I'm bad at numbering crowds). Fans were emailed about the event and must RSVP for an invitation on a first come, first serve basis. The event was filled in 25 minutes! Bergen County is truly Devils Country, having the largest fan base of any county in the state.
Grant Marshall started the introduction talking about the Devils Alumni Association. Devils alumni like himself go around the state, attending community events, playing in charity games, and hosting school assemblies. They preach to students about education, the dangers of drugs and alcohol, and setting goals (good pun).
Michael Gilfillan spoke next. This was his first Jersey Tour stop. He's a native of New Jersey and takes pride in being apart of an organization with NJ on their chest. He told a short story about surprising his son's bantam hockey team with the Devils retro jerseys around the same time they were worn by the Devils. The opposing teams were overwhelmed, and the team ultimately won the tournament.
Jeff Vanderbeek finished up the introduction explaining how the organization wants to better the game day experience for the fans. He was very clear in letting the fans know that taking pride in New Jersey should include rooting for the Devils. "This isn't North Jersey's Team, this isn't Central Jersey's Team. We're not that slip of land between Philly and New York. We are Jersey's Team." He also mentioned the last time he was at the restaurant was with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Would you be surprised if I said everyone booed?
There were a decent amount of questions from the fans, most were off-ice issues, concerns, and praises. Here's a summary of them:
Let's get the obvious one out of the way. The Ilya Kovalchuk update. The fan first thanked Jeff and Michael for their commitment they initial made on July 19th. It was heartening to him to know the owners are willing to make that type of investment to better the team, the fan base, and the state. The owners humorously exchanged the microphone at first. Jeff Vanderbeek was mum about the subject but did say he and the Devils "will exhaust all possibilities" to (re?)sign him.
One fan asked about having an old timer's game at Prudential Center before or after a Devils game. Bruce Driver answered first by stating the alumni association plays around 8-10 games a year for a number of charities, local and national. The team (leading scorer is Ken Daneyko by the way) would certainly be interested. Jeff Vanderbeek followed up stating it's a good idea, and continued in telling the fans that the organization is establishing a Devils Hall of Fame. He went on in saying that all portions of The Rock should be used. During the design stages of the arena, he and other personnel went to around 20 different arenas for ideas. One idea they came up with was hanging up high school and youth hockey jerseys from all around the state.
One fan wanted to know the benefits of the New Jersey Nets moving to Prudential Center. Vanderbeek said of two major benefits: One being financial through concessions, tickets sales, rent, etc. This off season, the Nets have sold more season tickets than ever before. Second was the fact that between 350k-400k more people will be walking through the doors of the arena each season, further expanded it's reputation at one of the newest, nicest buildings to see a sporting event.
Another fan followed up on the previous questions asking about the NJSEA and IZOD Center being the "entertainment" arena in the area. Vanderbeek was also quiet on this, letting the fans know the committee report is available on the web. Prudential Center will still hold concerts, and other non-sporting events.
One fan asked about the Devils chances playing in a Winter Classic preferably against the Rangers. Vanderbeek said the organization has expressed it's interest to the NHL yet there are some problems. First, Meadowlands Stadium and Yankee Stadium are booked during the holiday period. (I feel that's not a major problem, there are other outdoor stadiums in the area: Rutgers Stadium, Citi Field, Red Bull Arena). Second, the NHL wants to have two different TV markets. He said if there is a Winter Classic in the tri-state area, the Devils will be sure to be involved in it.
One fan asked about the possibility of having a College/NHL doubleheader at The Rock. Well he's in luck. Colgate will play Cornell Saturday, November 27th at Prudential Center. The Devils have a game against Philadelphia the same day in the afternoon. Spend a nice fall day in Newark and attend both games.The Devils and Prudential Center officials have also expressed their interest in getting the NCAA Frozen Four. They will be the host of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament East Regional this March.
Steve Lepore of SB Nation New York was also there, and asked a question regarding getting Devil games on MSG Plus in High Definition. Vanderbeek said the Devils production must match the Rangers (I don't know if it's on-ice production or ratings wise) to have an even amount of HD and prime channel games during the contract's length. He did say the organization is looking into the contract with Cablevision.
Here's some additional information coming from the Q and A session: The Devils will have a Block Party this year. They are looking into the feedback at the season ticket holder meet and greet autograph session. One fan mentioned changing the goal song. Another mentioned getting rid of the organ player. The Devils Fan Club is the largest in the NHL.
After the Q and A session, fans were able to take pictures and converse more with the panel and other Devils management. I was able to speak with one person about the overall plans around Prudential Center. Within three to five years, the area around the Rock will be very different than what it is now. Groundbreaking on a hotel next to the arena will start shortly and is scheduled to open in two years. A number of bars and restaurants will be opened around Championship Plaza. A park will be built connecting Newark Penn Station to the arena. There are already a few businesses open like the Brick City Bar and Grill and the Brick City Coffee Co. The Devils are thinking long term for the arena and for Newark, further realizing it's mission to bring pride to the state and the community.
Thank you to Jeff Vanderbeek, Michael Gilfillan, the Devils alumni, and the entire organization for holding a one of a kind event. No other team has this type of interaction with fans and ownership. Thank you to Devils management and John for getting me the invitation as well. It will be a night I'll never forget. Also, congratulations to Grant Marshall who is getting married this weekend.
Your thoughts on the event? Did you attend it? What did you think? Was there something I missed? If have a question for anyone on the panel, what would it be and toward whom? Any thoughts, concerns, problems can all be expressed in the comments. Thanks for reading.
UPDATE: NJDTV has put up a short video summarizing the event.