Newark, New Jersey: Prudential Center, April 3rd 2015 (7 of 30)

End of season games are a crap shoot when you’re buying your tickets early: they can be a hard fought battle for a playoff spot, or turn out to be a meaningless game. This game was the latter as the Devils were officially eliminated from the post-season dance. The Habs were flirting with first place in the East, but it didn’t seem that important in the grand scheme of things. But we were set on enjoying our trip regardless of the game’s importance or outcome.

We set out by car early on the Friday of the game, and were quickly at the border. Unfortunately, there were a lot of vehicles leaving for the Easter weekend, and it took us an hour to get through.Fortunately, we were waived through by the custom agent in mere seconds! Luck was on our side.

The drive through the Adirondacks is always nice because of the spectacular view, but as we’re sort of between winter and spring, it was more drab than usual. Oh well, good music and conversation passed the time. We made good time and arrived in Newark towards the end of the afternoon. I expected the area around the Prudential Center to be mostly office buildings, but driving along the river to get to downtown, we were shocked to see how run down the city is. There were a lot of dilapidated buildings, and general disrepair. It got slightly better as we approached the Prudential Center, but we had to go around a few blocks to get on the correct side of Broad Street to reach our hotel, and we drove through streets that didn’t look very safe. It’s clear that people aren’t rich in this area.

 

DSC_0015We stayed at Hotel Indigo, a brand new boutique hotel that’s on the same block as the arena; at least we wouldn’t have to walk through shady streets after the game. It’s a brand new hotel that was built in the gutted remains of an old bank. Old pillars are exposed throughout for that industrial look, and in the restaurant, you can even see the old vault. We dropped our luggage in the room, I grabbed my camera, and we headed out to scout the area. Broad Street has that classic American “main street” look, with shop after shop lining each side of the street.

 

Looming large over the area is the Prudential building where the company is headquartered. Lots of buildings in disrepair sit next to brand new ones; clearly the city is trying to revitalize the area around the arena. Even though the game was a few hours away, police officers were arriving in numbers and setting up around the arena. We stopped by the Fan’s Den, the official team shop and bought a few souvenirs. We then headed out across the street to Championship Plaza.

Championship Plaza is a large gathering area right across from the arena, whose centrepiece is a large stylized statue of a hockey player. (A friend of mine astutely remarked that it looks like a pixelated character from an early video game). A large Devils logo is embedded in the blocks, along with bricks celebrating the Devils’s Stanley Cups and championships (They’ve left two blank bricks for future Cups). To be honest, it looks great on Google Maps, but in person, the effect is quite underwhelming. There’s also a monument to the ever present Prudential, also known as “The Rock”, and not surprisingly it is a… large rock.

We stopped by the next door Dinosaur BBQ for a bite to eat. Place was packed, but after about 20 minutes we were seated. In the meantime we sampled some of their house brews which were pretty good. Food was good and service was friendly (despite my Habs jersey) and we made our way to the arena.

Everyone was getting searched when entering the building, a security measure that’s fast becoming the norm everywhere. Entrance is made through a pair of escalators (unless you’re in the VIP section; in that case you get your own parking with direct access into the venue). As usual, you get concessions all around the concourse, with a nice selection of food and drinks. The Prudential Center offers a very nice twist on the traditional concourse: there are no walls into the arena (although curtains are drawn during the game), giving an open feel and a great view that’s really amazing. Buffalo had the same thing, but here it was done to spectacular effect. Seriously, this needs to become an arena standard everywhere.

We didn’t spare the expense on the tickets (why drive all this way to sit in the rafters?), and  we made our way to what turned out to be pretty amazing seats, right by the Habs bench. As is the case everywhere, there were a lot of Habs fans in the stands. There were even some Rangers fans who made the short trip across the river. The pregame presentation was really well done, using projections on the ice and lighting to great effect. One of the best we’ve seen so far. The scoreboard has a nice dual screen configuration but it’s so cluttered with advertising that the overall effect is diminished.

During warmup, it looked like the arena would be half empty but people kept streaming in and it was packed by puck drop. This was the second of back to back games, so the Habs played backup goalie Dustin Tokarski, who hasn’t had a good year, letting in a clonker or two each game he played. But by the end of the first period, the Habs were up 2-1, and seemed in control. The Devils goal gave us the opportunity to hear their goal song, “Devils Rule”, and uptempo rocker that gets “personalized” by the local fans who replace some of the “Let’s go Devils” by “You suck!”, presumably aimed at the visiting goal tender and his teammates. Is it that famous New York attitude seeping in across the river? Still, I have to say it is one of the best goal songs in the NHL in my opinion.

The Devils tied the game in the second period, and no other goals were scored which brought us to shoot out time! I like the shootout, but feared for our Habs. Rookie goaltender Keith Kincaid stopped Alex Galchenyuk and David Desharnais, Jacob Josefson and Patrick Elias both put a puck past Tokarski, and the Devils got away with a win. Looks like we were 0-2 on our trips this year.

Our evening was nonetheless very enjoyable, as the Prudential Centre has one of the best game experience we’ve encountered in our trips so far. The fans were passionate, their mascot NJ Devil is one of the coolest in the league, the food was good, and the presentation was top notch. Thumbs down though to the two idiots in our section who started chanting “U.S.A.!” when Alex Galchenyuk went for his shootout attempt, as Galchenyuk is American.

As is our habit, we tried to squeeze in some sightseeing the day after. We decided not to stick around downtown, despite having passed some nice photo ops on our way in, and headed to The Mall at Short Hills for some shopping. If we felt that the area around the Prudential Centre was a little too low rent for us, we were in for a complete change of scenery. The parking lot was full of luxury cars, and the shops turned to be really upscale: Cartier, Coach, Tesla, Dior, Gucci, Armani… the list went on and on. Luxury cars from Bentley, Rolls Royce and the likes were on display throughout. The Mall looked brand new, but I was surprised to learn it opened in 1980.

We then headed south to Red Bank to spend a few hours on Broad Street. Red Bank has that typical American small town look, and Broad Street is the typical main street with fancy shops, and a clean, relaxed ambiance. We made our first stop at Jay & Silent Bob’s Secret Stash, the comic book store owned by filmmaker Kevin Smith. The store itself isn’t anything special but it holds a collection of memorabilia from Smith’s movies (and quite a few Devils items too), and most of the merchandise related to him is sold signed. I grabbed a copy of Mallrats on bluray so I could frame the autographed cover. Looks great in my office!

We also stopped at Carlo’s Bakery, Buddy Valastro’s pastry shop made famous on the reality TV show “The Cake Boss”. (The original, and the one featured on the show, is located in Hoboken though) Just walking in the place, the smell was mouth watering, and the sight of rows upon rows of beautiful pasties was a sight to behold. We bought some of their famous canolis along with an assortment of pastries (that we ended up eating all on our drive back to Montreal!), and had what is probably the best cheesecake I’ve ever had!

As we were waling back to our car to go back home, I decided on a lark to check out a liquor store we passed, and managed to score some Iron Maiden Trooper beer! I was quite surprised to see it sold in cans, as I’d only been aware of the bottles. Technically I wasn’t allowed to bring back alcohol free of import charges as I hadn’t been away for more than 48 hours, but I was honest with the border agent who didn’t care about 4 cans of beer and let me through. (Emboldened by this, I tried bringing back a bottle of Tequila the week after, on another 24 hour trip. I got the full lecture that time from the border agent that day…

Overall, this was a great trip to a great arena. We might actually come back before finishing this project.

You can check out the game’s boxscore here.

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