Earlier today, the New Jersey Devils announced they will send their two minor league teams to Atlantic City for a combined five games during the upcoming 2010-2011 season.
The American Hockey League's Albany Devils will play four regular season contests at Boardwalk Hall (formerly the Atlantic City Convention Hall) and the ECHL's Trenton Devils will play one game there against the Wheeling Nailers.
The four opponents the Albany Devils face will be the Adirondack Phantoms, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, the defending Calder Cup champion Hershey Bears and the Norfolk Admirals.
The Press of Atlantic City was the first news source to confirm the scheduled games after a news conference was held inside Boardwalk Hall to make the announcement. New Jersey Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek and general manager Lou Lamoriello were on hand along with state and local dignitaries.
New Jersey Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello, New Jersey lieutenant governor Kim Guadagno and Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek at today's press conference.
(image courtesy: Danny Drake/The Press of Atlantic City)
"Bringing these games to Atlantic City is a positive family friendly addition to the region and will provide southern New Jersey hockey fans a chance to see one of the state's many great sporting teams - the New Jersey Devils hockey teams development squad," New Jersey lieutenant governor Kim Guadagno said. "I am glad I could be a part of today's announcement and hope to see more creative public-private ventures like this one developing in Atlantic City in the coming months."
The objective of holding these games in Atlantic City was made clear from Vanderbeek himself.
"We are not North Jersey's team, we are not Central Jersey's team and we are certainly not the team in the strip of land between New York and Philadelphia," Vanderbeek said during the press conference. "This is New Jersey's team and we really need to and want to embrace everybody from this state. We really want to expand our reaches."
Last winter, the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority finalized an agreement with Caesars Atlantic City to bring the games to Boardwark Hall, an historic venue that opened in 1929. Lamoriello had made a tour of the facility in April and was impressed. It later led to joining a partnership to hold the event.
"I was really rather flabbergasted," Lamoriello told MSG Network's Anthony Fucilli. "It was an easy decision."
An announcement was made last year that Boardwalk Hall would be the host venue to the 2011, 2012 and 2013 ECAC Hockey men's championship.
New Jersey Devils radio play-by-play announcer Matt Loughlin, team owner Jeff Vanderbeek and general manager Lou Lamoriello express the significance of having five minor league games in Atlantic City for the organization.
(video courtesy: NHL Productions)
Two Sports Blog Nation hockey writers provided their thoughts as to what these five games could mean for the future of hockey in the Garden State.
Travis Hughes of Broad Street Hockey brought up the territorial issue of what regional team South Jersey sports fans support most. His blog entry headline "Devils invade Flyers country..." couldn't be more clear.
"Atlantic City, Atlantic County and the Southern Jersey Shore, as you may know, sits deeply in the Philadelphia media market and is certainly considered Flyers territory," Hughes wrote. "There are Devils fans here, to be sure, but anybody telling you that this area is anything but orange and black is lying to your face."
Understood. It is widely known that the state of New Jersey has been viewed as being split in two for the sports media coverage and sports fan loyalties to the two major cities it's adjacent to. The northern half has been considered for New York City with primarily the southern half for Philadelphia. When it comes to television markets, the Big Apple has its reach go as far south as Ocean County. But the Devils continue to have the challenge of building a large fan base in New Jersey with the presence of their nearby Atlantic Division rivals in the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers.
Boardwalk Hall is located 54 miles southeast of Philadelphia (specificly the Wells Fargo Center). But communities situated on the northwest side of the Atlantic City area do fall within the Philadelphia Flyers broadcast territory, that according to the National Hockey League Constitution.
Hughes acknowledged Vanderbeek's marketing strategy.
"This whole thing seems like the part of a larger strategy for the Devils. Along with their Jersey's Team marketing slogan, which debuted two seasons ago, they're certainly making a concerted effort to expand their reach outside of North and Central Jersey. If they were to move their farm team to South Jersey and get involved in the local hockey community - the rink in AC, by the way, is the Flyers Skate Zone - there's no disputing they could develop a fan base here. Vanderbeek knows that."
But a very fair question raised by Hughes was if the Devils have the intention of trying to place a minor league affiliate in Atlantic City sometime down the road.
"It really does seem like they're interested. The key word in that sentence is interested, of course, and there's no guarantee that these five games will be successful here," Hughes said. "After all, the ECHL's Boardwalk Bullies won a Kelly Cup in 2003 and wound up leaving town just two years later. Bad marketing and poor attendance did them in."
John Fischer of In Lou We Trust believes it is far too early to draw that conclusion either.
"I'm not really convinced," Fischer said. "The Devils are in Albany for the next 5 seasons; and as far as I know, there's no rumblings about the Devils wanting to move Trenton. I'm not sure how going from Trenton to Atlantic City would be an improvement, Trenton is in 'Flyers Country' as much as AC as far as I know. Plus, a lot can happen in 5 seasons. Who knows, perhaps Albany takes to this version of the Devils' AHL affiliate and gives them reason to stay there longer?"
However, the Devils are more focused on efforts to showcase the sport to new fans, not re-locating their minor league teams. At the same time, Vanderbeek hopes this event can provide an overall boost to the city's economy. One idea has the Devils possibly sponsoring rinks and youth teams in southern New Jersey.
New Jersey Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek announces his two minor league affiliates will play 5 games at Boardwalk Hall during the upcoming 2010-2011 season.
(image courtesy: Danny Drake/The Press of Atlantic City)
"We really look forward to coming down here and playing these games. We hope this is the start of something very big," Vanderbeek said. "I was able to see the re-birth the first time of Atlantic City because the casinos opened up a year and a half later. We really hope we're a part of a new renaissance here that really allows for entertainment for all walks of life."
Lamoriello also sees this as a new opportunity for the organization. He explained how this event came together.
"For us, it's a different experience. And also we tried very hard to work with the American Hockey League to get teams from the local area," he said. "For example, in playing Adirondack and playing Wheeling and playing Wilkes-Barre. So it was something that we tried to get all fans coming together."
(video courtesy: MSG Network)
The New Jersey Devils will have their AHL affiliate back in Albany, New York after a four-year absence. They originally ran the Albany River Rats from 1994 to 2006 before the Carolina Hurricanes became the parent club through last season. The River Rats just relocated to Charlotte, North Carolina to become the AHL's Charlotte Checkers. The Albany Devils took their place in New York State's Capital District with their arrival from Lowell, Massachusetts.
After the Trenton Titans entered the ECHL in 1996, the minor league franchise would later be purchased by the New Jersey Devils and become their new ECHL affiliate. With the Sun National Bank Center as their home arena, they've been the Trenton Devils since May 18, 2007.
Guadagno is responsible for promoting tourism across New Jersey. She told those that attended the press conference how much hockey has had an impact on her as well, including the formation of friendships over the years. She has a son who plays youth hockey in Red Bank, New Jersey.
"I know certainly my family has made friends for life and I'm proud to be here to stand up with the Devils," she said. "I'm almost amazed to be standing up here with the Devils six months into my tenure as the lieutenant governor to tell you how grateful we are for this sport of hockey."
If the five games are well attended, the New Jersey Devils will attempt to schedule a 2011 NHL preseason game in Atlantic City.
Lamoriello added, "Anytime you can spread hockey throughout the state or anywhere, we have to be excited about it."
Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record originally reported on this news story four days ago and now has provided the list of the scheduled games (start times are in Eastern Time).
Albany Devils (AHL)
December 5, 2010 - vs. Adirondack, 4:00 PM
December 12, 2010 - vs. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, 4:00 PM
February 4, 2011 - vs. Hershey, 7:00 PM
February 27, 2011 - vs. Norfolk, 4:00 PM
Trenton Devils (ECHL)
January 23, 2011 - vs. Wheeling, 4:00 PM
New Jersey Devils official news release (August 24):
Devils development teams take to the ice at Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall
American Hockey League official news release (August 24):
Devils to play four games in Atlantic City
Trenton Devils official news release (August 24):
Devils in Atlantic City
The Bergen Record's Fire & Ice blog (August 24):
Albany Devils and Trenton Devils to play games in Atlantic City
In Lou We Trust (August 24):
Albany Devils to play 4 games in Atlantic City in 2010-2011; Trenton Devils to play 1
Broad Street Hockey (August 24):
Devils invade Flyers country, bring five minor-league games to Atlantic City
The Press of Atlantic City's sports page (August 25):
Devils may see a future with shot on Boardwalk in Atlantic City