By David Cruz
With temps in the low teens and sub zero wind chills, it was a perfect setting for the return of hockey to Brick City. Fans by the thousands streamed into the Prudential Center to welcome their defending Eastern Conference champions.
“It’s been a long time since the Devils have played,” said Lakewood resident Scott Patanio. “It’s been about three-and-a-half months before the lockout began, so once we knew that the lockout was over, and that the season was on sale, we went online to get tickets; we’re so excited for this game.”
Kyle Janoczkin was with a group of friends, weathering the chilly night air, as they strode to the Prudential Center, sounding cowbells and chanting. “I guess both [management and the union] are kind of to blame but I’m going to come back anyway. I love the game.”
Thousands of fans meant ringing cash registers — at the team shop, at the parking lot and at the bars and restaurant, all of them elated to have Devils fans back downtown.
“As you can see, we’re extremely packed,” said Brick City Bar & Grill Hostess Jade Holden. “It’s a little bit more wild and upbeat, you know, it’s nicer.”
It’s tough to get exact numbers on the impact the Devils have down here but the team estimated that its 11 playoff games last year created more than 50 jobs and generated more than $5 million in taxes and economic activity. Tammy Brown’s Loft 47 Bistro is usually not this busy on a regular weeknight.
“Well, I mean it’s an increase of revenue, of course, and it just brings a different feel to the block,” she said, “so when we have Devils games it makes everything come alive, which we love.”
As for action on the ice, the Devils’ Travis Zajac scored less than two minutes into the game, and 40-year-old Martin Brodeur notched his 120th shutout, turning away 24 shots on goal as the Devils won 3-0 before an announced crowd of 17,650, a virtual sellout at the 18,000-seat Rock.
It was a big victory for the home team but, regardless of the outcome, everyone agreed that the big winner was this city and Devils fans, who had their team, and their economic engine, back.