Today, December 27, the Devils opened the doors of the Prudential Center to let fans watch an open practice. The event took place on the main ice surface of the Prudential Center, as opposed to the AmeriHealth Pavilion, their normal practice rink. Tickets were free to season ticket holders and cost $5 for all other fans, with the proceeds going to the Devils’ charitable foundation.
With a sizable crowd in attendance – half of the lower bowl was filled; the Devils were welcomed to the ice by public address announcer Kevin Clark. Captain Andy Greene welcomed fans to the practice (after a quick warmup) with a few words prior to the session, thanking us for coming out. With that, the group gathered around Coach John Hynes and he instructed them. They then went through some drills. After each drill, Coach Hynes would instruct some more and the team would break to participate in the next drill.
The practice ended with a shootout where everyone participated and only those who scored could advance. Once you missed, you were knocked out. In something that surprised very few in the crowd, Jacob Josefson won. Just prior to the shootout, Coach Hynes addressed the crowd, explained a little about what fans just saw and his hopes for the team’s play going forward. He also thanked us for coming out and then introduced the shootout.
Players had a little bit of fun during the shootout, doing things you would never see in games, particularly Stephen Gionta, who really played to the fans.
Following the end of practice, the players flipped autographed pucks into the crowd, making some kids very happy. WFAN radio play-by-play man Matt Laughlin then did a few interviews with Mike Cammalleri, Adam Henrique and Cory Schneider.
Season ticket holders were then treated to a meet-and-greet with the players on the concourse of the Prudential Center where they could get autographs and talk to the players a little. Cory Schneider’s life sized bobblehead was also unveiled, as he got the same treatment that Adam Henrique got back in November.
In addition, food was served and there were trivia contests for fans both via cell phone and in person in a live game show format.
Overall, the day was a great success for the team and its fans. This is something that has not really been done before, as Lou Lamoriello never liked to have practices open to fans (which is understandable). They did have open practices when they trained at South Mountain Arena in West Orange, but that was more because it was a public building and harder to keep fans out. Even then, if they could help it, they would keep things private.
Once the team moved to Prudential Center and AmeriHealth Pavilion, they could control who got to see the practices. This was a great marketing move and something that will create fans for life, as the kids really got to connect and bond with their favorite players.
I really hope the Devils do more of these, as they make for a unique and fun atmosphere and will help to build the fanbase of the future.