Saturday, January 4, 2014

Chicago Blackhawks 5 at New Jersey Devils 3 - January 3, 2014

After 16 years living overseas and seeing sports in North America only while traveling, I finally enjoyed the experience of leaving my apartment and being at a Big 4 sports venue one hour later. The occasion was the Blackhawks only visit to New Jersey this season, and Steve Fekete, a fellow sports traveller was in town from Los Angeles, so I decided to go. New York is home to many other crazed sports fans that spend every day of their lives seeing a game, including Gary and the King from Royalty Tours. I am only a peripheral member of this group, choosing to attend one or two events per week in an effort to remain married. Still, it was nice to meet up with them and others who I have encountered throughout my years on the road. Now we are all neighbours, and it will be good fun getting to know them all over the next couple of years, crazy as they may be.

Anyway, the King and I took the subway from Astoria to the WTC, where we hopped on the PATH train to Newark Penn Station. A short trundle through slush and snow took us to the Prudential Center, a venue I have visited before but never properly reviewed. That shall remain the case as I didn't get in until about 6:30, thanks to a very slow PATH train. I found some Blackhawk fans with an extra ticket. They wanted more than $20 so I offered them $30 and they accepted, leading me to wonder if I should have offered $21. The seat was in section 110, row 3. You might think that is just 3 rows from the ice, but you would be mistaken. The Rock has a lower bowl with sections from 1 to 22. Above that are two levels of suites. Then the 100 level, which would be the 200 or 300 level anywhere else. My view is below.

The Blackhawks had lost in overtime to the Islanders the previous night, while this would be the first Devils' game in 2014. They had won their last two contests of 2013 by a score of 2-1 over the Islanders and Pittsburgh. In fact, their last regulation loss was a 5-2 defeat in Chicago on December 23rd, a game in which they managed a meagre 12 shots on goal. As an aside, I do not recall that game because I was enjoying the final game at Candlestick that night.

Antti Raanta (above) was in goal for the Hawks that night and he started again, with some young pup named Martin Brodeur tending net for the Devils. Brodeur was guarding the crease when me, my younger brother, and my friend snuck into the Brendan Byrne Arena to watch the Devils clinch the 1995 Stanley Cup. 19 years later, Brodeur is still playing and I am still getting in to the odd event in mysterious ways.

The game started slowly, and the Devils continued to struggle to get pucks at the net, unable to manage a shot on goal until nearly 12 minutes had passed. The first intermission came with neither team on the board.

Early in the second period, New Jersey turned the puck over in their own zone and Jonathan Toews found an open Patrick Sharp in the slot, from where Sharp beat Brodeur with a laser shot. Just 46 seconds later though, Andy Greene broke in along the left wing for the Devils and somehow got one by Raanta to tie the game. The rest of the period was pretty sloppy and we went to the third knotted at 1.

As is often the case in these mid-season NHL games, especially those with no rivalry, the players take it easy for the first two periods before going all out in the third. The Hawks scored just 90 seconds into the final frame when Brandon Saad tipped in a pass from Patrick Kane. The goal was originally given to Kane but changed at some point. The photo below shows Saad (#20) skating to the net on the play with Marek Zidlicky covering.

Just 1:14 after that Sharp was open near the left goal line and beat Brodeur with one of the best shots you will ever see. Even the local fans had to applaud that one. Check out the highlights if you haven't seen it. Three minutes later, Marian Hossa added another great goal courtesy of a great play by Duncan Keith off another Devils' turnover, and it was 4-1 Hawks. Game over, right? Not quite. Zidlicky scored an odd one at 7:09 to narrow the deficit to 2, and then when Kane took a hooking penalty, Zidlicky added another on the power play to bring the Devils within 1 with 6:23 to go, much to the delight of the mascot.

The Devils kept the pressure up but could not beat Raanta for a fourth time and with 88 seconds left, Sharp picked up the puck at the left blue line, skated in alone on Brodeur, and deked him out of his shorts for the hat trick and clinching goal. Again, watch the highlights. Despite being the visitors, the Hawks were feted with about 30 hats thrown to the ice while Devils' fans left the arena in disgust.

Quite simply the Blackhawks are a better team and great fun to watch. I've seen them twice this season and they have been quite entertaining both times, well worth the $70 I've spent combined. I think I am going to enjoy living in New York City, not for the local teams, but for the chance to see nearly every major league sports team whenever they visit.


The big difference now that I live in New York is not only the number of games that I can attend, but the ability to decide at the last minute. I did not plan to go to this game until the day before. So my 2014 Schedule will likely only be updated whenever I actually get around to attending a game. This is such a change from having to plan months in advance to take a 2-week road trip.

Next Up

Philadelphia! A Saturday doubleheader featuring the Denver Pioneers at the St. Joseph's Hawks (second Hawks game of the weekend) and then the Saints and Eagles in the Wild Card. Check back Monday for pictures and a brief recap from each game.



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