The NHL may be mired in a hissy fit between players and owners, but the AHL, pro home to hockey stars of the future, graces Boardwalk Hall this winter.
Often sports fans list among their fondest memories having seen superstars before they were superstars, like watching Kobe Bryant finesse Lower Merion High School into a Pennsylvania state title in 1996, or seeing Derek Jeter go three-for-four with the Greensboro Grasshoppers in 1993.
Witnessing great athletes like that when they were still honing their skills, and before they walked among the one-percenters, can make for some fine reflection when chewing the fat with the family around the fireplace.
The latest NHL lockout, while frustrating to hard-core hockey fans, has become a boon to its premier development league, the AHL, and in a way made a sort of cluster of regionalized all-star teams out of its 30 AHL affiliates.
The Albany Devils, who will be playing three regular-season games at Boardwalk Hall’s Art Dorrington Ice Rink starting Jan. 13 (see sidebar for details), have four young players who helped the NHL’s New Jersey Devils reach the Stanley Cup finals last year.
All four would certainly have rejoined that team had it not been for the work stoppage, but can still compete with the Albany Devils due to the AHL’s eligibility rules. They include centers Adam Henrique, Jacob Josefson and Stephen Gionta, and defenseman Adam Larsson.
Likewise the Adirondack Phantoms, the Philadelphia Flyers’ AHL affiliate who compete in Boardwalk Hall on Jan. 20, will see four of their young stars — centers Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn, left wing Eric Wellwood and defenseman Erik Gustafsson — play in A.C. In all, the Devils and Flyers AHL affiliates have about two dozen young players combined who have tasted some sort of past NHL action.
“There are a lot of hockey fans in this area [with the Flyers, Devils, Rangers and Islanders all in proximity to A.C.] and at this point, especially with [NHL] hockey not being played, this is a chance for the fans to see a lot of the top prospects and some of the young players who did play in the National Hockey League last year,” says Lou Lamoriello, president and general manager of the New Jersey Devils organization.
“It’s a perfect storm, so to speak, with reference to what’s available to the fans and also the players.”
Roughly 85 percent of all players who make it to the AHL will eventually compete in the NHL. The AHL is baseball’s equivalent of Class AAA, or the notch right below the majors.
“It’s the next step toward the NHL,” says Lamoriello. “There [are] four players on the AHL Devils right now who played in the National Hockey League last year, and they’re only playing here now because they’re allowed to due to their age, our rules structure, and their contract status. That’s the same case for all the other teams. So the caliber is, without question, outstanding.”
The Albany Devils play the majority of their games at the Times Union Center but have established an exceptional working relationship in Atlantic City and Boardwalk Hall — the only other arena the team has utilized for any home games. In 2010 the Devils played five games in the Hall, and the relationship was instrumental in attracting the 2012 AHL All-Star Classic to A.C. last January, which marked the only time in history that game was held outside the confines of an AHL-affiliated arena. The three games scheduled in 2013 are part of a four-game package that began with the Devils playing the Scranton/Wilkes Barre Penguins (the Pittsburgh Penguins AHL affiliate) on Nov. 24.
“We’re very pleased to be able to present these mini-series of hockey games to our fans,” says Greg Tesone, general manager of Boardwalk Hall and the Atlantic City Convention Center. “We’ve priced the tickets to be family friendly and have also incorporated promotions and special offers in association with all of the games to encourage turnout.
“The New Jersey Devils are a first-class organization, especially in terms of team and player development, and it’s been a pleasure working with them as well as with the management team for the Albany Devils ... Boardwalk Hall is a great venue to host a game of hockey, and fans will be impressed with the quality of play they’ll see from the Albany Devils and their American Hockey League opponents.”
The Albany series continues Jan. 13 against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (the Islanders’ affiliate), Jan. 20 against the Phantoms, and Feb. 24 against the Hershey Bears (Washington Capitals).
“The fan reaction has been outstanding,” adds Lamoriello. “The cooperation of the community and the building, in particular Greg Tesone, have made for a very comfortable situation. It’s an outstanding building and an excellent environment for a professional hockey game.”
Schedule of Games (doors open 3pm, all games start 4pm)
Sunday, Jan. 13, Albany Devils vs. Bridgeport Sound Tigers
Sunday, Jan. 20, Albany Devils vs. Adirondack Phantoms
Sunday, Feb. 24, Albany Devils vs. Hershey Bears
Individual games are $26 for the first two rows on the glass, $21 for the lower bowl, and $16 for the upper bowl. Special rates for kids aged 2-12, seniors 65 and over, U.S. military and groups of 10 or more are $16 for lower bowl (no discounts for first two rows on the glass), and $11 for upper bowl. $65 four-pack includes four tickets in upper bowl, four hot dogs and four soft drinks (must be purchased in advance).
Tickets are available at the Boardwalk Hall box office, all Ticketmaster locations, at ticketmaster.com, or by calling 800-736-1420. All tickets $1 more the day of game. Fan Experience Packages are available for groups to become part of the action on the ice on game day. Hockey clubs purchasing 100 or more tickets for any game at any price will receive 90 minutes of free ice time at Boardwalk Hall. For more information, call (609) 348-7023.
The first 1,000 fans will receive a free Coca-Cola on Jan. 13. During the first intermission Jan. 13, NBC-TV 40 sports director Pete Thompson will go head-to-head with two contestants on the ice in the “Beat Pete” shootout.
A “Chuck a Puck” contest will take place Jan. 13 and 20 with proceeds benefiting the United Way and Shop Rite’s Partners In Caring. “Sweet Deal” drawings will take place during the Feb. 24 game, with chances to win gift certificates for Atlantic City Restaurant Week (March 3-9), Shop Rite gift cards, room packages at Caesars, and tickets to future events at Boardwalk Hall. There will also be a “Mites on Ice” game during intermission Feb. 24 featuring youth from the Art Dorrington Ice Hockey Foundation.
T-shirt tosses will take place during timeouts of all games, and the Albany Devils mascot “Devil Dawg” will be available for fan photo opportunities for all games.
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