The game between the Calgary Flames and the New Jersey Devils on Jan. 22, 1987 wasn't expected to be a historic affair. But close to two feet of snow descending on the tri-state area turned it into one of the most unusual evenings in the history of the National Hockey League.
The Devils expected 11,247 fans -- the number of tickets sold -- for the game. But with horrible weather causing severe traffic congestion, only 334 fans made it to the arena, which is believed to be the lowest-attended game in modern NHL history.
For players and fans in attendance at that 7-5 Devils win, it inspired a unique club -- the Devils formed the 334 Club to honor those diehards -- as well as a bond that remains 26 years later.
"I would get to the rink early. I was at the rink at 4:30 p.m. for a 7:30 game that didn't start until after 9."
Jim Peplinski, Calgary Flames forward
"It's funny. Whenever I think of New Jersey, I always remember that our bus driver would get lost going to the Meadowlands every time. On that particular day, the snowstorm was awful and, for once in a blue moon, we went straight to where we were supposed to be. So we just laid around the dressing room for what seemed like weeks."
Andy Marlin, spectator, future team photographer
"I worked five minutes from the arena in North Bergen. It took me 3-1/2 hours to go 10 minutes."
Dan McCourt, NHL linesman
"I got on the Garden State Parkway onto the [New Jersey] Turnpike and the traffic stopped dead. By 7:30, I'm still sitting there. I turned the radio on thinking I could listen to the hockey game on the radio. I go up and down the radio dial and can't find the game anywhere. I don't get to the rink until just before 9 o'clock. The Calgary Flames are there and the players from the home team aren’t. So we waited."
Doug Sulliman, Devils forward, game's First Star
"What I wasn't ready for was all the abandoned cars that were stuck. I couldn't get on the ramp to go two miles to the Meadowlands. So what I had to do was go on the other side of the road and I drove the whole way there in reverse. It was an adventure."
Peter McNab, Devils forward, game's Second Star
"We found out later an 18-wheeler had turned over right in front of the Lincoln Tunnel. There was nowhere to go and I could see I was not going anywhere. I could see the rink. It was a couple of miles away. So I just walked. A [New Jersey] State Trooper was on the other side. He said, 'What are you doing?' I said I played for the Devils and am trying to get to the rink. He said, 'Give me your keys and I'll try to move your car for you.'"
"My wife was thinking about going to the game. I told her she was nuts and she got stuck at the bottom of our driveway."
"We walked in and the Flames were already there. I could see Bob Johnson, he was coaching the Flames. He was counting the [Devils] players, because he knew once you had 16 or 17 players, you could start the game. Bob wanted to get the game going. He wanted that thing to start."
"You went out and there was no one in the stands and there was no music playing. It was eerie. Doug Carpenter was our coach and he said, 'Just keep hiding people. We're not going out there until we have 16 or 17 guys.' They were hiding in the medical room, hiding in the stick room.
"I think the Flames had three warm-ups that day. [Calgary forward] Nick Fotiu was firing pucks into the stands. Then finally we get enough guys to go out for warm-up. We were so goofy. We're warming up, we're reading magazines, we're hanging out. It was sort of like a beer-league game."
Ken Daneyko, Devils defenseman
"Me, Joe Cirella, Pat Verbeek, Kirk Muller and John MacLean; we all knew we had to leave early, so we took one vehicle. We left around 3 o'clock. We didn't get there until a quarter to 9. We were the last group and they needed us to play."
"I always was one of those guys who was early to the rink. But five hours [waiting] was way too much."
"The thing I remember most was laying around the dressing room thinking, 'This is brutal.'"
"We rushed in and just got dressed. It was like a practice, there was nobody there. About 334 people -- obviously diehards."
Jeff Mazzei, spectator
"We got in there and there it was, this 20,000-seat arena with 300 people spread all over the place. They didn't close any sections. They let people sit wherever they wanted."
"We had the officials, we had the players, we've got no fans. Every time you yelled 'offside' or 'icing,' it just echoed throughout the building."
Tim Hunter, Flames forward
"When you were on the bench you looked around and thought, 'These people are hard-core fans.'"
"There were 334 people and I'm sure half of them just wanted to get out of the storm. They walked in and got a hot dog and a beer and thought 'Let's sit here for a while.'"
"Is that what the attendance was? Those 334 were hearty individuals -- through snow and sleet and rain. They should have been in the U.S. Postal Service."
"It was a crazy night. You could hear a pin drop in the arena. We just wanted to play and we won, so it worked out. It will go down in Devils history, certainly."
"It was like being at a practice. You heard every word on the ice. You heard every puck hit a stick. It was amazing."
"They finally got the game started about two hours late and you could hear every fan speak. The few fans that were there tried so hard to make it a rowdy home-team situation. We were just screaming and yelling. It was great."
"Dougie Sulliman wasn't even supposed to play in the game and he ended up being the last guy to come into the room. That's when we decided we were ready to start the game. And he got a hat trick."
Randy Velischek, Devils defenseman
"Calgary, at that time, was one of the top teams in the League. They used to come in and smoke us. Guys were put into roles that they normally wouldn't be in because we had guys missing. When you can just go in and play and not think about it, it's an advantage."
"I can't remember if it was the next game I did up there, but we heard someone had started the 334 Club for the fans who made it."
"Someone from the Devils came around with a yellow pad and went to every fan to get our names and addresses. That's how the 334 Club came about. They then sent out a letter thanking everyone for coming. They said they were going to send everyone souvenirs and tickets, and they did. We got scarf and a shirt and a badge like we were in an official club."
"They brought somebody around from PR or marketing and they said they were thrilled and very happy that people even came to the game. I think they were afraid they would play in front of an empty house. The pin was just unbelievable. People ask me what it is. I explain it and they just say, 'No way.'"
Craig Billington, Devils backup goaltender
"I should have got one of those badges. I watched that game too."
"A couple of years after I retired, they had a big party after a game for the 334 Club. Some of us alumni were there. We all chatted with them and they all had fond memories of it. It's a story they can tell their grandkids."
"The reunion was really a high-class thing. Three of the players and Lou Lamoriello were there. Everyone was telling stories. It felt like we were World War II veterans."
Stan Fischler, TV commentator
"I went to reunions. We would just tell stories. The joy of seeing the Devils win that game, that made it worthwhile. Because they played their hearts out."
"The thing for us was being around the hotel the night after the game. There was nothing open, nowhere to go, no food. The hotel stayed open, they were really understaffed."
"After the game, the trainer comes over and says a trooper came in and gave him my [car] keys. He said, 'They put your car over in the Sheraton [Hotel] parking lot.' I asked [teammate] Aaron Broten to give me a ride to the Sheraton, which was less than a mile away. And in one of the garages over there was my car.
"We always kid Dougie Sulliman. We said he must be a great practice player, because that was about the number of people we got for a practice."
"They were all busting my chops about that one. There's the tradition of throwing the hats on the ice. I think one of our trainers threw his hat on the ice. There were only one or two hats out there so he threw his baseball cap on the ice just so there was another hat on the ice."
"When I ran into fans at the arena or doing a broadcast, fans would say, 'I was one of the 334.' They're proud, loyal Devil fans. It was a disaster, but they weren't going to miss it for the world. We appreciate those types of fans."
LETTER TO 334 FANS
This is the text of the letter the Devils sent to the 334 fans that showed up for the Jan. 22 game against Calgary that was played despite the blizzard conditions that engulfed New Jersey:
"Dear Devils Fan,
We've always known our fans are a special breed, and on the night of January 22, you proved just how special.
You and 333 others braved and battered 15 inches of snow to make it to the Meadowlands (you beat a number of our players here!), endured a 105-minute delay, and then cheered the Devils on to a 7-5 victory over the Calgary Flames.
You are hereby inducted and given lifetime membership to a club that cannot grow -- the 334 Club.
Enclosed please find your "334 Club" badge. Under separate cover in the coming weeks, you will receive a "334 Club" T-shirt. And next season, you will be receiving complimentary tickets to one of our games; we just might schedule a game for January 22, 1988.
Once again, the Devils organization thanks you for your loyal support, which on the night of January 22, was certainly above and beyond the call of duty.
Communications and Advertising"
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