HOBOKEN, N.J. -- New Jersey Devils Chairman and Managing Partner Jeff Vanderbeek believes there's nothing quite like the NHL Winter Classic. So he'd like nothing more than to see his Devils as the centerpiece to the NHL's signature regular-season event smack dab in the middle of his home turf.
Vanderbeek discussed this and other topics Thursday evening during the second installment of the Devils' inaugural "Jersey Tour" before 100-plus fans at the Hoboken Bar & Grill.
The goal of the Tour is to enable fans to interact with Vanderbeek and Devils' alumni in an attempt to find a common ground on what matters most for those followers of Jersey's team.
"We've done this the last year or so, but have taken it to a whole different level this year," Vanderbeek told reporters prior to meeting with the fans. "This tour started last week (at McLoone's Pier House, Long Branch) and is going to take us through some eight counties, probably 7-8 trips, right up until the season starts in late September.
"We really feel strong about meeting our fans," he continued. "And not only season-ticket holders. In fact, we're trying to reach out to about 30 percent season-ticket holders and 70 percent non-season ticket holders through email lists that we have used to micro-target an audience. So far, the first two stops have taken only an hour-and-a-half to fill. It's been a resounding success to meet people on their home turf and spread the news about the team."
Vanderbeek, who became the team's owner in 2004, was joined by former Devils Grant Marshall, Jim Dowd, Bruce Driver and Ken Daneyko. Sherry Ross, who provides radio commentary for the Devils during the season, served as emcee. The next stop on the Tour will be to the St. Stephen's Green Publick House in Spring Lake Heights on Aug. 12.
When asked about hosting a Winter Classic in New Jersey or across the Hudson River in New York, Vanderbeek smiled.
"I don't want to elaborate on it too much, but we've had discussions with the League over the past years about it," he said. "I'm very confident that it will happen at some point and I think it'll be a great thing for all the teams in the Tri-state area. I haven't been in a (Winter Classic) so I don't know precisely what it would mean, but I think anytime you can be in a position to showcase your team to an international audience, it's a great thing."
Dowd, who played for 10 different teams over 17 NHL seasons, including three-plus with the Devils, said having the Winter Classic in the New Jersey area would be a smashing success.
"I think a Devils-Rangers game would be great," he said. "You know it'll happen eventually. I went to the Winter Classic (in Boston) last year and took my oldest son and surprised him. It was the first one I've ever been to and it's a great event. It's one of the best things the NHL has done since the lockout and it's really caught on. For that one day, the whole sporting world is watching hockey, so you know it's going to happen sooner or later."
There's no denying the fact the Winter Classic has been an absolute boon to Buffalo, Chicago and Boston.
The League is also expecting tremendous support this season when the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Classic is staged at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh where the Penguins will play the Washington Capitals on New Year's Day. On top of that, the 2011 Heritage Classic will make its anticipated return on Feb. 20 when the Montreal Canadiens and Calgary Flames meet at McMahon Stadium in Calgary.
Vanderbeek, who mingled with fans both before and after the event, admits he's learned what drives those Devils fanatics. It shouldn't be too hard, either, since Vanderbeek was a Devils' season-ticket holder for two decades before joining the organization.
"The people are looking to get behind this team and they're appreciative of this outreach effort," he said. "They want to see the team marketed more broadly and, if we do that, I can sense they will embrace us."
Dowd, born and raised in Brick, N.J., knows the fans are loyal and appreciate hard work on and off the ice. Dowd's "Shoot For The Stars Foundation" will sponsor the 13th annual High School All-Star Game on Sunday at the Red Bank Armory in Red Bank, N.J. The game will feature those standouts from Ocean County against those in Monmouth County. All proceeds will benefit the Brick Stars "Special Need" Challengers Ice hockey program.
"Hockey in New Jersey has grown so much over the last 15-20 years," Dowd said. "I was born and raised here, and there are so many more youth programs now. When I was growing up, there were 12 or 14 and now there are 33 and I know because my kids are playing. It's amazing to see how hockey has grown in the state. We just need to keep that Devils logo out there."
Vanderbeek, also the driving force behind the team's move to Newark's Prudential Center in 2007, hopes an NHL All-Star Game is also someday on the horizon.
"(An All-Star Game in Newark) would mean an awful lot of people coming into the city from around the country in North America who wouldn't normally go there and that will happen," he said. "It happens to all new arenas in due time, and it certainly will happen at Prudential Center."
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