Devils fans poured into Prudential Center’s AmeriHealth Pavilion on Wednesday for a glimpse of the future in a unique setting – a 3-on-3 tournament. While the team’s annual development camp focuses on teaching prospects keys to eventual NHL success both on and off the ice, it was also a chance to see the first instances of General Manager Ray Shero and head coach John Hynes’ new identity of being fast, attacking and supportive, and fans have bought in.
Jason Hutchins, a local representative with Defending the Blue Line, an organization that sponsors children of armed service members participate in youth hockey, and Devils fan since ‘82, said he was particularly excited to see the prospects that may enter the team’s development system. “Because of the rebuild, I know some of these guys are going to be coming up and coming up soon,” Hutchins said before the competition began. “I’m excited to see them on the ice and kind of gauge how they’re performing now…hopefully they put on a good show today.”
And put on a good show they did. The 42 prospects were split into four teams Red, White, Black and Gray to battle in 10 minute, cross-ice round robin play, with coaches serving as the referees and calling line changes with whistles.
After each group played each other, Team Black, backstopped by 2015 second round draft pick Mackenzie Blackwood, faced off against first round pick Pavel Zacha’s Red team for the championship. When Team Black won 5-2, the fans who received black wristbands upon entrance won vouchers for tickets to a game early in the 2015-16 season.
Hutchins and other fans in attendance noted the organization’s shift in access to events like today. “Now we’re attached. We can identify and we know the talent that’s on the ice now that might be going to Albany or to the ECHL or juniors…now we’ve seen them and they belong to us.”
Hutchins noted that when Reid Boucher broke Steve Stamkos’ goal record on the Sarnia Sting, fans took pride knowing that Boucher was a Devils prospect. With this taste of development camp, Hutchins said “you buy into the whole rebuild.” He added, “I want to see [Pavel] Zacha, I want to see [Matt] Gaudreau…I just want to gauge the competition.”
Another longtime fan, Steve Pedersen, a retired member of the NYPD, was excited to see the future of the team. While his son Jack was hoping to see “fisticuffs,” the elder Pedersen was hoping to see a certain goalie. “I’d like to see Marty Brodeur’s son [Anthony] playing goalie. I’m anxious to see that.”
Today’s event wasn’t just for the longtime fans. Children from the Boys and Girls Club of Newark’s summer program came in droves, pressing themselves against the glass trying to get the closest views possible. Caitlyn Oliveira, a volunteer with the organization supervising the kids called it a great opportunity. “To come to Prudential Center and watch the Devils play, they’re all thrilled and excited.” With the players on the ice only about 10 years older than the kids, the campers could see people not much older working towards their aspirations. Oliveira added that on the way to the event, kids started asking how they could get involved in hockey.
Before pucks touched the ice, fans could buy souvenirs, meet Devils Alumni Colin White and take a look at a signed photo of the 1995 Stanley Cup Champion New Jersey Devils team, which will be auctioned off at the Devils Alumni Charity Golf Classic September 16th.
The Peltyszyn family, from Clifton, was eager to see the potential future stars at camp. Christopher, a student who first became a fan during the 2011-12 season, was brimming with excitement about the players on the ice representing the future of the team. Both he and his sister, Lexie, were particularly looking forward to seeing Zacha on the ice for the first time in a Devils sweater. Their mother, Lecia Peltyszyn described the event as “a good air of change for the Devils…This is exciting because there’s the prospect of bigger and better on the horizon.”