In what represented a bold new step for the team’s community outreach efforts, Devils Chairman and Managing Partner Jeff Vanderbeek headlined the tour’s first installment Tuesday night at McLoone’s Pier House in Long Branch.
It marked the first of at least four stops on the tour, which will travel throughout the Garden State in the coming weeks to connect directly with fans.
Available seating for Tuesday's invitation-only gathering was snapped up in under two hours. A gorgeous ocean view provided the backdrop as Vanderbeek discussed his commitment to the state and to bringing a fourth Stanley Cup to New Jersey.
“I decided this offseason to get out and tell our story – the ‘Jersey’s Team’ story,” he said. “First of all, I believe in it, and second of all, I think it resonates with our fans to really get out and meet them on their home turf.”
Vanderbeek, a lifelong New Jersey resident, was joined by Devils alumni Ken Daneyko, Bruce Driver and Grant Marshall. Matt Loughlin, the radio voice of the Devils, served as emcee. A visit to the Hoboken Bar and Grill is set for Aug. 5.
A longtime Devils season ticket holder, Vanderbeek became the team's owner in 2004. He understands the passion of those that bleed red and black.
“It’s exciting to me to get out and see the fans, to listen to the fans, ask them what we do well, what we don’t do well, what they think we can do better, and answer their questions in an informal setting,” he said.
Vanderbeek was a driving force behind the Devils' 2007 move to Newark’s Prudential Center. Conveniently located in the state’s largest city, “The Rock” is easily accessible by car, rail or light rail.
"With our new arena, with the mass transportation angle to it, we can stretch our wings much wider and farther than ever before," he said. "I do think we are making a proactive effort to market the team more.”
|Alumni Bruce Driver, Ken Daneyko and Grant Marshall. |
The area around the arena has undergone a facelift that, when complete, will add a new hotel and several eateries. A groundbreaking is expected this fall on a Courtyard by Marriott on the corner of Broad and Lafayette streets. A "beer and burger joint" adjacent to Brick City Coffee Co. is slated to open before the start of the season. Development continues along Edison Place, which will soon house both a sports bar and Gotham City Bar.
A native of Somerville who now lives in Warren, he fielded questions during a fan Q&A that touched on everything from the possibility of opening practices to the public (“We do have plans”) to the return of Jason Arnott (“He’s the size and strength at center that we need”).
One fan query involved the Devils' chances of hosting an All-Star Game or participating in a Winter Classic. Said Vanderbeek: “We will absolutely get both.”
The completion of the Marriott would help pave the way for an All-Star Weekend at Prudential Center, which Vanderbeek said the Devils have been promised. As for the Winter Classic: “It’s just a matter of time. The Winter Classic will be in the Tri-State area, and it will not be in the Tri-State area without the Devils participating.”
Asked to share something the average fan wouldn’t know, Vanderbeek volunteered that he often walks out to Market Street on game days to watch thousands of fans pour out of Newark Penn Station as they make their way to the Rock.
“It’s a pretty awesome sight to see and it never stops getting me excited,” he said.
Loughlin began the night by playfully chastising outsiders who judge New Jersey from a distance.
“‘You just don’t get it,’” Loughlin said. “Because if you live here, you get it, but those in the 49 other states, they don’t get it; they don’t understand what Jersey’s about.”
The alumni supplied personal stories about what living, playing and winning in New Jersey have meant to them as they've seen the Devils mature into a model franchise.
“This is my home now,” Marshall, a member of the 2003 Cup squad, said. “My second home is back home in Canada. This is my first home. I love it here.”
Driver, an original Devil who hoisted the franchise’s first Cup 1995, pointed out that Prudential Center is the result of New Jersey’s hockey boom. The director of the Alumni Association, he also coaches the girls' team at Morristown-Beard high school.
“All it takes to see the growth of hockey here in New Jersey is to go to our rink,” Driver said. “Thanks to ownership, you look around the rink and you see all those high school jerseys on the main concourse, and see how many schools have hockey programs. And you go into the upper level and see all the club hockey teams that are represented up there. That’s where we see the growth of the game, and part of that is because the Devils came here in 1982 and because of the great fans that have supported us over the years.”
Daneyko, one of five three-time Cup winners in team history (Martin Brodeur
, Sergei Brylin, Scott Niedermayer, Scott Stevens), admitted he didn’t even know where New Jersey was when he was drafted 18th overall in 1982. Looking back, the team’s all-time leader in games played (1,283) wouldn’t have changed a thing.
“I would’ve run 3,000 miles to get that opportunity,” said the Windsor, Ontario, native. “Lo and behold, I am a transplanted New Jerseyan. I take that New Jersey name with great pride. Anyone who says, ‘You played in that New York area,’ I say, ‘No, I played in New Jersey.’ This is a great state. Hopefully we make the state proud with three championships and more to come."