I remember it like yesterday.
Normally for a SportsChannel Devils telecast I'd be picked up by an intern and driven to the Meadowlands. In this case the intern was Dave Katz who, by the way, I still see and we reminisce about the event.
Katz was very dependable so I had no doubt that morning that he'd be coming. That is, until I heard the weather report and saw the blizzard-to-be begin. But since I had not heard from Katz, I presumed that he'd be coming at the usual 3 p.m. departure time from my apartment on 110th St. and Broadway in Manhattan.
Shortly after Noon, I could see that this would not be a temporary snowstorm and I began to wonder whether Dave would make it from his Brooklyn home. I will say this; he sure tried. But at 3 p.m. my phone rang and it was, as I feared, Katz.
"I can't make it," he said. "Roads here are virtually impassable."
Plan B was the only one left: I told my wife, Shirley, who normally would drive to the game later in the day, that I was going to gamble on driving myself. She wished me luck and I walked down to my trusty little -- and it was little -- Honda Civic Wagon and proceeded to pray and drive.
Right off the bat I knew there would be problems as I headed north on Broadway to 125th Street. But I made it to 125th, then left and over to the incline to the West Side Drive, heading north to the George Washington Bridge. Getting up the incline to the elevated highway was touch-and-go and traffic on the highway was even worse, but somehow I got to the GWB entrance and wisely took the lower roadway which, of course, was shielded.
Once back in Snowland -- alias New Jersey -- I wondered if the plows had managed to leave any Turnpike lanes clear and, sure enough, there was just enough room to slither in and around the marooned vehicles and continue onward.
So far, so good with the Honda, but now it was getting darker and the snow was piling higher and the roadway was scarier with snow. The car managed to bob and weave its way until, alas, I actually was able to make it all the way to the service road that led to the arena parking lot and even got as far as a reasonable place to put the Honda near an entrance.
Once I made my way down to the SportsChannel studio, the next question was whether we had enough of a TV crew there and when I saw my director, Joe O'Rourke, I figured we might even get a show going after all.
Up until about an hour before game time, we really didn't know whether the game would be held because so few fans had shown up. But once the green light was flashed from NHL headquarters, we did our TV thing.
My regular standing area was near the Zamboni entrance and I recall how surreal the scene was. Fans were scattered here and there and I remember thinking about the hoary line: "Fifteen thousand fans showed up disguised as empty seats."
I also recall that management made a special announcement thanking the fans and promising some sort of reward for their tenacity coming through the blizzard.
Watching the game, I was amazed at the enthusiasm generated by the handful of spectators and how it felt as if I was watching my younger son, Simon, playing goal one night at Murray Rink in Yonkers around 1990.
But how can we have a show if we don't have players? Well, the Calgary Flames, our opponent, already had made it to the arena but what about the Devils? The other day I asked my present colleagues -- former Devils Ken Daneyko and John MacLean how they did it?
"A bunch of us piled into a car," said Ken, "but we didn't get all the way to the rink. We had to park it a ways away and walk."
And that's what our analyst Peter McNab did, as well.
Sure enough, slowly but surely, enough Devils showed up and eventually the most hardy, handful of fans that I can ever remember attending a game sprinkled themselves through the vast confines of the arena. Our TV crew was there and soon the game went on and, remarkably, the underdog Devils won with Doug Sullivan securing the win with a hat trick.
I interacted with fans at an earlier reunion held at Continental Airlines Arena and heard some good stories.
My question to them always began with, "Well, why did you go in the first place?" The answer inevitably was, "We're Devils fans and this was a home game and we didn't want to miss it; even if it meant taking a chance on driving."
Others told me that they never reached the parking lot but left their car at least close enough to the arena to make it by walking through the snow.
The bottom line with virtually all the rationales for trying to get there was; "I love hockey and I didn't want to miss the game."
Some admitted that it took them almost three hours to reach the arena.
You couldn't script that one in Hollywood.
P.S. Getting home almost didn't happen. The upgrade on the Turnpike heading to The Bridge was filled with marooned cars yet, somehow, my little Honda got through, over the span and back to 110th and Broadway!
It was a once in a lifetime experience and my hat's off to the special group of fans - all 334 of them - who made the trek