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37 FOR 37: THE 334 CLUB

Vicious snowstorm led to just 334 diehards making it to the Meadowlands to watch the Flames and Devils play, still the smallest crowd in NHL history

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / calgaryflames.com

Peering upwards from event-level in the Meadowlands' Brendan Byrne Arena on the night of Jan. 22, 1987, Flames' equipment manager Bobby Stewart surveyed the empty stands.

Scheduled 7:30 puck-drop long since passed.

Outside snow kept falling relentlessly, up to a foot deep in some places, while traffic continued to stall and the occasional hardy soul wandered through the doors wondering if there'd be a hockey game to watch.

"Poor guy,'' Stewart sighed sympathetically with a soft, shake of the head, nodding over at 22-year-old goaltender Doug Dadswell. "All his life he probably dreams of playing his first game in the NHL … and then it turns out to be a circus.

"Like being on Ed Sullivan."

A crippling snowstorm had ground New Jersey and much of the U.S. eastern seaboard to a standstill.

Leading to an infamous evening: The 334 Game.

There has been no lower official attendance figure in modern NHL history. Over 11,000 tickets had reportedly been sold but the weather kept them away, in droves.

Checked into a hotel not far off, the Flames' bus managed to reach the rink at the regular before-game hour. But many Devils, who'd all headed off home following the morning skate, were having a devil of a time getting back to the arena.

The game was on. Then off. Then on again. The players went out for two warm-ups, only to retire back to the sanctity of the dressing rooms and more waiting.

"Three hundred and thirty-four,'' marvelled Flames' right winger Lanny McDonald years later. "Are you're sure? Oh, my god. I would've thought maybe - maybe - 250.

"The fact that anybody showed up at all still stuns me."

Eventually, approaching two hours late, it was announced that finally the game would go ahead, if a bit off schedule.

"I told the guys,'' said Flames' boss Bob Johnson afterwards, "that baseball players do this all the time during rainouts - sit around and wait to play.

"When they only had 14 guys they wanted us to dress only 14! They told me we had an unfair advantage. 'Hey,' I told them, 'that's your problem.'

"The whole thing was ridiculous."

For Dadswell, certainly an unorthodox baptism into big-league waters. He'd arrived from New Haven, Conn., where the AHL Moncton Golden Flames had played the night before.

Worse, he was fighting a flu bug.

"It was tough,'' admitted the undrafted Cornell Big Red standout, post-game, "after sitting around waiting for two hours.

"I wasn't disappointed with what I did, though."

Lost in the mists of time is that the Flames were toppled 7-5, Dadswell - called in to back-up Mike Vernon, with Reggie Lemelin the odd man out - stopping 25 of 31 shots.

The game ended shortly before midnight Eastern time.

Jersey's organization would later honour those fans courageous enough to brave the elements and attend by forming the '334 Club'.

Perhaps Badger Bob was the one to catch the spirit of the thing best:

"A bizarre finish to a bizarre game on a bizarre day."

 

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