Last Friday night was a beautiful night to welcome the first day of summer. On that night, the best party in New Jersey was not at some Jersey shore beach bar or a club straight out of an MTV reality show. Instead, the aforementioned party was in the streets of Newark outside the home of our New Jersey Devils.
After receiving the first overall pick for the second time in three seasons, the Devils decided to hold an outdoor draft festival for fans to attend and watch the action taking place in Vancouver. Although the more important hockey event may have been north of the border, the best festivities were being held at Championship Plaza. Devils’ alumni and current players mixed and mingled with a crowd that estimates say ranged around 7,000. This, all for a team-altering moment as the Devils picked first overall.
While most draft parties typically take place inside the arena, the Prudential Center was unavailable due to a previously schedule event. The New Jersey Devils made the most out of the situation by creating a street fair with games, food trucks, and bars serving the devoted fans that filled the plaza. The entire festival was sponsored by Bud Light, and the famous Bud Light Knight was out among the crowd. Also in attendance were the likes of Andy Greene, Mackenzie Blackwood, and Erika Wachter.
Props to the Devils for creating a free event and having affordable vendors. While a beer during a Devils game can usually run in the range of $10-$15, tallboy cans of Bud Light were being sold for $8. The food was also reasonable, as there were many price-friendly food vendors. On a night as gorgeous as last Friday, all-in-all it was a blessing in disguise the event had to be held outdoors.
Bars along Edison also joined in on the event as the doors of the Edison Ale House were open all night long. The line began to be blurred between where the Devils event ended and the after-party. It seemed as if Bourbon Street found its way to the streets of New Jersey’s largest city. Instead of Mardi Gras floats and people proudly displaying beads of different colors, there was a sea of red and black jerseys.
The Actual Draft
During the broadcast of the draft, live clips of the ensuing draft party were shown. As the hour approached the time when general manager Ray Shero would ascend to the podium with a jersey in hand, the thousands of fans began to wait anxiously in front of the center stage. When commissioner Gary Bettman opened the event — with the help of the Sedin Twins — the first round of boos came from the crowd, but that was nothing compared to what was about to come next.
As the Devils took the stage, general manager Ray Shero approached the microphone and announced that the greatest goaltender of all time — Martin Brodeur, who himself was drafted in Vancouver — would announce the pick. Although it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Hughes would be chosen, there was nervous excitement in the air. The crowd’s pent up excitement burst out when the pick was announced. As soon as Brodeur announced that the pick was from the “U.S. National Development Team,” deafening cheers could be heard as far as Flyer-country in South Jersey. You couldn’t even hear Marty say the name, “Jack Hughes,” during all the excitement, but everyone now knew he was now officially a Devil.
After the big announcement, most of the crowd waited to see the hated New York Rangers take Kaapo Kakko immediately after with the second pick. It was then, that the newly drafted Finnish winger got the first of what will be many boos from Devis’ fans. Following this, the announcement was made that Jack Hughes’ signed pucks and jersey orders were available in the Devils’ Den store.
What Could Have Been Better
A majority of the event was an outstanding success, still, there were a few things that could be improved upon if the Devils hold another such event in the future. First off, the amount of family and children based activities seemed pretty thin as the night went on. At the beginning of the evening, young Devils’ fans took part in street hockey and other games in Championship Plaza. As the event began to wind down, the remaining party-goers shifted towards the Edison bars, while families began to leave and head home.
While it was a huge night for the franchise and its fans, the party seemed to wind down around the time Alex Turcotte was selected with the fifth overall pick by the Los Angeles Kings. Granted, the main event was the first overall pick. However, Kevin Rooney and Mackenzie Blackwood’s presence did give fans a reason to stay. But after the first overall pick, some fans decided to head home.
While the Devils had alumni and current players in attendance, some of their biggest stars weren’t even there. Granted, Blake Coleman was off getting married in Texas, but team superstar Taylor Hall was only present during a brief pre-taped segment. Had Hall been in attendance, the crowd would have gone even crazier than it originally had. However, you can’t be too critical of Hall, as the circumstances and details that kept him away from the draft festival are unknown.
Overall, the event was a massive success. The fan base was able to come together and welcome Jack Hughes before he even stepped foot in Jersey. Even though the P.K. Subban trade didn’t happen until the next day, I am pretty sure had that happened on Friday night the excited party goers would have sent a cosmic shock wave through the streets of Newark with their ecstatic cheers. For a moment as big as this, there was no better place to celebrate than [outside] the Prudential Center.
Certain aspects that contributed to the event’s success were out of the Devils’ hand. First was the fact that they had the first overall pick. Had it not been a pick of that magnitude, attendance most likely wouldn’t have been as high as it was.
Next was the near perfect weather for the event. Although early Friday saw rain showers roll through the area, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky as the temperatures stayed north of 70 degrees for most of the night. If Mother Nature wasn’t as cooperative, a good portion of the fans might have chosen to welcome Jack Hughes to New Jersey from the comfort of their own living rooms. With the Prudential Center taken for another event and the fact that the crowd was way too big to fit into Barnabas Health Hockey House, there wasn’t a backup plan for the event.
Although the event was a great time, it’s also an event Devils’ fans probably don’t want to happen again. Instead of standing outside watching Shero pick first overall once again, wouldn’t we rather see the team return to the playoffs and have pregame fan fests and Stanley Cup celebrations instead? Hopefully, this is the beginning of something great, and it all began on a warm summer night in June of 2019.