A Surly Time Three Thousand Miles From Home
I can’t say I woke up early today, or pleasantly.
This was the nice bruised lump I found below my left knee in the morning. That would be where my knee slammed into the arm rest when I flew out of my seat as Kopi put the puck past Brodeur. I didn’t feel it last night because of the excitement…and the beer.
The wavering nausea that only went away at about 3pm was a small price for a fantastic day. My oh my fellow fanatics, what an experience it was to be in New Jersey for game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals. For those that didn’t follow my antics on Twitter last night, let me paint a picture of images and words for you.
We left our hotel in midtown, Kopitar jersey and gear proudly displayed.
Walking to the subway, several people shouted encouragement. Their thumbs pointing upwards for the Kings was merely the positive spin of their thumbs jamming ever downward for the Devils. You think we hate the Anaheim Ducks? Our rivalry pales in comparison to the cross-river hatred of the Rangers and Devils.
Penn Station in Manhattan. Our band of Surlies stampeding through, looking for the right train to Newark. I saw 3 Devils fans, two of which ignored us and one who shook his head, disappointed that the nearest Kings fan wasn’t 3000 miles away. I will admit we were nervous when we needed to ask for directions and we weren’t sure whether we would be given bogus information. Fortunately, we weren’t in Devils’ territory quite yet…though it was starting to smell.
Once on the train, the conductor did a double take after punching our tickets. He looked as if he wished he hadn’t. We chuckled, but had looks of our own to share.
A short trip later and we were in Newark.
We had to pick up the tickets from a nearby stubhub location at a hotel. Traffic was disgusting and since my dad has a bum knee and avoids walking around when possible, we sat in a cab for 15 minutes to go half a mile. Walking in to get the tickets, I started to see smatterings of Devils fans. Again, like those in the subway, they barely acknowledged the enemy presence. I was becoming increasingly convinced that Devil is a code name for Ostrich.
No matter. I had these.
Then, off to Prudential Center. The scene was amazing. Hoards of people swarmed outside, the NHL Network tent set up, you probably saw it on TV, which is good, because I forgot to take a good picture of it.
I dove in and it didn’t take long to find pockets of Kings fans. Local news screws were swarming and stared at us, hesitant to approach the beast but fascinated that we were so close and not on our leashes. Once one of them began to interview me, asking vague questions like ‘what is going to happen tonight?’, the Devils fans all around finally took notice. A camera always draws and I wasn’t able to get out 3 words without another one walking up next to or behind me yelling about how the Kings were going to lose, Devils in 4 and to go back home. “The Kings are in the Stanley Cup Finals,” I said, “I am home.”
After displaying my lung fervidity for the reporter, I moved on toward Prudential. The arena wasn’t open yet so I went and bought goodies.
Forty dollars poorer I walked across the street to the local Devils bar, “The Edison Ale House.”
Again, completely ignored by this sea of red. Did I smell? Or did I NOT smell, marking me as a clear pariah in a town where the corpse floating in sewage only smells a little worse.
After one beer, I saw some ladies in Kings attire. Turns out they were the flight attendants assigned to the Kings. A sweet group of Canadians from Calgary (who wrinkled their noses in disgust when I mentioned the Flames), I got a promise out of one of them that if the Kings win the Cup on the road, I’ll get emailed pictures of the chalice aboard the plane as it flies home to Los Angeles.
6:30pm and the arena doors finally open.
The arena, unlike the city surrounding it, is bright, clean and pleasant.
Mum was still the word from the locals. Well, that is not entirely true. Several stopped me to shake my hand and say “good luck”. It was eerie.
Before grabbing food and drink, I checked out our seats.
Awesome. There was a faux wall directly behind our row, put there to house these gentlemen.
After eating and wandering around for a while, high-fiving passing Kings fans, it was time for warm-ups.
This is when it set in my friends. This moment when I realized where I was, what was happening, how incredible and special it was and how much I… I…. well, I took this picture.
The Kings acknowledged us a little. Couple of nods, but the icy focus was in their eyes, though they were loose enough to play around with each other. Drew Doughty led a small group of players to repeatedly check Brad Richardson mockingly as they all laughed. Justin Williams flipped a puck over the glass for a fan every second or third time he came by our group.
There was a sole Devils fan amidst our Kings numbers, in full out make-up (faces were being sprayed at several locations in and out of the arena). This piece of work can be seen in this photo.
At the end of warm-ups a puck came over the glass and trickled under the netting. It bobbled and landed at her feet. As others went to grab for it, she picked it up and hurriedly threw it back over the glass in a clearly defiant act. She was booed mercilessly and gave us all an ugly look to match the ugly makeup on her horse face. As she walked toward me I said “You just bought yourself some nasty karma coming your way.”
The superstitious among Devils fans can officially blame her for their loss.
Another beer and it was time for the game.
The opening video was decent, not up to the quality of ours, but again, this is New Jersey, the smokestack capital of the world.
The scene was intense.
The player’s took the ice and the Stanley Cup Finals began. I don’t need to elaborate on the game for you. You saw it, you watched replays over and over, you have it cached in your memory. I tried some “Go Kings Go” chants and the few other Kings fans in my section were reluctant to join. As nice as everyone was, that got them pretty upset. Still, I cheered on the Kings throughout the game. They didn’t seem to mind me cheering for specific players or plays, but the generic rally cry for the Kings rubbed them the wrong way. There was only one guy in front of me who was a really nasty whiner about me, but he mostly just muttered curses to himself.
During the first intermission Devils fans were, again, pretty tame. One guy from my section said that it was partially because, compared to Ranger fans, we Kings fans were tame. I kind of took that as an insult although he meant is as a compliment. Also, I found that in Jersey’s mental state, beating the Rangers was practically as good as winning the Cup for them and they held no animosity towards the Kings… Yet.
Bumped into a familiar face.
After the Devils scored, the other shoe dropped.
Now came the curses and the incessant booing. Finally.
Devils fans are loud and, during the game, quite intense.
They like their clap clap clapclapclap “Let’s Go Devils”, but their favorite thing is to spell. One guy yells ” Give me a D!”. They do. “Give me an E!”. So on and so forth until “What does that spell?” “Devils” two or three times. Cute.
I must say I was not in full Surly beast mode. I reigned it in several times, refrained from yelling that all the Devils fans suck, showed the courtesy not to scream “Let’s Go Kings!” at the top of my lungs. I did this vaguely out of respect for the fans, but largely because my father, who taught me how to yell like a banshee at hockey games, felt it was a shade above uncouth to be totally merciless. Turns out I’m a bit intense even for family… Perhaps especially for family.
However, he couldn’t entirely help himself either. During intermission between the third and overtime he was around a pack of Devils fans giving him a rash of crap. When they chided that the Kings were going to lose the game because the Devils had all the momentum, he said “Even if that happens, I get to go back to Los Angeles, you’ll still be in Newark.” He didn’t stick around long enough to find out how angry that comment made them.
When the game was over nothing much was said, I didn’t gloat in their faces, didn’t need to, jumped in a cab and got the hell out of Newark.
After such a spectacular evening I had to celebrate a little more, so I found a local bar, had some good conversation with New Yorkers that were and are very happy we won, and took in one last view of a city I love before bed.
I will remember this trip as fondly as any I’ve taken. And it’s not over yet, I’ve extended it until Sunday. These Jersey boys will have to put up with me once more.
One image sums up the experience, one you’ve already seen.