Devils leave A.C. happy, but their return not sure

The Albany Devils’ Eric Gelinas, right, slides along the ice while he and the Hershey Bears’ Ryan Stoa move in on the puck during an AHL game in Atlantic City last season. Albany returns to Boardwalk Hall on Sunday to play the first of four AHL games there this season.

Staff file photo, Feb. 24

ATLANTIC CITY - The Albany Devils walked out of Boardwalk Hall with a win Sunday evening.

They left behind the question of whether the historic building can support a team of its own in the future.

Albany, the American Hockey League affiliate of the NHL's New Jersey Devils, beat the Hershey Bears 6-4 in the last of its four games this season at the Hall.

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The announced attendance was 3,999, bringing the average for the four games to 3,986 in a building with a capacity of about 10,800 for hockey. That's up from the 3,498 that Albany averaged in five games at the Hall in 2010-11. It's also better than the AHL-worst 3,435 per game that Albany drew in its own building last season.

"It shows you that there are hockey fans in Atlantic City who are interested in hockey," Albany general manager Chris Lamoriello said. "Certainly with the ECAC championships being here (next month) and us playing the amount of games we did the last three years, the (AHL) All-Star game (last season, which drew 6,113 at the Hall), I don't think there's any confusion that Atlantic City and the people around here are interested in hockey."

The average attendance of 4,380 for the final three games this season was particularly encouraging. The first game drew just 2,803, likely due in part to the Hall having hosted the sold-out Operation Hat Trick charity game featuring NHL stars one night earlier.

Boardwalk Hall general manager Greg Tesone said while the attendance did not increase dramatically from the games two seasons ago, the building was able to sell more sponsorship.

"That's important if we're going to demonstrate that the market's viable for a team," Tesone said.

The players also had positive things to say about the four games.

"We've had pretty good fans and stuff like that," said Devils forward Phil DeSimone, who had three assists Sunday. "Personally, I like the ice. ... It's a good building, good atmosphere. They do a good job here."

The next step is to try to bring a team to Boardwalk Hall full time. The historic building has not been home to a professional hockey team since the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies of the ECHL moved to Stockton, Calif., in 2005.

"We like to use these things as an opportunity to showcase the facility as well as the drawing power of the community," Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority president Jeffrey Vasser said. "Since we lost the Bullies years ago, we've always been trying to get another team here, whether it's at the ECHL level or the AHL level, because we think hockey will do well here."

Off-ice issues

There remains the question of who will be in charge of taking that next step. The ACCVA voted in December to award the contract for operation of Boardwalk Hall to Philadelphia-based Global Spectrum, whose parent company, Comcast-Spectacor, owns the Wells Fargo Center. The Hall's current operator, SMG, filed a formal dispute letter outlining grounds for protest and requesting a hearing, which has yet to happen.

"With the possible change in management, Global Spectrum, with their relationship with the (Philadelphia) Flyers, it opens up the door to another team and their affiliates as well," Vasser said. "So we're hopeful that we'll have more hockey here in the future either way."

Tesone and Vasser both said if a team cannot be enticed yet to move to Atlantic City, then they would like to bring the Albany Devils back for more games.

Lamoriello said he would be open to that.

"I can't say enough about the staff," Lamoriello said. "And the building, the atmosphere - we've enjoyed this."

Notes: The national anthem was performed by Judah Dorrington, whose father, Art, was the first black player in professional hockey. Art Dorrington still lives in Atlantic City, and the Hall's ice rink bears his name. ... Former Philadelphia Flyer Ryan Potulny scored for Hershey. Potulny played parts of three seasons (2005-08) with the Flyers, recording seven goals and seven assists in 39 games. The Bears also have ex-Flyers Boyd Kane and Kevin Marshall.

Contact Jason Mazda:

609-272-7193

Hershey Bears 0 2 2-4

Albany Devils 2 2 2-6

Goals-Wellman (2), Stoa, Potulny H; Whitney (2), Sislo (2), Hoeffel, Anderson A.

Goalies-Grubauer (24) H; Kinkaid (22) A.

Records-Hershey 25-21-3-5, Albany 22-19-1-9.

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