ATLANTIC CITY - If there was any doubt that locals love their ice hockey, all you had to do was go to Boardwalk Hall on Sunday.
An announced crowd of 2,211 waited an hour for a game that never happened.
An American Hockey League game between the Albany Devils and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins was canceled due to poor ice conditions. A make-up date was not yet announced.
Fans in attendance were given a voucher for any future Albany or Trenton games at Boardwalk Hall. Three additional minor-league hockey games are scheduled for Boardwalk Hall in January and February. Sunday's ticket-holders who choose not to attend a game can receive a refund at the point of purchase, Val McGonigal, director of marketing for Boardwalk Hall, said in an e-mail Sunday night.
During warm-ups for the 4 p.m. game, the ice began to crack under the weight of the players. Pieces of ice broke, creating holes in the surface. Some pieces even came apart when players took slap shots.
The holes were filled with cement and then frozen and smoothed over using Zamboni machines, but workers could not salvage the ice in time for a hockey game.
"I wouldn't play. The ice is that bad," said Fred Hubbard, 66, a fan from Barnegat Township. "We were only coming today. We were happy when we heard hockey was so close. We're originally from Bergen County. I'm a Rangers fan. My wife is a Devils fan and we used to go to games."
Hubbard and his wife, Kathy, 65, left before the cancellation was announced, but most fans waited as music blared on the loud speakers to provide some type of entertainment.
This was to have been the second of four Albany Devils games scheduled for Boardwalk Hall this season. One week earlier, the Devils played Adirondack Phantoms at the facility. There were no major troubles with the ice surface during that game.
In addition to Albany's four games in Atlantic City, the Trenton Devils of the ECHL will play at the arena on Jan. 23 against the Wheeling Nailers. The Albany Devils do not return until Feb. 4, when they face the Hershey Bears.
The bad ice conditions Sunday were related to a figure-skating event held at Boardwalk Hall on Saturday night, "The Caesars Tribute: A Salute to the Golden Age of American Skating." The ice needed to be all white for Saturday's event, so workers added a layer of ice to cover the hockey logos.
The crew arrived at 5 a.m. Sunday to ready the rink for the game.
They shaved the ice down to the logos but went too far in some spots. Those were the areas where the ice cracked and chunked off.
"It was unsafe. It was unplayable," said the Penguins' top player, Eric Tangradi, a Philadelphia native who had at least 15 friends and family in the stands. "It's definitely disappointing. Hopefully, the building and the people will learn from this."
The ice needs to be at least three-quarters of an inch thick for hockey, Boardwalk Hall general manager Greg Tesone said. However, some parts were a half-inch thick or less after they shaved down to the logos.
No one realized how thin the ice was until the players started skating in warmups.
During the hour wait, the players took off their equipment and felt as if they were in a baseball rain delay.
Many of them of them hung out on the bench in just their shorts and a shirt.
As the ice crew tried to re-freeze the surface, many of the lights in Boardwalk Hall were turned down to help cool the arena and quicken the process.
"Our crew worked all night to cut the paint back out," Tesone said. "You shave off ice until you to get back to the hockey ice. We shaved too much. The ice got too thin. Those were the areas that you saw broke off during warm-ups."
The cancellation was an unfortunate situation for Boardwalk Hall and Atlantic City, which is trying to expand its entertainment options during an economic slump.
Local hockey fans are looking at the five scheduled New Jersey Devils minor-league games as a test to see if Atlantic City could sustain a minor-league hockey team. The Dec. 5 game drew 5,134 fans.
The Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies of the ECHL played in Boardwalk Hall from 2001-2005 but left for Stockton, Calif., because of poor attendance.
"It's disappointing because it feels like we drove here for no reason," said fan Maggie Hunter, 39, of Egg Harbor Township, who brought her children, Jenna, 10, and Michael, 7. "We're going to come back, but we hope something like this doesn't happen again."
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