ATLANTIC CITY — The New Jersey Devils’ mascot and four former players sat in the front row of a news conference Thursday morning at Boardwalk Hall to promote their minor-league club’s four games this season at the historic building.
Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno hopes the minor-league team decides to make the Hall its home.
“I look forward to ... maybe some type of permanent association with the farm team,” Guadagno said of the Devils’ minor-league club in Albany, N.Y., which has the lowest attendance in the American Hockey League.
The Albany Devils will host four games at Boardwalk Hall this season: Nov. 25 vs. the Wilkes Barre-Scranton Penguins; Jan. 13 vs. the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (Islanders); Jan. 20 vs. the Adirondack Phantoms (Flyers); and Feb. 24 vs. the Hershey Bears (Capitals). All four games are at 4 p.m. on Sundays.
“We need (fans) to come out for the four games,” said Guadagno, a self-described hockey mom. “We need to be real hockey fans, as I know we all are. And if we’re successful in those four games, we will have the leverage we need to attract a farm team here. ... Even if it’s not the Devils, we’ll be able to take these numbers on the road and attract a team to this beautiful facility right here.”
Attendance could get a huge boost if the NHL lockout continues. Players on two-way or entry-level contracts can be sent to the AHL during the NHL’s labor-related work stoppage, which is in its 27th day and already has wiped out 82 regular-season games.
The Albany Devils got Adam Henrique, a finalist last season for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie. They also have Adam Larsson, Jacob Josefson and Mattias Tedenby, all of whom spent significant time with the NHL club last season.
If the lockout is still in place Jan. 20, the Phantoms could feature Flyers players Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, Zac Rinaldo, Marc-Andre Bourdon and Erik Gustafsson. Also, Hershey features Capitals goalie and playoff star Braden Holtby.
“They’re going to see some awfully good hockey players,” Devils great Ken Daneyko said. “Certainly for the AHL it’s a big benefit, (though) I’m hoping they get a deal done before that.”
Good players are nothing new for the Hall, which hosted last season’s AHL All-Star Game and drew a crowd of 6,113. Albany also played five games there in the 2010-11 season, with an average attendance of 3,498 in an arena that seats 10,820 for hockey games.
If the lockout continues, this season’s games could draw much larger crowds. The Phantoms drew 20,103 to one of their games during the 2004-05 lockout, when they played in Philadelphia.
“The competition, the level will be increased, naturally, when there are more quality players,” Devils president, CEO and general manager Lou Lamoriello said.
“Everybody raises their games. I think that fans are going to experience something special. Hopefully we get things settled in the very near future, but if it doesn’t work out the way we’d like to see it, they will be here.”
Daneyko, 50, whose No. 3 was retired by the Devils in 2006, said he plans to attend some of the games in Atlantic City. He has been to the Hall for boxing matches and said he was close friends with the late Arturo Gatti.
Daneyko said if he were a young player now, he would embrace playing in the AHL during the lockout.
“It’s better than sitting around,” he said. “I would look at it like the glass half-full. I’ve got to continue to develop my game, and when the season does get going, then I’ll be ready to go the second they say the lockout’s over.”
Devils chairman and managing partner Jeff Vanderbeek called it a “luxury” to have some of the team’s better players eligible for the AHL. Many veterans are playing overseas during the lockout.
“Having them certainly develop under the same system with the same coaching is certainly beneficial to their development,” Lamoriello said.
Lamoriello and Vanderbeek both declined to comment on whether the Albany Devils could become Atlantic City’s first professional hockey team since the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies of the ECHL relocated to Stockton, Calif., in 2005. But Vanderbeek conceded that he will pay close attention to the attendance at the four games this season.
“It would say a lot (if there are big crowds),” Vanderbeek said. “We continue to try to extend our footprint further south in the state, and certainly having these four games here, and to the extent that they’re well attended, would mean a lot.”
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