The Rock and The Garden

Last weekend was awesome as we spent some time at two arenas that are completely different. My brother came down from Rochester for a visit and it was off to a Saturday Night game in Newark as our Sabres played the Devils. It’s been a rough start for Buffalo thus far as they clearly miss Defensemen Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman. But on this night it was all Buffalo as they won 6-1 and chased backup goalie Johan Hedburg. We joined in some “Let’s Go Buffalo” chants as the atmosphere at Devils games is never that great. However, I was impressed with those that were there, a huge number of them had jerseys on, so they weren’t casual. There’s a small hardcore base of Devils fans, but the overall quantity of fans seems small and the Prudential Center never really rocks. The fanbase is kind of like the Islanders on the other side of NYC.

I will say they have built a beautiful arena and the architectural design of it, I really like. Being that it’s a hockey arena,  I initially didn’t quite understand why they chose the downtown location as opposed to the suburbs, where most of the fans live. But getting to and parking around the facility at the surface seems intimidating, but it’s really not and turned to be quite simple. This arena is important to the city of Newark and has played some role in the revitalization there which is great to see. The food and concourses were the most impressive aspects at the Prudential Center with a couple big thumbs up for having jerseys of New Jersey hockey teams displayed on the walls (a page from Minnesota’s book). They have quite a wide gamut of food available and I’m a big fan when the host city is prominently displayed as they had stands for local favorites like Jimmy Buff’s (Italian Hot Dogs) and El Pastor’s (Portuguese which is famous in Newark’s Ironbound section). Well done there. The inside is a nice, bright facility. It’s good to see some variability with the design (instead of the standard bowl like in Philly), but I hate the overdoing of club seats. The three middle sections on the lowest level are $250 club seats that allow you into the Fire and Ice lounges. That leads to a lot of empty seats and casual fans taking up the best seats and it also does not look good on TV. My other downfall is that it is inexcusable to have a new facility feature an obstructed view. Our seats were in the first row of the 2nd section in the upper deck and my view was partially blocked by glass/railing for the stairs. C’mon, that’s terrible! Despite those two flaws, I still enjoyed this arena and they did a very decent job building a home for the Devils. It certainly is light years ahead of their drab former home in the Meadowlands. To see more pictures and a detailed review of the arena, see #94 Prudential Center.

Then it was on to an arena that everyone knows by simply saying the “Garden”. Ahh, Madison Square Garden, my goodness what a place to watch a hockey game. This is my favorite NHL arena so far and it may remain that way for awhile. I’ve been here once before and that was for Game 1 of an early season college basketball quadruple-header (Michigan-Fairfield), but now living closer to the area, it was only a matter of time until I got back to see the Rangers and Knicks (I re-did my review for the Garden now that its more official seeing a main tenant). There was not a chance I was driving into the city, so we hopped on the train from NJ Transit and got off at Penn Station to walk upstairs. This is one of the few places left that has the “Awe Factor” for fans when you walk in. That trademark paneled roof and just the buzz inside is enough to give you goosebumps. Rangers games are special with a crazy, fun, loud atmosphere. And it was definitely loud as it can get deafening, I can only imagine what the playoffs are like.

The coolest place to sit is in the 400s as this is where the true diehards are. MSG is set-up in kind of a circular design and even though it seems like a tall structure on the outside, it actually has a very gradual rise in rows, so seats are not high, but they seem a lot further from the ice. There is one main level of circular seating, split by walkways and it’s not until you get to the 400s that you actually go up a deck in seating. This circles the rink probably three-quarters around and the low roof helps to keep in noise. Lots of interesting stuff that goes on up here. Some of the cheers/chants/traditions seen at the Garden include “Let’s Go Rangers” and occasionally a “Henrik”, clap-clap “Henrik” chant would start after a big save from goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. Then there is the chant that starts with a whistle, followed by a small “Potvin Sucks”, which has been going on since the 80s (in reference to the Islanders’ Denis Potvin). Loved hearing the Rangers horn and goal song as that song has been around for 15 years. It’s catchy and unique to the team. Other traditions heard and seen: Dancing Larry, who during the 3rd period does this crazy dance to “Strike it up”. Then at the end of the game after a win, the team gathers at center ice and raises their stick to salute the crowd.

It’s the atmosphere, uniqueness of the building and it’s location (at the center of the biggest city in the world) that makes Madison Square Garden a great venue for hockey. Yes, it has it’s flaws: the sightlines aren’t great, concourses are very tight, concession prices are ridiculous and the ushers are rude. The Garden is set for a renovation the next couple years, let’s hope that it does not screw around with what makes it special (and some of the new features may do that). Until then, this is the oldest arena in the NHL and was a lot of fun to visit. The official review for the arena can be seen here: #95 Madison Square Garden

We couldn’t have asked for anything better in terms of the game. The Rangers dominated the struggling Devils with 17 first-period shots, but no goals. The Rangers put in two in the second, including one from our hometown boy, Ryan Callahan, who grew up the street behind where my family lives in Greece, NY. So my brother and I were really on our feet for that. The Devils played much better in the third and eventually got one from Ilya Kovalchuk, who was a controversial healthy scratch the night before. Lundqvist then hunkered down and kept out any more goals and Brandon Dubinsky threw in an empty netter with a second left as New York won 3-1. That wrapped up a successful weekend with a couple NHL arenas checked off the list. The Prudential Center is the better building, but Madison Square Garden is the one I would rather see a game in.

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