Behind the Scenes – Continental Airlines Arena

 [Note: My visit was back in early 2007, when I first started writing A Perfect Distraction. The Devils moved to the Prudential Center – aka The Rock – for the 2007-8 season.]

our old seats in 228As loyal New Jersey Devils fans and season ticket holders, we attended around 30+ games a season; more if you included the post-season. You’d think we’d have known as much as there was to know about our home arena.

Wrong.

What the fan sees is only part of the story, as I found out when I visited the Continental Airlines Arena, at the Meadowlands, in New Jersey.

VP of Arena Operations, Tom Ferreri was kind enough to give up some time on a busy game day to show me around behind the scenes.

Aside from having an encyclopaedic knowledge of the workings of the arena and everything in it, Tom has a fantastic ability to make the most technical information accessible. His enthusiasm for his work and for the arena shines through. And if you ever get a chance to see a fantastic video of Tom’s team changing over from a Devils game in the afternoon to a Nets game in the evening – awesome. As someone who was there, watching the Devils play the Detroit Red Wings and leaving mid-afternoon, I was amazed that the arena could be ready for the Nets game that evening … but it was!

Thanks to Tom, I got a very different perspective on the arena.  A player’s perspective – perfect for adding colour to my book.

Aside from some pretty cool facts – did you know the ice is less than two inches thick?! – I was able to get a real feel for the sights, sounds and smells of where the players play.

The overwhelming smell in the arena, early on game day, when both teams are running through their practices, is of popcorn. As you go closer to the dressing rooms, you can hear the grinding and sanding of sticks and smell the acrid aroma of glue and tape and heated acrylic.

Half-dressed players wander past – that was tough ;). Some are bigger than you expect, even without all the padding. Others are surprisingly small. They all look very different without their helmets. And without their sweaters (aka hockey jerseys)!

Me at centre ice

Assuming they stay healthy, these guys play 82 games a season – more, if they make the post-season. Often, they play two to three games a week. Occasionally, they play back-to-back games, on consecutive nights. And they travel – especially out West. In between that, they practice and train. Let me tell you, these guys work bloody hard and are unbelievably fit. Even at a morning skate, they’re giving it their all.

They are also the most down-to-earth guys you’ll meet. Even the big stars are surprisingly humble and totally charming. As a Brit, and football (soccer) fan, it did my heart proud to hear tales of the players knocking around a football as a way to chill out before the game.

Back to interesting perceptions. Let’s start with the ‘tunnel’. As a fan watching from my seat, when the lights go down, the intro music swells and my boys come out of the locker room and onto the ice, it looks like they are emerging from a tunnel. But, it’s not a tunnel at all. It’s a low archway. Who’d have known?

Then stepping out onto the ice itself was astonishing. Suddenly, all the noise from the arena is deadened. It’s like being in a sound-proofed booth. Then, Tom clicked his fingers and the sound echoed. It’s a deliberate acoustic set-up to enable the players to communicate on the ice – regardless of whatever is happening in the arena.

Next it was up to the halo, the top-most ring of the arena, where the scratched and injured players watch the game alongside the statisticians. That’s also where the replay booth is, with connections down to the truck for film of the play and phone lines to both the NHL offices in Toronto and the officials at ice level.

Back down in the arena’s lower levels, I was able to have a quick peek in the Devils’ locker room – which was a lot smaller than I thought it would be. And a lot smellier too!

The hustle and bustle of pre-game preparation is impressive. Not least with the careful ministrations of Zamboni drivers Jimmy and Bobby ensuring that the ice surface is the best it can be for game time, as well as looking after it between periods. Many thanks to Tom and Bobby for allowing me to ride on the Zamboni!

Riding the Zamboni 1

Also busy are the commentators and media folk. On my trip, I met hockey expert Stan ‘The Maven’ Fischler, radio commentator Matt Loughlin and TV front man Steve Cangialosi. Though we often see them at games, it was good to chat with the best TV commentator in hockey, Emmy award-winning Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick and fan favourite colour commentator, former goaltender Glenn ‘Chico’ Resch.

The technical guys, in the truck and in the arena, were very helpful too – showing me how things worked and what went into showing a game; all the camera angles as well as how they replayed snippets and how information was sent up to the booth for replays.

It was a wonderful day! As well as giving me a wealth of information, it was a lot of fun. I can’t thank Tom Ferreri enough for all his help and expertise.