It was a day when the New Jersey Devils wanted to celebrate their youngest fans, so it was fitting that their young players would use the opportunity to shine.
Supported by the shutout effort of 22-year-old rookie goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood and a shorthanded, game-winning goal for 21-year-old forward Pavel Zacha, the Devils would go on to beat the Carolina Hurricanes in an afternoon game on December 29th, 2-0.
The day was dubbed Kids Day at Prudential Center and it featured a number of activities designed to entertain young fans. The Devils invited an SI Kids Kid Reporter to join in on the fun.
“For us it’s important to have young fans,” said head coach John Hynes. “It’s important to be able to build a base when they are really young to like our team, and they become attached to our players and attached to Devils hockey. Hopefully we play well enough that we get fans for life.”
The Devils certainly created chances for fans to get involved, including at the Little Devils Zone, which is free and available at every home game. Here, kids are able to play games that help teach hockey basics, like passing the puck and shooting on net.
At a Healthy Hat Trick Assembly, the team mascot, the NJ Devil, ran kids through fitness exercises, including push-ups, sit-ups, and jumping rope. These activities are meant to teach the importance of staying fit and healthy.
Many elements of the game featured kids, from the singer of the national anthem to the guest radio color analyst during the second period: me!
While helping play-by-play veteran Mike Loughlin and longtime analyst and former Devils goalie Chico Resch with calling the action, I got to experience firsthand the hard work and preparation it takes to do the job well. During stoppages in play, both broadcasters asked me my thoughts on players like Blackwood, who was playing in only his third NHL start. He had come off a great game two nights before against the Boston Bruins, where he stopped 40 of 42 shots for a win.
Resch said that being a successful radio broadcaster is about being able to provide specific descriptions about the play that is going on and being able to provide information that listeners will find interesting. They spend a lot of time doing their own research before every game.
In addition to helping out with the radio broadcast, I got to do a segment with Devils correspondent Amanda Stein. Together, we did a feature for the pregame. The experience was made possible by Caela McLouhglin, a member of the Devils organization, who works in media relations. She helped me navigate the locker room and media room for both the pregame and postgame press conferences.
Kids Day not only showed young fans all of the ways they can have fun before and during the game, but also highlighted some of the team’s best young stars. Coach Hynes says he is encouraged by what the future holds for the team. He feels that their young prospects will continue to produce and shine for the fans of New Jersey for a long time.