March 23, 2014 - Atlantic City, New Jersey
Best known for the phrase "There she is, Miss America" rather than its hockey history, this Roman Renaissance style arena, only steps away from the beach, provides a fun setting for the game of hockey. Boardwalk Hall is best known as home of the Miss America Pageant. Thanks to the Devils hockey fans are able to enjoy some entertainment here, without the congeniality awards. Having opened in 1926, this auditorium style building had hockey as early as the late 1920's with a New York Rangers exhibition game, and later the Atlantic City Seagulls of the Eastern Amateur Hockey Association in the 1940's. Hockey returned in 2001, as Boardwalk Hall was the home ice for the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies from then until 2005. The Bullies even claimed a Kelly Cup during their tenure along the shore. Since the Bullies left town the arena has seen hockey usage as the home of the ECAC Hockey Tournament, on occasion, and the AHL's Albany Devils began playing a half-dozen or so games per year here in 2010. The impressive building is certainly a treat to see, and is a fun, offbeat place to watch a game. The arena is part of the convention center complex which served as the town's main venue for many years up until the mid 2000's. Nestled between casinos and kitschy boardwalk attractions, complete with rickshaw drivers who can take you up and down the boardwalk for a fee, the arena has a very carnival like feel to it. The exterior arching roof is somewhat obscured by the main lobby and entrance and is hard to see from boardwalk level. The box office sits along the boardwalk, and there is an ornately designed concrete exterior complete with columns and inscriptions where you enter the arena lobby. At first sight the building looks more like a big city library or courthouse rather than an entertainment venue. Those looking to get a view of the arena's exterior shape can walk a block or so down the shore and into the mall along the pier and look back from an observation deck. Nothing in New Jersey is cheap, but we found parking in a nearby garage for $5 for this Sunday afternoon matchup between the Devils and the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins. A ticket for the game was $21, not that far out of line for the AHL. The design of the arena is somewhat gaudy and overly ornate, but it fits right in with the image of a gambling town that AC is known for.
After entering at the boardwalk level and having your ticket ripped you head up one flight to the main arena concourse, which runs in a horseshoe shape and dead ends at the stage. Yes, there is a stage, and a huge one at that, complete with gold leaf trim. The arena bowl is impressive, and has a high vaulted arch ceiling, and more intricate trim work throughout the building, with turquoise tiles on the roof supports. An older, but functional center ice video board hangs from the ceiling, and the stands extend around the ice, with a narrow aisle about half way up the seating used to navigate around the arena. This mid-sized arena can seat 10,700 for hockey, although the odd layout find the ice rink pulled up close to the end seating, and approximately 75 feet away from the stage. It is obvious that the building was retrofitted to have an ice rink, but with the crowds drawn for the AHL contest the seats near the stage are not needed. You could best describe the layout and setting as someone setting up a hockey rink in an opera hall. The sight lines are OK, although the rake of the seats is not overly steep. Fifteen rows of green padded seats sits below the aisle, the first 10 of which are on aluminum risers, with another 15 rows above that. There is a 300 level section on each side, which adds another 6 rows of seats. The hallway to the 300 level seats runs above the main concourse, and overlooks it. It is rather surreal to watch hockey and glance up during a stoppage and see the massive, and famous stage where Miss America is crowned as a backdrop. Of note is the seating design, which has essentially free standing concrete grandstands around the arena, rather than having the seats tied into the exterior walls. You can stand atop the last row of seats and look over your shoulder at folks strolling the concourse for a cheesesteak. The main concourse offers several concession choices, including the Jersey staple Taylor Ham and egg sandwiches. The wide concourse is carpeted and has the look of a hotel lobby at a fancy resort. Perhaps the best word to describe the first impression of the hockey setup at Boardwalk Hall is the word "different". That is not a bad thing though as the setting provides an enjoyable hockey experience.
The gameday presentation at a Devils game in AC is certainly professional and well run. Despite not being a regular venue they have a rather polished presentation, although it is a bit simple. There are some giveaways and contest, and there is a chuck-a-puck event at intermission, as well as some mite hockey to entertain the fans. The lights are dimmed every time the zamboni takes to the ice, and the PA system is clear. South Jersey is Flyers country, so we were not sure what the fan response would be to the Devils farm team, but the crowd seemed to favor their part-time home team. The team is announced as "Your Albany Devils" during player intros, and if you did not realize this was an alternate home you would think that the Devils were the regular tenant. The "Let's Go Devils" chant broke out a couple times, and the fans seemed to enjoy themselves. The Albany Devils logo at center ice added to the feel that you could be in their barn. There were a couple noticeable shortcomings in the teams attempt to build up the Jersey Shore fanbase though. There was a single small merchandise booth, although the only items for sale were T-shirts and other gear from the previous season's AHL All Star game. There were no programs or lineup sheets available, and also no Devils gear for sale anywhere, not a good way to build a fan following, especially considering the that "home team" comes from 4 hours away in Albany. As a fan it is also fun to enjoy the history of the venue. From a hockey standpoint it was neat to see the Boardwalk Bullies Kelly Cup banner from 2003 displayed from the rafters, despite the team being gone from town for almost 10 years. The concourse has a small "Boardwalk Hall of Fame" display featuring displays from past events including the many boxing matches which have taken place here, including famous title fights. A banner for boxer Arturo Gatti also hangs above the seating bowl. The facility is impressive, and the oversized arena floor was large enough to host college football's Liberty Bowl in 1959. We are not sure of the hockey future of Boardwalk Hall, but are glad to have been able to see a game here. It was an entertaining one at that, with Wilkes-Barre taking a 3-2 overtime win, and the crowd of 3400 was also treated to a great scrap as well. We left pleased with the experience at Boardwalk Hall. One certainly cannot say Boardwalk Hall is a historic hockey arena, but the fact that it is such a historic and unique building and it hosts hockey makes it a must see for hockey fans.
A box score of the game can be found Here
Other information about the Albany Devils can be found at: Devils Home
Other information about Boardwalk Hall can be found at: Boardwalk Hall Home
More photos of Boardwalk Hall can be found Here