It was 22 years ago that a brutal northeast snowstorm brought the metro New York area to a grinding halt. Close to two feet of snow fell, jamming the roadways and delaying public transportation. Of the 11,247 tickets sold for the game, only 334 fans made it to the arena.
The two teams – the Devils and the visiting Calgary Flames – barely had enough players to ice a starting lineup. Somehow, though, they made it. So did the officials.
Referee Mike Noeth took the ice alongside linesmen Dan McCourt and Gord Broseker.
Originally slated for a 7:30 start, the opening faceoff didn’t take place until after 9:00pm as the officials waited for enough players to arrive. The Flames were early, having only had to travel from their hotel across the street. The hometown Devils were the ones tasked with difficult travel. Some carpooled, some drove the wrong way on the Turnpike, and others abandoned their vehicles and hiked the remaining few miles to the arena.
The officials had an equally-challenging commute.
“I got on the Garden State Parkway onto the [New Jersey] Turnpike and the traffic stopped dead,” said linesman Dan McCourt. “By 7:30, I’m still sitting there. I turned the radio on thinking I could listen to the hockey game on the radio. I go up and down the radio dial and can’t find the game anywhere. I don’t get to the rink until just before 9 o’clock. The Calgary Flames are there and the players from the home team aren’t. So we waited.”
Though the game could have started with 14 players per side, the Devils wanted a full roster. Management had players hiding in the medical and equipment rooms until they had enough to fill the bench.
“We had the officials, we had the players, we’ve got no fans,” said McCourt. “Every time I yelled ‘Icing,’ or ‘Offside,’ my voice echoed throughout the building.”
Though there were few fans in attendance, some took advantage of the silence to make their voices heard.
“There was this one guy who had something to say about everything on both teams,” NJ Devils forward Doug Sulliman – who was supposed to be a healthy scratch, but scored a hat trick after unexpectedly being in the lineup – told THN. “We had this one big mouth in the corner – I don’t know if he had about six beers in him or what – but he was having the time of his life just cutting everybody up. Then we were all kind of joking that maybe one of us could catch him – you know, just step aside and I’ll whistle one up over the glass at him.”
That fan – and the 333 others who sat in the stands with him – were treated to an upset victory by the Devils, who defeated the Flames 7-5.