Experiencing a New Jersey Devils Game During a Pandemic


Daniel Amoia, Writer

On February 23, 2021, New Jersey Devils fans received the news they had waited nearly an entire year for. Fans were finally allowed to return to the Prudential Center. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Hockey League season suffered from a full shutdown immediately following the Devils’ contest against the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 10, 2020.

What followed was a long 349 days of anxious waiting until NJ governor, Phil Murphy, announced 10% capacity for indoor events.

People like myself, accustomed to attending Devils games on a biweekly basis, had a tough time with the extended absence. Countless days, weeks, and months of dreaming about the return made it so much sweeter when the time finally came. 

When hockey season began, it was immensely difficult to watch the opening night introductions in pindrop silence. For as great as it was to have live sports back, it was certainly not the same. The lovely sound of a roaring, sold-out Prudential Center crowd of 16,514 was replaced with some eerie fake crowd noise that might as well have been nails on a chalkboard. 

Obviously, being in the middle of a global pandemic, I was willing to follow whatever CDC guidelines enabled me to be back in the place I commonly referred to as my home.

You can imagine the exuberant feeling when I saw we were allowed to go back. The feeling of being back in an arena, immersed in the sounds of fans chanting and players hitting the ice is something I will never, ever take for granted again. The ability to attend live sporting events is a privilege, further brought to light by the 543,000 (and unfortunately counting) American COVID deaths. 

I wanted to be ensured that the return, for as excited as I was, allowed me to remain truly safe and protected. I can certainly say Prudential Center and the NJ Devils’ event staff delivered. 

The tickets were released online at exactly noon, and I knew I had to be quick to buy them. Thankfully, I grabbed a couple games before every single game in March was sold out only two and a half hours later. 

I had to first check that I had someone to go with, as the Devils only offered seating in socially distant ‘pods’ of two, four, and six.

When the day arrived, we were only allowed to enter at a specific gate at a specific time. In my case, I had to enter the Investors Bank Tower. Tickets in even numbered sections were permitted to enter the arena a half hour before puck drop, as odd numbered sections were allowed to enter an hour before. This was the first step towards preventing gatherings and limiting the spread. 

We had to go through a temperature check and were not allowed to bring bags into the arena since everything is contactless and there would be no way for security to check those bags. They then scanned our contactless mobile tickets, which were the only method of entry. The Devils decided to completely forgo paper tickets in an effort to further limit contact. 

We then headed towards the escalators, where we had to wait for the people in front of us to reach a green checkmark about ten feet up before we stepped on. Even in a non-pandemic world, it is very nice to not be absolutely crammed in. 

We then got to the top of the escalator where we were greeted by an usher stating, “Welcome back! We missed you all so much.” We used the hand sanitizing station as we hopped off the escalator, and looking throughout the concourse to see a sea of Devils jerseys gave me goosebumps. It was the most normal anything has felt to me since the pandemic started, and I almost got emotional.

Obviously, with such limited capacity, it was honestly more of a scarcity than a sea. But seeing other real people, as opposed to just cardboard cutouts, filling up an arena was downright incredible.

The Devils only allow household family members to go to games together, so there were no large groups of friends at games like you were accustomed to seeing. 

We had to go behind a curtain that prevented people not in our section from entering and then arrived at our seats. To my amusement, there were significantly more cardboard cutouts placed throughout the arena than actual people.

Seeing the two worlds collide, cardboard cutouts and real people, was a strange experience to say the least. Some of the cutouts we were seated by included a cat wearing a Devils jersey, a family of five, all four Impractical Jokers, and a little kid. 

Thankfully, the normalcy started as the players headed out for pregame warmups. The announcer introducing the starting lineup made me feel like nothing had changed, even though everything changed. The sold out, but limited crowd of 1,651 was extra loud to compensate for the ninety percent that was not there. 

Members of the health and safety teams scoured around, ensuring everybody had their masks on for the entirety of the game. The traditional puck in play rule which previously forced fans to wait until a stoppage in play to return to their seat was abolished to prevent large gatherings. Concessions and merchandise could be ordered contactlessly via the NHL’s mobile app, and could be attained pre-packaged at a designated pickup location. 

Every intermission, the safety team did a deep sanitizing of any “high touch areas” as outlined on the Prudential Center’s website. They utilized some top-notch cleaning: electrostatic sprayers along with UV-C units. In addition, they “instituted an air quality improvement plan, in conjunction with outside engineers, to maximize air flow rates and filtration including utilizing MERV-13 filters.”

Despite the pandemic, seeing my first Devils win at the Prudential Center in 399 days made everything feel normal again. With the stresses, anxieties, and overall uneasiness everybody has felt over the past year, a temporary escape like this was much needed. 

I knew with the hard work of the Prudential Center event staff, I was completely safe and protected in my time there. I appreciate the great lengths they, among many others, have gone through to keep the general public safe while still allowing for entertainment like a professional hockey game. 

On March 29, 2021, the Devils doubled their capacity to 20%, meaning 3,300 people. As we continue to get more towards old normalcy, I long for the day when this is all a memory of the past and a 100% capacity crowd is chanting “Let’s Go Devils” at the top of their lungs.