ATLANTIC CITY — Area hockey fans were thrilled to hear these six words: Hockey is back at the Hall.
The New Jersey Devils this season will bring to Boardwalk Hall five minor-league games, which are being sponsored by the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority and Caesars Atlantic City. An official announcement will be made at 11 a.m. Tuesday at Boardwalk Hall.
“I’m certainly happy to have hockey back in the city. I will definitely be there,” said Atlantic City’s John Russo, 22. “I thought the Bullies were the best sports in the city for the last 15 years.”
The Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies played four seasons at Boardwalk Hall but went to Stockton, Calif., in 2005 after attendance numbers sagged.
Russo’s reaction was typical of fans contacted, who missed having a local team. Fans will get four games with the American Hockey League’s Albany Devils and one with the East Coast Hockey League’s Trenton Devils at Boardwalk Hall. The schedule will be released during Tuesday’s news conference.
The move is part of an ongoing trend by Atlantic City officials to bring in more sporting events and other nongaming attractions.
“The idea for me is to mix up entertainment options and produce entertainment to a different group that wouldn’t traditionally come to Atlantic City,” ACCVA Executive Director Jeffrey Vasser said Friday.
Just this week, it was announced that the Offshore Powerboat Association is bringing powerboat racing back after an absence of almost 20 years.
In November, Boardwalk Hall will host the Legends Classic, a four-team college basketball tournament. Next March, the state high school wrestling tournament, the Atlantic 10 men’s basketball tournament and the Eastern College Athletic Conference Division I college ice hockey tournament will all be contested at the hall.
Harrah’s Entertainment traditionally has brought nongaming events to Atlantic City, specifically boxing. But in April, it sponsored the Caesars Tennis Classic, during which tennis stars Ivan Lendl, Pete Sampras and Andy RodRichard performed. More than 7,000 people attended the event, which is scheduled to return next year.
“I think anything that brings a broader visitor base to Atlantic City is a good thing,” said Don Marrandino, president of the eastern division of Harrah’s Entertainment. “We have to change the way people do things in Atlantic City to get people here, and we saw this as an opportunity.”
Russo went to about 10 Bullies games a year with his family, but the overall attendance figures were not strong enough to keep the ECHL hockey team in town. In its final year, the Bullies averaged audiences of 2,453, the fifth lowest in the league at the time.
The Trenton Devils – then called the Trenton Titans – were a big rival of the Boardwalk Bullies. The Bullies won the ECHL’s Kelly Cup under Mike Haviland in 2003, who also coached the Trenton Titans to a championship in 2005. Haviland was an assistant coach for this year’s Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in the NHL.
A good turnout for the five Devils games this winter could give the city another push for a team.
“A great turnout would go a long way,” Vasser said. “I think if you find an owner, one of the questions will be about the community support.”
Vasser also feels the Albany Devils games will boost the two-day ECAC hockey tournament, which starts March 18, 2011. The college tournament has been held in Albany since 2003.
“This is a great opportunity to reach out to a different market segment,” he said.
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