Not a lot of fans made it to the Sabres-Sharks game in Buffalo Tuesday night because of a heavy snow storm. But, compared to one winter night in New Jersey 27 years ago, Buffalo’s crowd was practically a full house.
On Jan. 22, 1987, the New Jersey Devils were scheduled to play the Calgary Flames for a mid-season home game. The problem was, a vicious snow storm pounded the eastern seaboard from Georgia to New York.
The scheduled start time was 7:30, but that was pushed back nearly two hours because there were so many late arrivals. There were abandoned cars all over the roads so some players, including New Jersey’s Doug Sulliman, needed to get creative with how they got to the rink. Sulliman recalled his journey to The Hockey News:
“I couldn’t get on the regular westbound highway, so what I did was get on the off-ramp and backed up on the eastbound side and I drove in reverse for three miles weaving in and out of parked cars all the way to the rink.”
Because the Flames were staying in a hotel across the street from the arena, they were all there on time, but it was the hometown Devils who were late. The referees in charge of the game wanted to start as soon as 14 Devils players showed up, but since this was a regular season game, the team wanted to have a full roster ready. So, as players trickled in, they hid in the medical and stick rooms.
The teams took multiple warmups, with the Devils shooting around with about six players. Eventually the game started. Amazingly, there were fans in attendance.
All 334 of them.
“There was this one guy who had something to say about everything on both teams,” Sulliman 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.”
The Devils won the game 7-5 and Sulliman had a career game, scoring three goals and two assists. Usually-busy concession workers became part of the crowd and watched from the aisles – and while the game lacked much intensity and atmosphere, it was one nobody who was there will ever forget.
It was so sparse, public relations staff members from the Devils went around and got the names and addresses of each individual spectator. The fans received a pin, t-shirt and tickets to the next Devils-Flames game, or the closest game to the one-year anniversary. On the 25th anniversary of the game, members of the exclusive “334 Club” were invited to a game and a private reception.
According to reports, about 6,200 showed up Tuesday in Buffalo after a major snow storm hit that city.
It’s a long way from that night in New Jersey 27 years ago.