I recently attended my college orientation in Boston, and the conversation eventually turned to hockey: college and pro.
As the discussion continued, we all started talking about our favorite teams; Kings, Bruins, Rangers, Avalanche, Red Wings, Flyers, etc.
When my turn came around everyone seem startled to hear "New Jersey" come out of my mouth.
"New Jersey? As in the Devils? How did that happen?" one kid said.
"Why? I sort of assumed that all people from New York liked the Rangers, with a few odd Islanders fans," another said.
After spending the next hour or so defending by team, I realized that a lot of hockey fans don't take the Devils seriously.
Wayne Gretzky once called them a "Mickey Mouse organization.” Granted that was in the 80s when the Devils were downright bad. But I think the stigma has stuck, and unfairly so.
I'll be one of the first to admit, the Devils attendance is not very good.
Before passing judgment on that, consider they are in hockey's Bermuda triangle, trapped between the Flyers, Rangers, and the Islanders. The fact that they were able to fill their new arena to almost 90 percent is pretty impressive considering where they are.
The Devils have not missed the playoffs since the 95-96 seasons, and they have more Stanley Cup titles in the last 15 years than every other team, save Detroit.
So, where does this stigma come from?
For a while it could have been contributed to a horrible arena. I loved seeing games at the Meadowlands, because it was fairly affordable, easy to get to, and it was easy to get tickets on short notice.
But their new arena is beautiful! It is, first and foremost, a hockey arena. The Devils have shown that they are serious about hockey by building the new arena, right in the heart of New Jersey.
Their fans have shown they are serious about hockey, time and again. The die-hards are there, night after night in the upper decks, because that’s what most of the true fans can afford, cheering their hearts out.
Despite all this, fans, certain commentators, and sometimes other organizations and players still do not take them seriously.
People on BR are not immune to this either, particularly the fans of the Canadian teams.
More than once, I have seen comments bashing the Devils. Some people have said that the Devils should be relocated. A recent article even blamed the franchise for the decline of the pre-lockout NHL. How can you blame one franchise for the "demise of the league?"
What will it take for the perception that the Devils "aren't a real team," as one “orientee” put it?
Are they going to have to win another three Cups?