This past Wednesday, I attended the opening in the Vailsburg Branch, Newark Public Library, of the traveling exhibit of a model of the Newark Arena that is now being built Downtown by the City of Newark and New Jersey Devils hockey team of (Canada's) National Hockey League.
Former Devils player Rob Skrlac (pronounced SKRAH-lik, or something like that) made a presentation about hockey to a group of some 30 kids and grownups. He dressed a little black boy from the neighborhood in a full Devils uniform, and explained each item of the layered protective gear as it went on.
Skrlac and a woman nearby (a librarian? library volunteer?) discussed the origins of the name "New Jersey Devils". I had known that it was the winning entry of a contest, and have always been offended by the name. I am certain there is no such thing as one devil, much less a bunch of devils.
The claim, however, is that the hockey team is named for the "Jersey Devil", a legendary supernatural beast of the Pine Barrens. I'm certain there is no such thing as the Jersey Devil either, tho I am equally sure that there is such a thing as a Devils jersey. I suppose the name is politic, in that the team's geographic base is in North Jersey but the name derives from South Jersey.
Skrlac also answered questions about the game of hockey which, however, didn't seem to interest the group much. Hockey is reaching out to inner-city kids who now show no interest in the game, probably because there isn't a single black player of note anywhere in the league.
Mind you, the Devils is a pretty diverse group (of white guys). Its current roster of 24 players includes 10 Americans (none from New Jersey, however), 3 Russians, 1 Czech, 1 Finn, and only 9 Canadians. Skrlac, no longer an active player, is Canadian himself, born on Vancouver Island somewhere north of Victoria, the provincial capital, but he lives somewhere in New Jersey now. (Some websites say he was born in Port McNeill, near the north end of the island; others, Campbell River, near the middle.) I have been to Victoria, a very pleasant little city with a distinguished capitol building and a picturesque inner harbor the size of a big marina. I did not, however, get to any other part of that enormous island.
Here's a picture of Skrlac before the group. The kid to his left is the one who had been in uniform, and all that stuff on the table at his back had been on that little kid!
The mascot was also present.
I later saw him with his Devil head off, but will not say what he looks like!
Skrlac graciously autographed free copies of his player card, and some of the Devils teeshirts that the team had given to the kids as they arrived.
I discuss the Arena project and show closeup pictures of the model itself on the main Resurgence City site. For purposes of this blog entry, suffice it to say that the Vailsburg Branch reception was a pleasant little event that was probably a great success in community outreach for the Devils.