Introduction by Jennifer Connic of Ranger Nation:
I know plenty of Devils fans in New Jersey since I live and work here. Believe it or not, there are quite a few who are knowledgeable, and it’s fun to debate with them. Steve Chernoski is one of those fans (who I’ve known in a variety of capacities for years now), and he’s also dedicated to spreading his love for hockey and the Devils. He’s a filmmaker who created “New Jersey: The Movie,” which examines the cultural divide of the state, so he’s an expert to me on the topic. I asked him to write something about hockey in New Jersey and the division of fans in the Garden State since we are a melting pot of sorts here between Rangers, Devils and Flyers fans.
Steve Chernoski – Director of New Jersey: The Movie
Almost thirty years after the Colorado Rockies moved to New Jersey and became the Devils, there are still too many Ranger fans who live amongst us, within Garden State boundaries. I usually give some leeway to anyone over the age of 35, or who is a transplant, but I’ve meet too many young Rangers fans who were born and raised in our state. And considering New Jersey has been beaten up by the media forever, I don’t think it’s right.
I summed up my feelings on this issue here, but the issue became a bigger topic after it was revealed that Governor Chris Christie would be rooting for the New York Rangers over his home state’s team.
It has made me evaluate why. If the symbol of the state of New Jersey (and let’s be honest, this guy could be president someday) how can we ever build a solid fan base? First it might be helpful to examine where the majority of Rangers fans in New Jersey actually live.
And the key points are:
For newer hockey fans, one just needs to look at a map of New Jersey to predict the areas that would be more Ranger heavy. Anything along the train line that goes into NYC is going to be heavy blue, and areas closer to New York City would be more mixed with Devils and Rangers as well.
But there was also an exodus of New Yorkers who left and fled due south. We’ll call them “tax refugees” who moved to Ocean County and West to Warren County or even PA, thus stretching the Ranger numbers in New Jersey (and especially so for the Yankees – combine that with the Thunder in Trenton and the Pinstripes reach extends even further south toward Philly).
It’s these things that frustrate me. As a teacher and filmmaker who has traveled all over the state interviewing the people who have a pulse on their towns (cops, fire fighters, mayors, etc) I found that it’s the “central” areas where the New Jersey Devils bread and butter fan base lies. From Hunterdon – Ocean counties making a down facing backwards Tetris “L” you’ll find the most Devils fans. These areas are the farthest from NYC or Philly and it’s where the most Devils fans exist in the state. It’s why I was actually hoping for the new arena to be built in Red Bank and not Newark.
But my biggest bone of contention is if a dad grew up in New Jersey and was a Ranger fan, why should he raise his kid a Ranger fan too? I know, sorry, if you spit out your drink. But I feel Jersey Pride should outweigh dad’s loyalty. Defending Jersey is a lifestyle and you can’t do it 100% if you’re wearing blue. I strongly feel this way because we’re a small state, so we have to have more pride, more of an identity that isn’t overly affected by the two giant cities to our Northeast and Southwest. And the Devils are a big part of North & Central’s identity.
My biggest reason for feeling this way is something Devils’ fans don’t like to mention. What if our attendance is so bad that the team had to move? With the economic crash and the Islanders teetering, it is something I always think about now. If every hockey fan in North/ East New Jersey was a Devils’ fan, we would never have attendance problems. And that’s what is at stake. It’s true our fan base is younger and the Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek emphasizes that we’re going to grow up soon and purchase season tickets. OK. I believe that to a point. Because if these young kids are cheering for the Rangers, it’s a false hope.
When I drip my apathy for New Jersey Ranger fans it is not just because I don’t like the Rangers. It’s because this is a battle for self-preservation. And my son, who will be born in the next month (and in the state of New Jersey) I want to experience the same state pride the Devils have allowed me to have.
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