Thursday, May 30, 2013

Autograph Adventures: Albany Devils

As a student at SUNY Albany, I have a card that gets me on the Capital District Transit Authority bus for absolutely free. The bus goes downtown, right to the Times Union Center, home arena of the American Hockey League's Albany Devils. They are the minor-league affiliate of the New Jersey Devils. As a college student, I could get tickets for only $10 on most game nights.

During the NHL lockout, I went to a game in early November just to scope out the arena and watch some hockey for the first time in months. Overall, the Times Union Center is a beautiful, state of the art, and overall gorgeous arena.  When the arena is hosting the Devils, average attendance is between 3,500 to 4,000 people, largely because most of the upper level is covered off, giving everyone on the lower level a feeling that they are right on top of the action.  When the upper level is open for seating, there can be a maximum capacity of over 14,000 people.

The first autograph I got was at that game in early November, when the Devils were hosting the Adirondack Panthoms, the AHL affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers. I was sitting near the tunnel where the Devils would enter and exit the ice. Well before the game, assistant coach and former NHL player  Tommy Albelin was walking to the bench to watch warmups. I asked him if he could sign, and he politely stopped and signed my roster sheet for me, as I wasn't prepared with anything else. That was the only autograph I got that night.

I did attend a few other Albany Devils games, but there wasn't too much happening until I attended a game on February 17 between the Devils and the Binghamton Senators, AHL affiliate of the Ottawa Senators. The Devils were advertising a free post-game team autograph session, so I couldn't refuse a $10 ticket and free bus rides.

I arrived at the arena well before the 3pm puck drop, and had a seat near the tunnel of the visiting Senators. Well before the game, Steve Stirling went to the bench to time his clock with the clock on the arena's scoreboard. I have fond memories of Steve Stirling, as he was head coach of the New York Islanders, my favorite team, when I was growing up on Long Island. Now a Binghamton assistant coach, Stirling had no problem signing a page in my autograph book as he was leaving the bench to go back into the locker room. I also told him that I had met him almost a decade earlier when he was the Islanders coach, and I was in the Islanders Booster Club, to which he said, "That's a long time ago."

That was the only autograph I would get before the game. During the game, I went down to the team store and bought a program for only $2. The program had small pictures of just about everyone on the roster, so that would be a good item to get signed. For the autograph signing, I had only printed out a few basic 4x6 photos. I made two Albany Devils logo cards and one New Jersey Devils logo card. I also printed out a photo of new Devil Andrei Loktionov, as he was on the Kings roster last year when they won the Stanley Cup. Unfortunately for me, but good for Loktionov, he got called up to the New Jersey Devils about two hours before the game was scheduled to begin, so meeting him will have to wait for another time.

After the game, I went over to the table that would have the players with the most NHL experience. Cam Janssen and team captain Jay Leach would be there, with a couple other players that hadn't played in the NHL up to that point. Leach got pulled from the signing at the last second, but I still felt good to be at the front of the line for one of the most popular tables. I got Janssen (#25) to sign the New Jersey photo as well as one of the Albany Devils photos. He was also kind enough to take a picture with me.

I also got a picture with Matt Anderson, who had made his NHL debut at age 30 just a few weeks before this game. He signed a puck for me, as well as the program and the New Jersey Devils logo picture. He got his first NHL point in his 2nd career game, a loss to the Islanders. We won't be seeing too much more of Matt, as he is signed to play in the KHL in Russia for the 2013-14 season.

Tim Sestito signed the other puck I had brought with me. Here is a video I took of him signing. He also
played in the NHL this season. I got him to sign my program and New Jersey Devils photo also. Alexander Urbom was the last one to sign my NJ Devils photo. His signature is #6 on the photo, as you can see on the right.

 I kept wandering around the concourse, and eventually made it through and got everyone that was there signing in about 20 minutes. The session was 45 minutes long, so I made sure I got everyone before leaving the building.  Of the autographs I got, a few players ended up making their NHL debuts later on in the season. These players are goalies Keith Kinkaid (#35), and Jeff Frazee (#31). Other players on that list are Eric Gelinas (#24), and Harri Pesonen (#18), who has a great signature. More former NHL players that were on the Devils roster at the time were Steve Zalewski (#15) and Scott Parse (#20).

Here are the rest of my autographs on the day. I scanned the two Albany Devils photos and the two pages in the yearbook that have all the signatures. Click on them if you want to get a better look.

It was a great experience to meet the team, and as well as being very cheap, it was plenty of fun too. You never know, one of these guys that I didn't mention could end up being a big star in the NHL in no time. I'll post more of these stories up from time to time.

Thanks for reading and have a great day.

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