Devils to host Flyers in MetLife Stadium on Feb. 17, in state’s first outdoor game

Matchup is first of two-day, two-game event: Rangers-Isles to take place Feb. 18

The New Jersey Devils will host the Philadelphia Flyers in MetLife Stadium on Saturday, Feb. 17, the first outdoor NHL game to played in New Jersey, the league announced Saturday.

The game, to be played at night (the start time still is being determined), is the first of a two-day Navy Federal Credit Union Stadium Series event. The New York Islanders will host the New York Rangers on Sunday, Feb. 18. (The league said all teams will be off that Monday, in case weather necessitates pushing the schedule back a day.)

Devils season-ticket holders will get the first chance for tickets for what NHL officials promised will be more than just a hockey game. As it has in the past, the NHL intends to make the game an interactive event — incorporating local musical acts, food and scenery into the festivities.

In a media call Saturday afternoon, NHL Chief Content Officer Steve Mayer and Executive Vice President of Events Dean Matsuzaki said the goal is to activate MetLife in a way that has never been done before — and in a way, at least for the first game, that recognizes which side of the river the game is being played on.

“We’re going to get super-creative,” Matsuzaki said. “We’re going to highlight the area. As it always is with any of our outdoor games, it’s our goal that when somebody tunes in to watch this, whether they’re in the New York area, they’re in Iowa, they’re in California, or they’re overseas, they know we’re playing in New Jersey.

“So, we’re going to look at all the things that that New Jersey area has to offer. And the tri-state area, frankly, because we do have four teams playing.

“We’re very confident that when everybody gets to see it for the first time, they’ll go, ‘Wow.’”

Among other ideas, Mayer and Matsuzaki said the league will have fanfests and local hockey tournaments associated with the event.

As for musical guests? They stated the obvious when it comes to Bruce Springsteen.

“We’d like to speak to him immediately,” they said.

Mayer and Matsuzaki said they expect to have seating for at least 75,000 for the games. And, while that is approximately 60,000 more seats than are in the Prudential Center, they are confident that the fans of Flyers plus the popularity of the event will ensure it is a sellout.

(This link goes to a site that will be continually updated with information regarding the games.)

Matsuzaki said the Devils’ 100-point season in 2021-22 was not the only factor in bringing an outdoor game to New Jersey — but that it did help push the league to play in the state for the first time.

“We do track teams that are having a level of success,” he said. “Our goal is to celebrate the NHL, celebrate the area that we’re going to. Sometimes, timing is such that when a team is on the rise, we want to showcase them. We’ve been watching how New Jersey is playing, and how they have great young players. This will be quite the showcase for them. The time was right.”

The same goes for MetLife Stadium, he said.

Getting tickets

Information will be released soon — this much is known now: Season-ticket holders will be first in line. New Jersey Devils Black and Red members and premium partners will receive priority access to purchase tickets during a select presale period

The Devils released the following statement:

“As this will serve as a Devils home game, Devils full-season Black and Red members will have the option of receiving an account credit or balance deduction from your Devils membership equal to the value of the missed regular-season game. More information, including the exact value of account credit, will be communicated at a later date.”

“It’s just a matter of circumstance that we haven’t been there yet,” he said. “It’s one of the great stadiums in all the United States. And the time has come that we’re ready to play there.”

The NHL will oversee promotion and production of the game — including all sales and sponsorship opportunities — but the league officials noted that the NHL will ensure the Devils are “made whole” for losing a home game, something the league has done throughout its outdoor series.

The league obviously is familiar with hosting outdoor games — which have been a big hit for fans and the players. The games at MetLife will be the third and fourth outdoor games of the 2022-23 season and the 40th and 41st in the Stadium Series.

The games, however, will mark the first time the league has attempted to play games on consecutive days at an outdoor site, creating additional logistical challenges regarding practice time and ice maintenance.

Devils’ outdoor history

The New Jersey Devils have participated in only one previous outdoor game, a 7-3 loss to the New York Rangers in Yankee Stadium on Jan. 26, 2014. None of the team’s current players played in that game. There is, however, history. Devils coach Lindy Ruff was the coach in the first-ever Winter Classic, leading the Buffalo Sabres on Jan. 1, 2008.

These five players from the 2022-23 team also have played outdoors:

  • Brendan Smith: 3 games
  • Tomas Tatar: 3 games
  • Ryan Graves: 2 games
  • Erik Haula: 1 game
  • Ondrej Palat: 1 game

Devils Managing Partners David Blitzer and Josh Harris said the franchise is eager for the opportunity.

“Our organization and fans are extremely proud to participate in the first outdoor NHL game hosted in New Jersey, especially at MetLife Stadium, so close to where championship memories were made,” they said in a joint statement. “This marquee event against our Turnpike rivals on the national stage will create new memories for our fans, and a tremendous experience for our players.”

Here is more of the conversation with Mayer and Matsuzaki, edited for space and clarity.

Q: What time will the games be played?

A: We are talking to our broadcast partner, ESPN, regarding television time. The Devils and the Flyers will be a nighttime game on Saturday — and we’re still trying to work out the window for the Rangers and Islanders. It will be based on television.

Q: Why MetLife? Why two games in two days?

A: It’s always been an interest of ours, (but) MetLife is an extremely difficult place to think about doing a Winter Classic because of the two NFL teams that are in the building. (The Winter Classic is played Jan. 1.)

There’s been many iterations of what we wanted to do here, but, when we started getting into the matchups and the great hockey that is being played in the New York area, we thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to go with a doubleheader.’

These were the matchups that we felt would be extremely appealing to our fans. The goal, as always, is to continue our incredible streak of 37 straight sellouts. And we really feel very confident that these two matchups we’ll fill the building two days in a row.

Q: Are there any issues with converting MetLife Stadium for hockey?

A: There is some renovation work going on next offseason at MetLife Stadium. They have some preparation to do to host FIFA World Cup soccer that will affect some of the low sideline seating on one side. So, we’re working very closely with them and their construction company to understand how that impacts on our game.

Q: What other challenges will impact pulling this off?

A: With any of our outdoor games, but especially with two back-to-back, weather is obviously the biggest thing we will be watching and reacting to. And, being able to have the ice sheet recover from the various practices — and trying to accommodate four teams practicing, as opposed to two teams. And then, as you get away from the ice, it’s the stadium in terms of locker room space, and all background space you need to accommodate four teams instead of two. Those are probably the unique challenges to this one.

Q: But, seriously. Bruce? Bon Jovi?

A: We know there’s a lot of great music in the tri-state area, and especially in New Jersey, and it would be a dream to have one of those great legendary artists perform at our game. We’re going to lean into the music scene with some of those typical names. We haven’t started that process yet; we’re making this announcement today. But, as we normally do, we’d like to go as big as we can when it comes to music and some of the activities around the game.

Q: Let’s talk marketing: How does that play out?

A: We should be thanking the state of New Jersey, Gov. (Phil) Murphy, the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, MetLife Stadium — all of them have been a huge piece of getting to this point today. And all of them are partners. And we’re all going to work together in terms of the marketing, to spread the word.

Today’s Day One. We want to get the word out, not only in New Jersey, but all over the tri-state area. This is going to be a big deal. It’s going to be unique. Obviously, there’s been some word that’s gotten out there already. And the feedback has been quite positive.

We’ll continue to market it. We’ve got some incredible young players on all four teams. Will market it through our players. We’re going to be all in, from this moment on, getting the word out. But I think the event speaks for itself as well, and the uniqueness of doing it at MetLife and the four teams.

So, even though we’ll spread the word, I think the word will spread on its own pretty fast as well.