Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Original Devils Were From South Jersey…

We may be on a little bit of a Jersey Devils blog roll here...

The Original Devils Were From South Jersey by Eric Model

Before there were the Devils … there were the Devils.

The contemporary version of the hockey Devils are to be found playing their National Hockey League schedule at Newark’s Prudential Center. Their minor league counterparts – also called the Devils – call Trenton their home and play at the Sun National Bank Center, formerly the Sovereign Bank Arena.

But once Devils Hockey was based in South Jersey at the Cherry Hill Arena. Those Devils were the Jersey Devils of the old Eastern Hockey League from 1964-71.

The original Devils were formed when the Philadelphia Ramblers, a member of the Eastern Hockey League, relocated to Cherry Hill at the end of the 1963-64 season, and there they remained until 1973.

Their home was built in 1959. Originally known as the Ice House, its seating capacity was 4,416.

The Arena is probably best known as a now legendary stop in the World Hockey Association, when the new Jersey Knights of the WHA very briefly called it home for the 1973-74 season – after leaving new York as the Raiders & the Golden Blades and before heading to San Diego where the franchise finally expired as the Mariners.

In its early days, the arena was home to the Jersey Larks, who left town for Knoxville, Tennessee when they could not meet their payroll in new Jersey. the Arena also hosted occasional home games of the basketball Philadelphia Warriors in the early 1960’s (before the Warriors left Philadelphia for San Francisco and were later replaced by the 76ers who went on to play at the Spectrum – itself just recently demolished).

Those that had occasion to stop there said that the old arena was a strange place. for example, there were no showers in the visitors’ locker room. Players had to change at their hotel (often the Holiday Inn). What facilities there were did not work well. the toilets backed up and the ice was not the smoothest and included what has been described as a “hill” at center ice.

“There was a crown in the middle,” related John Garrett a former WHA player in Ed Willes’ book the Rebel League. “A pass that was going along the ice would jump five feet in the air all of a sudden.”

The late Gene Hart was best known as the original Voice of the Philadelphia Flyers. less known is that before that time, Hart was the Voice of the Jersey Devils. in his autobiography “Score,” Hart describes the origins and the reasons for the Devils.

A surprise to many, he recalls, Philadelphia was awarded a National Hockey League franchise when the league expanded from six to twelve teams. Play was not to start until the 1967-68, and according to Hart, until that time one of the first things the new Flyers did was to sponsor a new team at the Cherry Hill Arena, the Jersey Devils, in order to get hockey interest started in the greater Delaware Valley.

Therefore, it is understandable that when one looks at a roster of the most notable Jersey Devil players and coaches, many also had ties to the Philadelphia Flyers. the list included:

  • Bobby Taylor, who was later a backup goalie for the Flyers behind Bernie Parent.
  • Dick Sarrazin, who later played for the Flyers in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
  • Marcel Pelletier, who ended his twenty year career as a player/coach with the Devils in 1969.
  • Rosaire Paiement played the 1966-1967 season, scoring 125 points. He later played for the Flyers and Vancouver Canucks in the NHL.
  • Vic Stasiuk, the Flyers second head coach, was head coach of the Devils for two seasons, 1966-68.

The Cherry Hill Arena, known in its later years as the Centrum, was demolished in the late 1970s and replaced by a shopping center, now anchored by a Shop Rite.

There now is a shopping center across Brace Road called the Centrum Shops. This is not where the arena was, it was in fact across the street.

As for the hockey Devils who once played there, few folks mention them anymore. they died when the Eastern League did in 1973. These days when you say “The Devils,” most folks think of the team up the Turnpike. From a South Jersey perspective, the new Jersey Devils are not their team. Though the name says Jersey, to them the Devs are part of the new York market. Their team is the Flyers.

What the Devils do offer, however, is a home away from home for these Flyer fans (many from South Jersey), who can more easily secure seats for their team in North Jersey than across the river in Philly.

But to those few who still remember, memories of the original Devils endure.

Eric Model explores the “offbeat, off the beaten path overlooked and forgotten” on SIRIUS-XM Radio and at

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