With Wooden Shoes, Devils Aim To Skate Into Heart of Area Fans

By Fenwick Jolsen

Published February 21st, 2016

Photo illegally swiped from some guy posing as Matt Wade

ALBANY — In an effort to boost anemic attendance, the Albany Devils will give away wooden shoes to the first 500 people entering the Times Union Center for the team’s Feb. 30 game against the Penn Yan Grundles.

The giveaway will be part of the Devils’ Dutch Heritage Night celebration, which also will include a pregame Ice Capades show by the Zwarte Piet Ice Dancers, a second-period intermission Raw Herring Ring Toss and a visit by Sinterklaas — the Dutch St. Nicholas who is patron saint of children and sailors.

“Albany is one of America’s worst sports towns,” said sports marketing expert Hinton Wobbles. “The city lost not one, but two arena football teams, saw its Major Indoor Lacrosse team fold rather quickly, and, hey, remember the Diamond Dogs?

“But, the one thing people love around these parts is their Dutch Heritage,” Wobbles said. “The city’s annual Wooden Shoe & Dutch Heritage Festival down along the banks of the gorgeous chemically-altered Hudson is a success year-in and year-out. And so, we decided: Let’s mix together some hockey and klompens.”

Albany residents this past December packed both sides of lower Central Avenue for the city’s first-ever Zwarte Piet Parade, featuring a contingent of brightly dressed middle-aged white men wearing fake red lips, thick Afros, feathered hats and black face. Dutch folklore has it that the controversial Zwarte Piet — also known as Black Pete — is a companion of Sinterklaas, helping to deliver presents to children on Christmas Day. Though the Dutch describe it as a joyous celebration of a much-beloved cultural figure, many believe it to be racially insensitive and exploitative.

“All that may be true,” said Wobbles, who was hired by the Devils to fill the TU Center’s empty seats. “But we’re confident Albany hockey-goers will put aside their sensitivities and enjoy the Zwarte Piet Ice Dancers. I tell ya right now, they are gonna melt some hearts.”

While the black face may be an issue for some, what’s not in dispute is that something must be done to improve Devils’ home-game attendance.

American Hockey League figures show that Albany is second-last in AHL attendance of out of 30 teams, with an average per-game draw of 3,211 people. The league leader, meanwhile, is Hershey, Pa., where each game attracts an average 9,513.

“Hockey’s okay,” said Beverly Bottoms, a life-long resident of the city’s Pine Hills neighborhood. “But wooden shoes and raw herring is where it’s at. I’ll be there on Feb. 30. And maybe I’ll even come in black face.”


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