By Andy Kent
Copyright © 2005 Naples Daily News
TRENTON, N.J. – Considering Jack Pilla didn’t even become a hockey fan until 1999, you could say he has more than made up for lost time in the passion department.
Pilla is considered by the Trenton Titans to be the team’s No. 1 fan, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find anybody that says different. He parks his van in front of the Sovereign Bank Arena and it’s painted with the words “Fan Van.”
Everywhere you look, whether it’s at home or on the road, you’ll find Pilla. He hasn’t missed a home game since before the 1999 Kelly Cup Playoffs and is an officer with the Titans Booster Club. His streak of consecutive games is at 254.
“He’s a great guy who just loves the game and he loves being a fan,” said Titans veteran forward and captain Rick Kowalsky, who played part of the 2000-01 season in Trenton and then returned this year. “He’s not an intrusive guy or an overbearing guy. He stays at a lot of the hotels we do when we’re on the road but he doesn’t bother us, he just respects. He’s kind of become almost like a mascot for the team because you see him with the only Trenton jersey in Alaska and it makes you feel great.”
Pilla was first introduced to the game by his daughter, Jacqueline, when she lived in Phoenix, Ariz. It was February of 1999 and his daughter took him to an NHL game between the Phoenix Coyotes and Philadelphia Flyers.
The fast action and intensity, as well as the personalities of the players, are what got Pilla hooked on the game and left him yearning for more.
“I saw it in the paper here that Trenton was getting a team and I signed up,” Pilla said. “I’ve had the same seat since Day 1. When I went to Alaska, I was the only Titans fan in the arena, and I went shopping for them in Alaska to get them bagels and their water. They see me around and I don’t mind doing it. I love doing it for the guys because I know they appreciate it.”
The Titans started out strong their first three years and packed their home rink night in and night out like the Florida Everblades, Trenton’s opponent in the Kelly Cup Finals, did. Jeffrey Mandel, chief operating officer, was the director of ticket sales for Trenton from 1998-2000 and remembers selling 4,900 season tickets that first season.
Mandel came back in the middle of this season and took over for Richard Lisk as COO and recognized that the landscape had changed a little.
Attendance had dropped — the team was drawing an average of around 2,500 fans — but Pilla still stood out.
“I’ve always said there are two types of people that come to games: fans and spectators,” Mandel said. “The spectators are the ones they go, they have a good time, applaud and they leave and then maybe they’ll come to another game later in the year. And then there are fans that just fall in love with the team, like Jack, and we love them back.”