NEWARK - The Devils made them do it.
Somerville and some of its residents were in the spotlight Saturday night at the Prudential Center in Newark, home of the New Jersey Devils NHL franchise, including borough police officer Tim Franks, nominated by Police Chief Dennis Manning as a Hometown Hero..
"Somerville Night" was organized by the Somerville Martial Arts Academy and included a 15-minute pre-game demonstration team of 7- to 14-year-olds working through a 15-minute routine that included choreographed movements, weapons demonstration forms, board breaking and katas. The group performed in red and black gis on the main concourse prior to the game.
Instructor Steve Mandraccia, who is also a juvenile probation supervisor for Somerset County, said the academy performs demonstrations throughout the year at parades, nursing homes and other functions.
"We want to get them involved," Patrick Mehrtens, owner of the academy, said.
Between the first and second periods of the game, the Somerset Valley YMCA gymnastics team executed a 4- minute tumbling performance before doing a freestyle demonstration of somersaults, cartwheels and backflips for about 10 minutes. Part of a traveling competition team, the evening performance prepares them for competition season beginning in January.
When the kids weren't showing their stuff, they were either watching the game or more likely in the building's "Party Zone" that featured a wide screen TV, video game console loaded with NHL '14, air hockey and foosball. There was also plenty of open space to run around.
Ty Lindia, 11, of Bridgewater said this was the second hockey game he's ever attended. "Everyone at my school is a Rangers fan, but I like the Devils." Ty said.
Some liked being so close to the Party Zone at the top of their seated section. "It's nice," Glenn Reinhardt of Branchburg said. "It gets you through the whole game with kids, especially girls."
One of those girls, Chelsey, is not a hockey fan.
"The food is good," she said. She also liked to work on her martial arts.
"It's good to be here with people from the community," Justin Chan, 14, of Hillsborough, a first degree black belt said. "We have a fun time."
When you're in the fun zone, it's sometimes difficult to tell there is a pro hockey game being played nearby.
Some parents chatted with other parents while their kids played in the party zone. Others were watching the game.
"They [have to] stop finessing it," Dan Voorhees said of the Devils. "They [have to] rifle it in."
Voorhees' daughter Dana, 15, agreed. "[The Devils] need to do better...just shoot." she said several minutes after her dad made a similar comment. "I love watching hockey."
Dana, a 1st-degree black belt, was having fun, but she couldn't wait to get to the end of the game.
"I just like that we go on the ice after the game and take a picture," she said. "I really want to meet the players."
After the players left the ice, the Somerville entourage spilled out onto the ice along with other groups to have pictures taken. Everyone gathered behind the center ice logo for pictures, while some took pictures in front of the net and sitting on team and penalty benches.
During the game, the Devils honored Franks as its hometown hero from Somerville. With 9:08 left in the second period, there was a loud standing ovation when Franks image appeared on the big video screen.
Though nominated Franks for the honor, he may not have known known that Franks has been a Devils fan since the team moved here from Colorado in 1982.
Somerville's hometown hero for the evening has dozens of awards and commendations and police officials say he is the department’s most decorated officer.
"It's not about me," Franks said. "I work with a great group of guys."
Franks said a man recently collapsed "right there on the show room floor" of Fullerton Ford on Route 22, and he, some colleagues and paramedics used a portable defibrillator and CPR to bring him back to life. "The guy was technically dead." He said he and others that were on scene contributed and the timing had to be right. Even seconds later can mean the difference between life and death.
Franks was astonished when the patient signed himself out of the hospital seven days later.
It's the moments like that he cherishes most.
Franks, 48, served eight years in the military, signing up when he was a high school junior so he could train on weekends, and has spent the last 26 years in uniform as a patrol officer, which is almost unheard of. "I've been on the beat the entire time," he said proudly.
He has also been involved with Martial Arts for more than 30 years. "That's a passion too.... almost as much as being a cop."
Additionally, he coaches youth football and basketball. In fact, he and his family had to hurry to the arena as soon as the late afternoon basketball game was over.
Unfortunately, the game didn't end well."We got kind of blown out," he said, but "I can't let the kids down."
The Devils have been recognizing New Jersey towns for several years now, according to Devils group event specialist Rachel Geurso. "People ... have a lot of pride from being there," she said. "Last year we did it and it was a great event."
Local singers Nalani and Sarina Bolton performed the national anthem while members of the Somerville Police department served as the honor guard.
The Devils lost the game 2-1 to the Anaheim Ducks.