Even the NHL lockout wasn’t able to keep some of the league’s best players off the ice. Members of fifteen NHL teams hit the ice Saturday night as part of Operation Hat Trick to help raise money for victims of Hurricane Sandy.
Over 10,000 fans were in attendance, making this the largest sold-out event at Boardwalk Hall since reopening in 2001 and the first sold-out hockey event since 1933. Interestingly enough, that last event in 1933 was also a fundraiser; the New York Rangers came to town to play the Atlantic City Seagulls to help raise money and collect donations for the American Red Cross.
The idea for the event arose at a Philadelphia Eagles game, where Flyer Scott Hartnell and Caesar’s Senior Vice President Joe Watson were trying to come up with a way to help raise money for those impacted by Hurricane Sandy. The two reached out to former Flyers Rick Tocchet and Todd Fedoruk – who in turn called Brad Richards of the Rangers. “Things like this take a life of their own and that’s basically what happened with this, it grew and grew and grew as more guys jumped aboard,” said Fedoruk. While the bulk of the rosters came from the Flyers and Rangers, players from teams all across the country came to participate in the event.
“We might not all be from the areas that were affected, but that didn’t stop anyone from getting in touch to jump in and lend a hand,” said Hartnell. “To see some teammates, some guys I’ve played against, guys I’ve battled with – it was an amazing response by so many.”
David Clarkson of the Devils was quick to come aboard. ”When I got the phone call, it was a ‘Yes’ right away because we believe we’re all here to do something special and we’re excited about it,” said the Toronto native. Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks was also glad to take part, saying, “When people come to you and ask you to be involved in something like this, obviously your first reaction’s going to be yes. To come down here, to be a part of this, help raise some funds for a great cause, and help some people… I think that’s why everybody’s here.”
A total of 32 players took part in the game.
Team Richards (NY) – Brad Richards (NYR), Daniel Alfredsson (OTT), Arron Asham (NYR), Brian Boyle (NYR), Steve Eminger (NYR), Dan Girardi (NYR), Jeff Halpern (NYR), Mike Komisarek (TOR), Ville Leino (BUF), Henrik Lundqvist (NYR), Matt Martin (NYI), James Neal (PIT), Corey Perry (ANH), Taylor Pyatt (NYR), Bobby Ryan (ANH), Marc Staal (NYR)
Team Hartnell (NJ/PA) – Scott Hartnell (PHI), Martin Brodeur (NJ), Daniel Carcillo (CHI), John Carlson (WSH), David Clarkson (NJ), Braydon Coburn (PHI), Steve Downie (COL), Simon Gagne (LA), Andy Greene (NJ), Jody Shelley (PHI), Wayne Simmonds (PHI), Steven Stamkos (TB), P.K. Subban (MTL), Kimmo Timmonen (PHI), James van Riemsdyk (TOR), Justin Williams (LA)
Henrik Lundqvist led the way as Team Richards sailed to a 10-6 victory over Team Hartnell. Pittsburgh Penguins winger James Neal dominated on the score sheet with a three-goal night. (Don’t be fooled by conflicting reports about his four-goal night — that fourth marker was actually scored by Rangers defenseman Marc Staal, also wearing #18 for the night.)
While it didn’t have the intensity of a playoff game, it was apparent that the players were happy to be back on the ice. Certainly, this was more competitive than the usual All Star Game style of play, where some take it easy. On this night, everyone came to play.
Neal opened the scoring, netting the first two goals for Team Richards. Long Island-born Mike Komisarek and New Jersey native Bobby Ryan would also find the twine before the end of the period. While the goals came for Team Richards, the shots were flying for Team Hartnell — they peppered netminder Henrik Lundqvist with a brutal 23 shots in the first period. Lundqvist, the reigning Vezina winner, stopped them all.
The action was good and the players were enjoying themselves. Tough guys Arron Asham and Daniel Carcillo were jabbing at each other, teasing fans with the prospect of a fight. Capitals defenseman John Carlson gave a good facewashing to former teammate Jeff Halpern in front of the net, with both men laughing as they collided with Brodeur. The guy having the most fun on the ice, though, appeared to be retired referee Kerry Fraser – his face an ear-to-ear grin the entire game, save for when he was yapping to the players.
Team Hartnell came out strong to start the second, scoring three unanswered goals in the first seven minutes. Former Flyers Simon Gagne and James Van Riemsdyk’s goals bookended a marker by current Flyer Wayne Simmonds to get their squad within one. That would be as close as it got for the boys in orange and black.
Less than five minutes later, Marc Staal scored to put Team Richards up 5-3. An apparent fight nearly broke out between Daniel Carcillo and Arron Asham; Fraser broke up the two and sent them to center ice for penalty shots. Neither player was able to convert. The teams traded goals from Justin Williams and Daniel Alfredsson – on a pretty tic-tac passing play – before Ranger Brian Boyle put his side even further ahead with a back-breaking stuff-in goal with less than half a minute to play in the second.
Up 7-4 coming into the final frame, Team Richards kept pouring it on. Ex-Flyer Ville Leino hit the back of the net early in the period, drawing boos from fans of his former team. A shot from James Neal eluded Brodeur to give Team Richards a five-goal lead and officially completed the hat trick for the Pens winger. The players appeared to get a bit winded in the third, likely due to travel, lack of actual NHL-caliber game play, and the short bench for the game that resulted in a ton of ice time for each player. Jeff Halpern, who signed with New York but has yet to suit up with the Rangers, closed out the scoring for Team Richards with a short-side, top-shelf wrister from the left faceoff circle.
The crowd again erupted in derisive cheers of “Maaarty! Maaarty!” from both Flyers fans and Rangers fans in attendance. Brodeur joked that he was “caught in the perfect storm” between fans of the division rival Rangers and Flyers. Team Hartnell would get two more goals, but it was too little, too late to make up the difference. As the seconds ticked off the clock, the crowd rose for a standing ovation at the end of the game. “I’d be lying if I didn’t say I got a little choked up when you had 11,000 people cheering they want hockey back,” Hartnell said after the game.
Of course, ever the showman, Scott Hartnell wasn’t done when the final buzzer sounded. With his jersey already off — those are being auctioned off for charity — Hartnell returned to the ice. Channeling his inner Ned Braden, he slowly skated the perimeter of the rink, tossing his gear over the glass. His stick, gloves, elbow pads, and hat all went home as souvenirs for some lucky fans.
The game’s MVP honors went to Team Richards netminder and reigning Vezina trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist. “It felt really good to be out there. Probably the best feeling I’ve had in a long time.” The last time Lundqvist was on the ice, it was for a playoff loss to Martin Brodeur and the Devils. While this game might not have counted in the standings, it had to be nice to come out on the winning side this time. After the game, Scott Hartnell said of Lundqvist’s play, “You’d think he’d have a little rust on him, not playing the game in five or six months. It seems like he’s in playoff shape. We were joking after the first period that now the Rangers will want to [end the lockout] really badly because he’s on fire.”
NY 2:51 Neal (1), assisted by Richards
NY 6:55 Neal (2), assisted by Richards and Alfredsson
NY 9:48 Komisarek (1), assisted by Pyatt and Leino
NY 12:14 Ryan (1), assisted by Martin and Perry
NJ 2:04 Gagne (1), assisted by Carcillo and Williams
NJ 2:56 Simmonds (1), assisted by Subban and van Riemsdyk
NJ 7:00 Van Riemsdyk (1), assisted by Williams and Simmonds
NY 11:45 Staal (1), assisted by Halpern and Martin
(incorrectly announced as James Neal; both wore #18)
NJ 14:49 Williams (1), assisted by Gagne and Coburn
NY 16:57 Alfredsson (1), assisted by Richards and Neal
NY 19:35 Boyle, unassisted
NY 1:52 Leino (1), assisted by Komisarek and Ryan
NY 8:09 Neal (3), assisted by Girardi
NY 10:49 Halpern (1), assisted by Asham and Eminger
NJ 14:05 Greene (1), assisted by Downie and Brodeur
NJ 16:31 Clarkson (1), assisted by Stamkos and Gagne
Proceeds from the event are going to three organizations American Red Cross, Empire State Relief Fund and the New Jersey Hurricane Relief Fund. In addition to money raised via ticket sales, game-worn jerseys from the event are being auctioned off via Steiner Sports; bidding will end on December 6. The NHLPA donated $20,000 to the event. Rocker Sammy Hagar also joined the effort, chipping in $1,000 to the charities for every goal scored.
Many of the players have family and friends directly impacted by Hurricane Sandy. The Ventnor home of former Flyer Justin Williams was spared significant damage, but others nearby were not so lucky. “I’ve seen the effect the damage and devastation has had, so for me it hits home a little more to know my neighbors down the street are going through some hardships,” said Williams. A summer home rented by Scott Hartnell in Avalon during the offseason was severely damaged during the storm; flood waters reached the house’s second floor. Hartnell’s former teammates Jeff Carter and Danny Briere also both had shore houses impacted by the storm.
Henrik Lundqvist also has friends directly impacted and has seen the damage firsthand. ”It’s all gone. There’s a lot of areas that look pretty bad right now, but I definitely look forward to coming back there.”
“A lot of people were affected by Sandy. It’s great to do stuff like this,” said Rangers blueliner Dan Girardi. ”A lot of people here lost their homes. Our fans — we had some people who lost everything.”
“It makes you feel good,” said Flyer defenseman Kimmo Timonen during the game about getting back on the ice. “You haven’t played the game in a few months. It’s nice to be out here for a good cause.”
Scott Hartnell shared those thoughts. ”It was pretty incredible. We were touched that everyone came out to support the relief [for victims of] Hurricane Sandy.”
“We put together a heck of a game tonight, and raised a lot of money, ” said Justin Williams, who recently won the Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings. ”And we were shown that the fans still care, and still want to be a part of this. And we’re so encouraged by that.”
On Saturday, November 24, the Rangers and Flyers were originally scheduled to meet in New York. Thanks to the NHL lockout, 422 regular season games have been cancelled, including the league’s showcase event, the Winter Classic.
For one night, though, hockey was back in Atlantic City.
For one night, hockey was back.
Update: As of December 6, thanks to ticket sales, merchandise, and the charity auction of game-worn jerseys, the event raised over $500,000 for Hurricane Sandy relief. Thanks to all who participated, attended, and donated!
Follow Josh on twitter at @joshsmith29.
For additional photos of the event, visit Josh on Flickr.