Saturday, November 24, 2012

The fans have spoken: Operation Hat Trick a success

On Saturday night, an all-time hockey attendance record was set at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City as a group of scattered ex-NHLers came together in the name of charity to benefit victims of Hurricane Sandy.

A whopping 10,792 people attended Saturday night's 10-6 victory by Team (Brad) Richards against Team (Scott) Hartnell, far and away the largest crowd for an arena which has recently played host to AHL-level hockey, the ECAC tournament and the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies from 2001-05.

It wasn't a classic contest by any means -- a cross between an exhibition and All-Star farce which saw over 100 combined shots -- but that didn't mean those in attendance didn't bring their vocal 'A' games to the venue.

A partisan crowd unevenly split between Flyers, Rangers and Devils fans alternately turned on each other, Commissioner Gary Bettman and the fact that these players involved aren't playing the game for which they are paid handsomely.

Hartnell had some poignant words after it was all over: "I would be lying if I said I didn’t get choked up when you had 11,000 people cheering 'we want hockey' back." Still, the true meaning and intent of those words from fans deprived of the NHL game is up for debate.

Martin Brodeur wore unfamiliar orange and white of Hartnell's team, and proceeded to allow all 10 scores, clearly outdueled by counterpart and rival Henrik Lundqvist, who started for teammate Richards' squad.

“I think that’s why I [gave up] 10 goals. I’m not used to that orange," Brodeur quipped.

As the lockout passed Day 70, at least the players aren't so blinded by their battle with the owners that they couldn't see customers hungry for their game. Perhaps unaccustomed to the vocal majority of the Northeastern fan, Canadiens defenseman and Toronto native PK Subban said, "There was only 11,000 people out there but it felt like there was 22,000. They were so loud and energetic the whole game and in to it. You can just sense they’re craving for it."

Late to the party of altruistic public figures, but always the life of the party thanks to his brand of tequila and rock club which was damaged in the storm, former Van Halen frontman Sammy Hagar pledged $1,000 for each goal scored. He'll have to pony up $16,000 in all.

It wasn't all fun and games and a love-fest between players and public. NHLPA head Donald Fehr addressed OHT skaters behind closed doors, and reportedly spread some pessimistic news, that the union and the league are no closer and no wiser than before in attempts to fashion a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Nonetheless, the NHLPA made an undisclosed donation to Operation Hat Trick, and will make further funds available through the auctioning of equipment signed by those who participated.

“Once Thanksgiving is over, it’s a time when people embrace the Holiday season,” offered former Flyers tough guy Todd Fedoruk. “It’s a time for family and friends. But most importantly, it’s a time to reach out to others in need."

According to Stephen Whyno of the Washington Times, the venture has raised approximately $500,000 with the auction forthcoming.
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