Better With Popcorn

Scott Hartnell and Brad Richards Brought Hockey to Atlantic City, Leaving Fans Longing For More

For one night, normalcy was restored in the hockey world.

As the "Fire Bettman" and "We want hockey" chants rained down to the Art Dorrington Ice Rink on Saturday evening at the Boardwalk Hall, people got a sense that this lockout just has to end.

For one night, Flyers, Rangers, Devils and even a few Penguins and Islanders fans were united with a select handful of other fans in Atlantic City's historic Boardwalk Hall. They were there for Operation Hat Trick, a charity game featuring 90% of the Atlantic Division's current and former star players, all still active in the NHL.

In all, 10,792 fans showed up, selling out the venue. It was the first sellout for a hockey event in Atlantic City since 1933.

“We knew it would be a good turnout but we didn’t expect it to be this kind of a turnout,” said former Flyer and New Jersey native James van Riemsdyk, who was traded to Toronto in the offseason.

All proceeds from the event, organized by Philadelphia's Scott Hartnell and New York's Brad Richards, will go to relief for Hurricane Sandy. The two faces of their respective franchises got a pair of teams together to play in the event.

Richards' group of stars, despite being out-skated and out-played by Hartnell's cast, won handedly, 10-6. But the score meant little to the fans, who were more concerned with who showed up.

Former Flyers James van Riemsdyk (Toronto), Simon Gagne, Justin Williams (Los Angeles), Daniel Carcillo (Chicago) and Steve Downie (Colorado) joined current Flyers Hartnell, Wayne Simmonds, Braydon Coburn, Kimmo Timonen and Jody Shelley to play on Team Hartnell.

Other NHL stars playing in the game included Anaheim's Bobby Ryan - Cherry Hill, NJ native as well - and Corey Perry, Pittsburgh's James Neal, Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos and Montreal's P.K. Subban. 

A lot of focus for the game though came in net. A pair of future Hall of Famers on opposite ends of their careers highlighted the star-filled rosters.

The obvious choice for goalie for Richards' team was Henrik Lundqvist, who absolutely stole the show. King Henrik made 57 saves on 63 shots, frustrating the current and former Flyers like he has done his entire NHL career.

Unfortunately for Team Hartnell, their goaltender was Martin Broduer. If Flyers fans had mixed feelings about cheering for the three-time Stanley Cup champion and future Hall of Famer Broduer, their decision was made easy after he let up four quick goals in the first half of the 1st period.

“I think that is why they scored 10 goals,” Brodeur kidded. “I am not used to that orange [jersey].”

Chants of "Maaaaarty" were loud throughout the entire game, both coming from Flyers and Rangers fans in unison. 

Broduer was well aware of the reaction too, especially before the second period started. While CSN's Lisa Hilary was interviewing a Flyers fan, the fan had some criticism of Broduer's 1st period efforts. Broduer looked up at the scoreboard, held out his hands and dropped them in his lap in disbelief while stretching before the 2nd period started.

The most surprising aspect of the game was the level of intensity a majority of the players were playing.

“There was good tempo in this,” Gagne said. “Not like the usual All-Star games where you see guys cruising around.”

Despite the absence of checking and fore checking, competitiveness among friends and rivals reared it's head early. The two sides skated hard the entire game, and Lundqvist never let up in net, stopping the first 25 shots he faced until Gagne put his team on the board in the 2nd period.

“The Rangers should call the league and tell them we should start playing pretty soon because [Lundqvist] is pissing away a lot of talent right now,” Gagne said.

Rangers fans were chanting "Henrik" and Flyers fans were left sitting there shaking their heads, an all-too familiar site during the 2011-12 season in which the Rangers won all six games against Philadelphia.

“Dang Rangers, they got our number, that’s for sure,” Hartnell said. “You’d think he’d have a little rust on him not playing a game in 5-6 months.
“It seems like he is in playoff shape. We were joking after the first period that now the Rangers want to play really bad because he’s on fire.”

As the competitiveness picked up, a pair of enforcers were teasing the fans with dropping the gloves throughout the entire game.

Former Flyers Carcillo and Aaron Asham (NY Rangers) squared up a couple times, shoving each other and preparing to drop the gloves, much to the approval of the fans. Unfortunately, the two never partook in a fake fight, but did playfully jaw at each other throughout the game. 

At one point, retired referee Kerry Frasier, who was calling the game, issued penalty shots to each enforcer for their bad behavior. Both failed to score on the attempts. (The penalty shots replaced the powerplay for the game.)

As the final minute of hockey was announced in the 3rd period, an audible groan was heard throughout the Boardwalk Hall.

After the game, the players lined up to shake hands at center ice. They then turned and saluted to all the fans who showed up, posed for pictures, and a handful of players including Lundqvist, Coburn and Hartnell tossed their sticks into the crowd.

Fans slowly filed out of the Hall, feeling satisfied after getting their first NHL hockey fix since June, and for some, even longer.

“It was great, I love it and 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.
“We want to be playing and it’s unfortunate we’re not," he continued. "The energy in the building ... it was pretty incredible and I was very touched people came out to support the relief of Hurricane Sandy.”

As the hangover wears off, fans will yearn more and more for the players and owners to come to an agreement, ending another ugly lockout that has killed the sport's momentum.

But for one night, hockey was played. Goal lamps were lit, ice crunched underneath the skates and fans heckled Broduer. It was perfect.

For one night, normalcy was restored in the hockey world.


You can follow John Russo on Twitter at @Roose_TTB as well as follow @TCLFlyers.