There were almost equal parts Flyers and Rangers fans, mixed
with a healthy Devils contingency, then your token smattering of Penguins jerseys.
There were Capitals fans, Bruins fans, Maple Leafs fans, Canucks fans. There was
even a dude wearing an NHLPA sweater, apparently showing his support of union
Hockey fans from all walks descended on the Jersey Shore,
making Atlantic City the Hockey Capital of the World for one night on Saturday.
In the end, 10,792 people were unable to agree on which team to root for, but
they were almost unanimously aligned on one key point.
Sidney Crosby sucks.
It was a diverse crowd, and everybody wanted to represent. As
soon as we walked through the doors inside the great venue that is Boardwalk
Hall, we were greeted by a raucous Let’s
Go Rangers/Rangers Suck! chant. When Team Philly scored a goal, our fans
stood and cheered, waving white towels. When Team New York scored a goal –
which I’m sorry to say was far more often – their fans stood and cheered,
waving those same white towels.
Scott Hartnell’s squad fell to that of Brad Richards, his
Rangers counterpart, by a final of 10-6 in Operation Hat Trick, but that was
hardly of consequence. Sure there was a feeling of pride at stake, at least in
the stands, although that even took a backseat as well. How often are Flyers
and Devils fans in a room together, pulling for the same side?
The really cool thing was everybody in attendance actually came
together to assist the many communities still reeling from Hurricane Sandy. In
that respect, the exhibition game for charity was an overwhelming success.
The other common bond linking the motley crew that packed a
makeshift ice rink at the beach is they all miss the sport. Within minutes of
the opening puck drop, a powerful We Want
Hockey chant broke out. Then another as the first period wound down. And a
few more times for good measure. Hartnell spoke to reporters about the emotional
fan reaction following the contest.
“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.
As the final minutes ticked away, We Love Hockey eventually gave way to a couple inevitable rounds of
Crosby Sucks, despite the fact No. 87
didn’t skate. Pittsburgh’s James Neal did participate however, his presence resulting
in arguably the loudest reaction of anyone during player introductions – a most
thunderous chorus of boos.
I guess Flyers, Rangers, and Devils fans do have something
else in common after all. We all despise the Pens.
Yet the Penguins were not the only subjects of ridicule. Unpopular
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was roasted accordingly. Bettman Sucks! and Fire
Bettman were songs even the Pittsburgh faithful could join in on, so there
was truly something for everyone.
As for Neal, he wound up having the last laugh. The 2012 All
Star already had a hat trick by the second period, finishing the game with four
goals. It didn’t help that Team Philly goaltender Martin Brodeur didn’t have
his best stuff. The longtime Jersey netminder and future Hall of Famer looked
like a 40 year old who hasn’t been seeing many minutes lately, letting by a
handful of scores he would probably like to have back.
The player who stole the show was standing 178 feet across
the ice from Brodeur. Henrik Lundqvist, who reportedly flew back to the States
from Sweden to be at the event, was absolutely on fire in net for Team Richards
– no huge shock given he’s had Philly’s number for awhile now. He wound up
stopping 56 out of 62 shots, foiling multiple complex, combination chances
along the way.
Among those denied from finding twine were Hartnell, a real
shame because the building was poised to erupt regardless of how or what it
meant on the scoreboard. Hartsy stuck out some tough times in Orange and Black
before eventually ascending to the top line and becoming an All-Star performer
last season, turning into a serious fan favorite in the process. Most
importantly, he was instrumental in putting OHT together, which was done in
little more than a week’s time from inception to implementation. Outstanding
job by Hartnell as his legend only continues to grow.
Ultimately, the game was just an exhibition, played without
hitting and at half the speed. By midway through the third period, you could
tell some of the guys were gassed, clearly not quite in hockey shape. It didn’t
help the effort that New York was able to knock the air out of Philly’s
second-period comeback run with a couple of soft goals late, taking a 7-4 lead
into the dressing room.
There were moments though. Brodeur received a few sets of
Bronx cheers when he actually managed to get some stops. Dan Carcillo and Aron
Asham teased a fight that never happened, instead trading penalty shots. Simon
Gagne, Steven Stamkos, and P.K. Subban were skating with Flyers. It was a truly
Neal and Lundqvist played great, and what Hartnell did was
special, but corny as it might sound, the first star of the game was the fans.
We’re talking a total sellout, folks, not only for an amazing cause, but in a
calculated demonstration for an amazing sport. The fans in attendance weren’t
always in agreement on what they wanted to root for, yet the atmosphere was
festive, not hostile. This one time, clearly we were all on the same side.
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