Inside the Flyers: NHL players take a break from lockout with a benefit game in Atlantic City

Posted: November 26, 2012

ATLANTIC CITY - For more than two months, NHL players and owners have acted like spoiled brats, demanding they have their way, refusing to compromise in their labor war, and threatening to cause irreparable harm to the game.

On Saturday, though, we had the most productive day of an infuriating lockout that started in mid-September and has no end in sight.

Because of the work stoppage, about three dozen NHL players - mostly Flyers, New York Rangers, and New Jersey Devils, but also some of the sport's biggest names from other teams - got together for a benefit game in Atlantic City's venerable Boardwalk Hall to raise money for Hurricane Sandy victims.

Team New York, led by four goals by Pittsburgh's James Neal and standout goaltending by the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist, defeated Team Philly/New Jersey, 10-6, in a game that had the most on-ice talent in North America since June. A hockey-starved, sellout crowd of 10,792 attended the game, billed as Operation Hat Trick because all proceeds go toward the New Jersey Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund, the Empire State Relief Fund, and the American Red Cross.

Gov. Christie estimated $29.4 billion in damage was done to New Jersey by Sandy. Saturday night's benefit game won't make much of a dent in that, but it will create goodwill that is priceless to those affected in New Jersey and New York.

The Rangers' Brad Richards, who captained Team New York, was instrumental in bringing 150 people from the Rockaways - an area of Queens, N.Y., devastated by the hurricane - to the benefit game.

Atlantic City firefighters and police officers, the first responders when Sandy hit late last month, mingled with the players in the morning.

"It's an honor for us to meet them," Flyers winger Jody Shelley said. "They've done so much good."

Scott Evans, battalion chief of the Atlantic City Fire Department, experienced firsthand the devastation of the hurricane, especially when he performed duties in Seaside Heights.

"One home there was six blocks from its beach-block foundation," he said after talking with some Flyers.

Having the players come to Atlantic City "means a lot to the town," said Evans, who had two feet of water in his Atlantic City home during the hurricane. "It gives everyone an uplift and puts everybody in good spirits."

"For two, two and a half hours," Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban said before the game, "maybe the people will forget about what's happened here the last couple weeks. They'll never forget it, but maybe it'll take it off their minds for a while."

It was also nice for the players to forget about the lockout during most of their time in Atlantic City, though union boss Donald Fehr did interrupt things with a pregame meeting. Fehr later met with reporters and said both sides were farther apart in their labor dispute than they were the previous week.

Way to be a spoilsport and put a damper on the event, Don.

But it was his counterpart, Gary Bettman, the NHL commissioner, who was the fans' whipping boy.

"Fire Bett-man!" they began chanting during pregame warm-ups. Throughout the game, they also chanted "We want hockey!"

The labor dispute, however, was secondary for most of this night. The focus was on the players, the game, and the people being helped by the event.

"I've only been home for a short time, but as soon as my agent told me about it, I jumped on it because it's a great cause," said Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds, who recently returned from playing in Europe.

In a Friday interview on Sirius XM Radio, Steve Fehr, special counsel to the NHLPA, told listeners they should read the story Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell wrote about his brother Donald. The piece basically talked about how Donald Fehr was a shark, and Steve seemed oh, so proud of his big brother.

Everyone should be proud of the players who sacrificed their time for a great cause Saturday night. No one should be proud of a man who has combined with the just-as-greedy NHL leaders to shut down the hockey season.

But at least for one night, we got to see the good in the sport.


Inside the Flyers:

Get Sam Carchidi's complete recap of Saturday's game at philly.com/broadstbull


Contact Sam Carchidi at scarchidi@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @BroadStBull.

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