It was one of the greatest assemblages ever of superstar hockey talent in the tri-state area—and it was all for charity.
More than 6,000 fans took up most of the lower level of the Prudential Center, home of the New Jersey Devils, in Newark, N.J. on Saturday afternoon, and more than $50,000 was raised to benefit last year's southern New Jersey victims of Hurricane Sandy.
The North American Hockey Legends, a team of former Devils and other former local NHL alumni, faced off with such Russian Hockey Legends as Darius Kasparaitis, Alexei Kasatonov, Vladimir Malakhov, Alexei Yashin and Valeri Kamensky, along with Kontinental Hockey League president Alexander Medvedev.
The Russians held on for a 7-6 victory, after North America roared back from a 6-2 third-period deficit.
The game was organized by former longtime Devils defenseman and current TV analyst Ken Daneyko, who put things together in just a matter of weeks.
“We know we’re competitive as far as our teams, and fans are competitive as far as their teams, but when it comes to a charity event like Hurricane Sandy, everyone comes together,” said Daneyko to northjersey.com.
Besides selected player autographs following the conclusion of the contest, game-worn player jerseys for the North American side were also auctioned off live, with Brian Leetch's commanding more than $2,200.
Instead of advertisements, the Prudential Center's dasher boards sported the Garden State Parkway exit signs of the afflicted towns, in green with white, including exit numbers.
Players on the North American side were clad in white-colored Devils-patterned jerseys, socks with red-and-black trim and wore either black or white helmets—save for former New York Rangers forward Ron Duguay, of course. The front of the jersey had "New Jersey" in ascending black diagonal script lettering with "Sandy 2012" in smaller script beneath, accompanied by two hurricane flags like those on the shoulders of the Carolina Hurricanes' jerseys.
Near the rear hem of the jersey, on the wide black stripe bordered by two thinner red stripes, the name of a New Jersey municipality that had been particularly hard hit by Hurricane Sandy last Halloween was stitched in red capital letters. Grant Marshall highlighted Point Pleasant, while Bruce Driver advertised Ortley, Duguay championed Cape May, Bill Guerin showed off L.B.I. for Long Beach Island, and Jim Dowd celebrated his home town of Brick.
Most of the players wore Devils' black pants, which the club switched to from green in 1992. Brian Leetch and Brendan Shanahan wore red pants—Leetch for the Rangers, with whom he spent most of his storied NHL career, and Shanahan for the Detroit Red Wings, with whom he won three Stanley Cups.
A logo patch of each player's most prominent NHL team was carried on the left sleeve of the jersey, above the stripes and below the yoke—Devils for most of the former Devils, the Red Wings for Shanahan, the Rangers for Duguay and Leetch, the New York Islanders for Benoit Hogue and the Philadelphia Flyers for Brian Propp.
The Russian Legends uniform was blue with white trim, with an inverted white chevron on the front and the letters "CCCP" in blue on the left half. All the Russian players wore blue helmets, save for defenseman Alexei Gusarov, who got by with a gray skull cap. Brashly, and almost fittingly, Kasparaitis wore No. 1, usually reserved for goaltenders.
Players were welcomed to the ice by roughly two dozen gear-wearing youth hockey players, while the national anthems of Russia, Canada and the United States were all sung live, the Russian anthem by a pair of youngsters.
Devils radio play-by-play man Matt Loughlin recorded individual player information for the introductions, with the Russian player skating onto the ice to the Russian-based Tetris video game score and the North American players being heralded by Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” and James Brown’s “Living in America” from the Rocky IV soundtrack.
Loughlin did live interviews with players on both sides from the team benches with the help of a cordless microphone tied into the arena's public address system. He first asked former Boston College forward Bill Guerin, who retired from NHL play in 2010 with more than 400 goals and two Stanley Cup rings to his credit, how it felt to be back on the ice.
"I'll let you know when I catch my breath," he quipped raggedly.
Guerin also said that when the adrenaline wore off, things would probably get ugly, although he scored North America's first goal and came up short on two penalty shots.
The penalty shots, which were called in lieu of the standard two-minute minors, were meted out by none other than retired NHL referee Kerry Fraser, now an analyst for TSN.
North American coach Glenn "Chico" Resch, the first goaltender in Devils history following the franchise’s move from Colorado in 1982, actually called out "Come on, Kerry!" at one point. Resch was assisted on the bench by Hall of Fame forwards Phil Esposito and Rod Gilbert.
Former NHL referee Paul Stewart showed up at the end, and thanked the fans for booing him for more than 20 years. The two teams also took a group photo together after the final horn sounded—after Shanahan, now the NHL's Vice President of Hockey and Business Development, exerted his administrative influence to have 2.2 seconds put back on the clock—before the Russians won the final faceoff and iced the win.
No less than 10 members of the Devils' 1995 Stanley Cup champions, the first of three in franchise history, were on hand in Daneyko, Dowd, Driver, Guerin, Sergei Brylin, Bob Carpenter, Claude Lemieux, Randy McKay, Stephane Richer and Chris Terreri.
Former Devils forward Shanahan led North America with two goals, including a laser from the top of the left circle, while former NHL player Andrei Kovalenko had a hat trick for the Russian squad, most of whom still play back home and were flown to America by Medvedev to support the Sandy benefit.
Interviewed during the second period, Kasparaitis, who last played in the NHL with the Rangers in 2006-07 and now lives in Florida, admitted that he now had the toughest job in the world.
"Taking care of my kids," he said to laughs from the crowd. "I've got four."
For many players like Shanahan, it was the first game he had played in since hanging up his competitive skates in 2009. Others, like Daneyko and Driver have played games with the Devils Alumni Association, although it's not 1995, 2000 or 2003 anymore.
Loughlin asked Lemieux if the competitive fires still burned bright.
"It's burning a lot shorter," replied Lemieux, who won four Stanley Cups with three different NHL clubs. "I'm dying out there."
Never mind that the 1995 Conn Smythe Trophy winner came out of retirement to play 18 games with the San Jose Sharks just four years ago, in 2008-09.
For one afternoon, at least, more than two dozen hockey greats came out of retirement to help those who have celebrated them from the stands.
Being a Boston College graduate, and someone who has been to the city many times, my thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Boston - R.