ATLANTIC CITY - Welcome to the center of the hockey world - for one weekend, at least.
A news conference featuring some of the NHL's biggest stars Friday night at Caesars Atlantic City kicked off a weekend of big-time hockey at Boardwalk Hall.
The action starts with Operation Hat Trick at 7 tonight, a charity game to benefit Hurricane Sandy victims. On Sunday, the Albany Devils will host the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins at 4 p.m. in the first of four American Hockey League games at the Hall this season.
Former Philadelphia Flyer Todd Fedoruk spearheaded the organization of Operation Hat Trick over the past few weeks. It started before the hurricane, with a handful of players trying to get together during the NHL lockout (related story, D3). When the hurricane hit New Jersey and New York late last month, the players saw an opportunity.
"The wheels were already rolling with reaching out to players and trying to get something going to bring guys into Atlantic City," Fedoruk said at the news conference Friday. "It kind of grew into what it was. I think any time that there's something as devastating as what happened on the East Coast and in certain areas, things like this kind of take a life of their own, and that's basically what happened with this. It grew and grew and grew, and more guys jumped aboard."
As he spoke, Fedoruk was flanked by Anaheim Ducks star Corey Perry, the 2010-11 Hart Trophy winner as the league's MVP, and Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos, who has led the league in scoring in two of the past three seasons.
"It's a showcase of skill is what it is," Fedoruk said.
Also at the news conference were Montreal's P.K. Subban, New Jersey's David Clarkson and Colorado's Steve Downie. The game also will feature, among others, New Jersey's Martin Brodeur, the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist and the Flyers' Scott Hartnell. Ventnor summer resident Justin Williams of the Los Angeles Kings also will participate.
"I think we're all excited to be out on the ice with each other to have some competitive fun," Stamkos said.
Most of the players are either current or former Rangers, Flyers or Devils. But a few, including Stamkos and Perry, got involved despite having no significant connection to the area.
"When people come to you and ask you to be involved in something like this, obviously your first reaction's going to be yes," Perry said. "To come down here, to be a part of this and help raise some funds for a great cause, and help some people, I think that's why everybody's here."
Fedoruk said he had fun putting together the rosters. While one team consists predominantly of Rangers, the other squad includes both Flyers and Devils. All three of those clubs are Atlantic Division archrivals with each other.
"You leave it on the ice," New Jersey's David Clarkson said with a smile. "You play hard during the season. I'm sure there are some Ranger players and fans that aren't too fond of me, but we come here to be together. This is a bigger cause. ... Everyone's here together for the cause, and it's going to be fun."
It will be all Devils on Sunday. Albany will host AHL games at Boardwalk Hall for the second time in three years. This is the first of four such games this season.
"It's always a fun little trip," the Devils' Adam Henrique said in a phone interview Wednesday. "Atlantic City's a great place. ... It was always fun to play there (two years ago). There always seems to be a good crowd on a Sunday, and I think the guys like going there."
Henrique was a finalist for the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie last season. He's one of a handful of young players on entry-level contracts who were eligible to be sent to the AHL during the lockout.
Henrique said it's been "a little different" riding the bus to games again. But he said the result has been positive for AHL fans.
"Every team's got their guys that are down here that have played in the NHL, so obviously competition is better throughout the entire league, which is a good thing," Henrique said. "It's exciting for the fans. There's been more fans coming out to watch, which is nice."
Henrique said he had been unaware of Operation Hat Trick, even though it features several of his New Jersey teammates.
"That's pretty cool," he said.
Notes: Operation Hat Trick was nearly sold out Friday, according to Caesars, which is sponsoring the event. Seating capacity for hockey at the Hall is 10,820. ... Former Flyer Rick Tocchet will coach the New Jersey- and Philadelphia-based team. "Jersey Shore" star Vinny Guadagnino will coach the New York squad. ... Flyers anthemist Lauren Hart will perform the national anthem today. ... Fedoruk said there will be penalty shots instead of power plays, but other than that it will be a regular 60-minute game. ... Musician Sammy Hagar pledged to donate $1,000 for every goal scored in Operation Hat Trick.
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