Operation Hat Trick

A sold-out crowd follows the action on the ice during Operation Hat Trick at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City on Saturday night. Thousands came out to watch NHL stars play an exhibition to raise money for victims of Hurricane Sandy.

Staff photo by Ben Fogletto

ATLANTIC CITY - The NHL was back for one night Saturday.

At least it felt that way at Boardwalk Hall.

A loud and lively sellout crowd of 10,792 got to see 16 goals, some good-natured pushing and shoving, and even a "Jersey Shore" fist pump during the Operation Hat Trick charity hockey game.

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"It was a blast," Tampa Bay Lightning superstar Steven Stamkos said. "It was a great experience to get back on the ice and have that competitive nature. … And obviously the fans, that was the best part of the game for me.

"It was a very touching game to be part of, and you definitely felt the emotion in the building."

Henrik Lundqvist made 57 saves as Team Richards, captained by his New York Rangers teammate Brad Richards, won 10-6 over Team Hartnell, led by the Philadelphia Flyers' Scott Hartnell. The game benefited Hurricane Sandy relief charities.

"I want to play real games," Lundqvist said, "but it felt really good to get out there. Probably the best feeling I've had in a long time."

Lundqvist stopped all 23 shots he faced in the first period as Team Richards took a 4-0 lead.

Lundqvist's counterpart, 40-year-old Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils, struggled early with some rust. The players have been locked out by the owners for the two months of the season in a labor dispute.

"It's not easy, but it didn't really seem to affect Lundqvist that much. That's what happens when you're only 30 years old," the 40-year-old Brodeur said with a laugh.

When Team Hartnell finally got on the board on a Simon Gagne goal early in the second period, Gagne joined fellow ex-Flyers Justin Williams and Dan Carcillo at center ice to egg on the crowd with what Williams called a "Jersey Shore fist pump." Team Richards was coached by "Jersey Shore" star Vinny Guadagnino, a Staten Island, N.Y., resident.

"It was probably a little bit of everything - Jersey, Vinny, celebration of a goal finally," Williams said with a dry smile.

Williams, who along with Gagne won the Stanley Cup last season with the Los Angeles Kings, spends his offseason in Ventnor.

"I was in California (this month), so it was a long flight for me to get here, and I felt like I wanted to be a part of it," Williams said. "I'm from the area. Whatever I could do to help, I would do. It was an awesome event."

Carcillo got the crowd pumped up again later in the second period when he appeared ready to fight ex-Flyers teammate Arron Asham. They were broken up by referee Kerry Fraser, but Carcillo said they were never going to fight.

"We've got a little history, me and Ash," Carcillo said. "It's good history. We're friends, we're buddies, and we always have a longstanding joke that if we ever went at it, who would win, and I think he knows as well as I know that I would win. So we were just having a little bit of fun."

The Pittsburgh Penguins' James Neal scored a game-high four goals for Team Richards, but the real star of the night was Lundqvist. He stopped several breakaways and two penalty shots by Stamkos, who has led the NHL in goals two of the past three seasons.

"The dang Rangers," said Hartnell, who along with Richards and former Flyer Todd Fedoruk helped organize the event. "They've got our number, that's for sure. You'd think he'd have a little rust on him, not playing a game in five or six months, but it seems like he's in playoff shape. We were joking after the first period that now the Rangers will want to (end the lockout) really bad because he's on fire right now."

The fans, most of them decked out in either Flyers or Rangers gear, were loud from beginning to end. It was the first hockey sellout in the historic building since 1933, Hall officials said.

When the attendance was announced, nearly the entire building chanted, "We want hockey!" followed by "Bettman sucks!" in reference to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. With a few minutes left in the game, Rangers fans chanted "You can't beat us!" and as the final seconds clicked down, Philadelphia fans brought out the familiar "Crosby sucks!" refrain - even though Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby wasn't there.

"I'm not going to complain there," a grinning Stamkos said of being on the same side as the Flyers' fans for once.

After the game, the players shook hands and then lined up with their sticks in the air to salute the fans.

"I'd be lying if I didn't say I got choked up a little bit," Hartnell said. "When you've got 11,000 people cheering (that) they want hockey back, we want to be playing and it's unfortunate that we're not playing.

"But the energy in the building … it was pretty incredible."

Notes: The amount of money that the event raised was not immediately known because game-used items still were being auctioned off. … Guadagnino was loudly booed by fans of both teams during an in-game interview. But he said afterward that he had fun. As for what he did as coach? "Nothing," he said. "I was clapping my hands. My goalie made it really easy for me to coach, and the rest of the team. I love sports, and just being up there was amazing."

Contact Jason Mazda:


Team Hartnell 0 4 2-6

Team Richards 4 3 3-10

FIRST PERIOD-TR Neal (unassisted), 2:51; TR Neal (Alfredsson, Richards), 6:55; TR Komisarek (Leino, Pyatt), 9:48; TR Ryan (Martin, Perry), 7:46.

SECOND PERIOD-TH Gagne (Carcillo, Williams), 2:04; TH Simmonds (Subban), 2:56; TH van Riemsdyk (Simmonds, Williams), 7:00; TR Neal (unassisted), 11:45; TH Gagne (Williams, Coburn), 14:49; TR Alfredsson (Richards, Staal), 16:57; TR Boyle (Martin), 19:36.

THIRD PERIOD-TR Leino (Komisarek, Ryan), 1:52; TR Neal (Girardi), 8:09; TR Halpern (Asham, Eminger), 10:49; TH Greene (Downie, Brodeur), 14:05; TR Clarkson (Stamkos, Gagne), 16:31.

Goalies-TH Brodeur (40 shots-30 saves); TR Lundqvist (63 shots-57 saves).

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