This afternoon, a team of Russian Hockey Legends and local players coming together as North American Legends faced off in a charity game at the Prudential Center. Proceeds from tickets, merchandise, and auctioned off jerseys - including the ones right off the player's backs - went to the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund. In addition to being for a good cause, it was an entertaining experience throughout the afternoon. The Russian team won 7-6 in a game featuring a lot of shots, little defense, plenty of gassed shifts, some hi-jinks, and plenty of players from days gone by.
Suiting up for the North Americans included several players that really need no introduction if you're in the area. They included Ken Daneyko, Brendan Shanahan, Bill Guerin (officially announced as Billy), Brian Leetch, Sergei Brylin, Grant Marshall, Stephane Richer, Claude Lemieux, Chris Terreri, Jim Dowd, Bob Carpenter, Bruce Driver, Randy McKay, and MSG Hockey Night Live host, the sassy Ron Duguay. The team also included former Flyer Brian Propp, former Islander Benoit Hogue, and a goalie called "Trees," Mark LaForest. Behind the bench was Rod Gilbert, Phil Esposito, and Glenn "Chico" Resch wearing the same jersey the players did. All the North American players had a white Devils template with a special New Jersey logo that just read "New Jersey" and a town name affected by Hurricane Sandy on the back along the bottom piping. For example, Dowd's was Brick, Daneyko's was Lavallete, etc. The Devils rink had the usual ads replaced with various town names and their Garden State Parkway exit number along with the Sandy NJ Relief logo.
As for the Russian team, well, I'll admit I didn't know most of them so I was really glad there was an introduction for each player. And apparently, most of them play together as a team sponsored by Gazprom. That's why they had a GM and managers in addition to Sergey Makarov as coach. It showed as they looked a bit more in form early on. Those you would know include Slava Fetisov, Valeri Kamensky, Dairus Kasparaitis, Vladimir Malakhov (he lives!), and Alexei Yashin who had his nameplate taped over for some reason. The bulk of the team included those who played primarily in Russia and for Russia at the international level as well as KHL President Alexander Medvedev. You may remember Andrey Kovalenko from his time in the NHL and in case you didn't, he made his presence felt on the ice with three goals and an assist.
Since it was a charity game, the mood wasn't all that serious. Only Kerry Fraser - of course without a helmet, his hair is protection enough - got booed. The Russians were individually introduced while Tetris Song A was playing over the PA while the North Americans (plus Brylin) were introduced as "Living in America" by James Brown was played. Matt Loughlin did live interviews with the various players on both sides during the game. That added to the entertainment as Guerin lamented his lack of cardio after the first shift, Kasparaitis apologized for his actions against New Jersey as a Ranger before revealing he and Guerin were trying to steal each others' gloves (Guerin handed him a camera tripod as a "stick" for him), Daneyko giving Richer the sage advice of "shoot the puck" before he took a penalty shot, and Medvedev saying a whole lot really fast that I caught none of. The line of the day came from Esposito, who threw a wonderful dig at Toronto in stating that their scouts prepared them for the Summit Series and based on that it's no wonder they stunk back then. He also noted that Team Canada should've been called Team NHL due to politics keeping WHA players out (read: Alan Eagleson). Still, it added to the fun of the game.
Incidentally, even some of the appearances stood out. While the Russian team were largely uniform in their, er, uniforms, the North American team varied in helmet color and their pants. Richer apparently had his old NHL All-Star pants, Shanahan was in Detroit colors, Leetch was wearing Ranger red, Duguay had black shorts, and Guerin was wearing a Pittsburgh design. Duguay and Alexey Gusarov were the only players to not wear helmets. Gusarov had a kind of cap on, which led to a funny moment when it fell off in the third period. Goaltender Malkov picked it up, tried to put it on top of the net, and as he was doing that, Kovalenko passed it back to him to force a very quick leg stop. We almost had an own goal. Anyway, that was the only time it fell. As for Duguay, well have you seen his feathered hair-do? How can you constrain that with a helmet? You simply can't.
In the game, there were some modified rules. Teams did not alternate sides between periods, which was good because guys were getting gassed out there to begin with - they didn't need the additional distance for a change. After all, the youngest guy on the ice was the 39-year old Brylin. There would be no bodychecking; a rule ignored by referee Kerry Fraser when Vitali Prokhorov barreled into Marshall from behind and laid on top of him for a good ten seconds in the third period. Even in exhibition games that's not a call. At least Marshall gave him a peck on the cheek in response. There would be no slapshots, a rule that Guerin ignored on a penalty shot attempt that gave the Russians one in response. And instead of a power play, all penalties led to a penalty shot for the fouled player. This rule essentially decided the game. The NA Legends didn't score on any of them. The Russians scored on three of them, including the eventual game winner from Kamensky.
As for the action, after a long introduction and all three anthems (two kids for the Russian anthem, Max DeFrancesco singing the Canadian and American national anthems) the Russians went up 3-0 in the first period that featured a lot of shots and little in the way of defensive coverage. Rustem Kamaletdinov got the scoring going with a tap-in in front; Kovalenko scored on Russia's second penalty shot of the game; and Viktor Gordiyuk blazed past his man, kept the puck away from a Brodeur-ian poke-check by Terreri, and got it in behind him for the goal. Needless to say, it wasn't the best of starts for the North American team as all of their shots were parried away.
Early in the second, Guerin opened up the scoring for the NA team with a second effort that lofted the puck up and over Maxim Mikhaylovsky. Russia responded with a two-on-one finished off by Kovalenko. North America made it a two-score game again when Shanahan finished off a feed from Propp at the far post. Alas, that wouldn't last again as Kovalenko stormed to the middle of the ice and turned Terreri for his hat trick. Malakhov fired a banger of a one-timer from the high slot to make it 6-2 despite Russia only getting five shots on net in the period. Yeesh.
There would be a comeback attempt. Both teams switched goalies - Andrey Malkov for Russia, LaForest for North America - and the local team got some better puck luck. Dowd tapped in his own rebound off a rush to make it 6-3. Shanahan displayed his wonderful shot when he sniped one from the right side past Malkov. Marshall pulled a Kovalenko-like move to beat Kasatonov to the center, hold it back from the goalie, and put it home while turning. The effort took a big hit when a giveaway by Leetch to Kamensky left the Russian alone with LaForest. Leetch tripped Kamensky, who then scored on the ensuing penalty shot. Leetch made up for it with a one-timer in the slot after a missed offside call - there was some apparent leeway in that regard. However, Kamensky's goal was just too much. Despite pulling the goalie, the local team just couldn't get possession into the zone. They got a very late offensive zone start, Shanahan apparently used his powers to turn 2 seconds left into 4.2, and they lost the faceoff. At least time ended before Kovalenko - one of Russia's best players today - got the empty netter. The players had a handshake line (and somehow Marshall was at the end of Russia's), they had a group photo at center ice, and autographs were done at the boards after the game.
Hmm. The local team out-shot their opposition, couldn't get an early lead, couldn't score on special teams, their errors led to goals against, and they made a comeback attempt that just ended up too short to lose by one goal. That seems...familiar. But I can't put my finger on it.
But, again, it was really a fun event and it appeared everyone who was there enjoyed it. Daneyko and the Russian team should feel good about putting this together. More importantly, quite a lot of money was raised. The announced number during the third period was over $50,000 and, who knows, maybe more came in after. Big money was certainly thrown around during intermission when the jerseys off the players' backs were auctioned. Literally, the players were on the ice and they pulled off their jerseys as bids were made. From my vantage point, it was a successful event. Hopefully those who'll get the money will put it to good use. If you were there, let me know what you thought of the day and what you enjoyed from it in the comments.