Hurricane Sandy and Caesars Atlantic City accomplished something that Donald Fehr and Commissioner Gary Bettman have not been able to do for months now and that’s put NHL players on the ice in front of a sell-out crowd. Operation Hat Trick was created by Caesars Entertainment’s Eastern Division Senior Vice President of National Marketing Joe Watson, not to be confused with the former Flyer D-man by the same name.
Joe’s idea for Operation Hat Trick evolved at a Philadelphia Eagles game, where he and good friend Philadelphia Flyers Scott Hartnell laid the foundation for the event. It dawned on Joe that ice was soon to be laid at Atlantic City’s Historic Boardwalk Hall.
Watson and Hartnell recognized that the best way to give back to the community and fans, was to coordinate an All-Star Hockey game for a Hockey starved nation. Phone calls were made and in no time rosters were filled. The New York Team was called Team Richards and the New Jersey Team was dubbed Team Hartnell. The teams were made up of predominately Rangers, Flyers, Devils players but that did not stop Steven Stamkos, PK Subban , Daniel Alfredsson and Bobby Ryan joining in as well.
Carved in the Indiana limestone above the historic building’s Boardwalk facade was the testimonial that summarized its purpose:
“A permanent monument, conceived as a tribute to the ideals of Atlantic City, built by its citizens and dedicated to recreation, social progress and industrial achievements.”
The tone of the event was in the spirit of that dedication.Aside from raising money for three funds to help victims in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the game was also a diversion for people who lost so much to the storm. For one night all was right in the Hockey World.
In a venue best know for crowning Miss America going back to the 1920s, It was only fitting that the night showcased the talents of the man they call the King, Henrik Lundqvist. Ironically, the last time Henrik played in a game that a score was kept, his counterpart across the ice was Martin Brodeur. While the stakes were a lot higher in that Eastern Conference Final match-up, this game may have been as emotionally charged. Henrik faced 23 shots in the first period, looking in mid season form robbing player after player including two penalty shots by Steven Stamkos. The same could not be said for Martin Brodeur, who allowed four first period goals. For those keeping score, the final had Team Richards on top of Team Hartnell by a score of 10-6.
The sell out crowd of 10,752 the first sell out since the historic venue reopened in 2001, let the commissioner in unison several times throughout the game that “WE WANT HOCKEY.”
While it was great to have Hockey back for the night, the event was about so much more then the game. It was about what the players in the sport do better then any other sport. It is that sense of community, the sense of selflessness that allows the biggest stars in the game to put aside whatever it is they are doing to help others.
Early on Sunday morning a large contingent of players met with first responders and their families to thank them for the tireless work they did in the days and weeks after Sandy. PK Subban, Wayne Simmonds, and David Clarkson were particularly interested in one of the K-9 dog handlers and his dog. Every player went out of their way to talk with each and everyone in attendance, signing every autograph request and posing for countless photos.
After the game in talking to the players it became obvious that the game served as a diversion for them as well during their labor strife. Brian Boyle who played defense during the game said “it was great, it was so much fun, the crowd reaction was phenomenal, it meant a lot to all of us. Chicago Blackhawks Dan Carcillo echoed Boyles sentiment “you’re able to come out here and play a game that you love and that we dearly miss and in retrospect it helps so many people, I know I have a great feeling as well as all the guys in this room do too, it was a great night.”
Aside from the players there were many unsung heroes as well, Jerry Eisenband of Caesars who not only was a gracious and generous host , but made a couple of great saves as the back up goalie in warm-ups,Katie Dougherty of Harrahs, and Gina Giacomantonio who pulled the event all together in a weeks time, which included Thanksgiving no less.
If you have not donated and would like to try and win one of the Jerseys the players wore during the game you can do so at SteinerSports.com.