The NHL Alumni Game in Hagerstown was a huge success for everyone involved. The Alumni had a great time. My fellow adult league players and I experienced a highlight of our respective hockey lives. Most importantly, the event brought some great exposure to a local hockey program and facility.
First, some kudos. The principle organizers of the event, Russell Degroote, Rob Edmonds, Eric Skjeveland, and Paul Sweeney did an excellent job. Everything was very classy and well run. With the aid of the rink staff, all of the little details were taken care of for all of the participants on Saturday.
The event itself started out with a meet and greet session with the Alumni roster. The retired pros talked to every kid and signed everything put in front of them. I thought it was great that many youth players had their old jerseys signed at an event meant to benefit their program.
By 5:00pm, it was time to start getting dressed and hit the ice for warm ups. The locker rooms had been setup like a pro room. Nameplates, jerseys on hangers, towels and flip flops provided for the Alumni, were all very nice touches. We were all mixed up in about 4 rooms. I sat next former Blues, Bruce Affleck and John Wensink.
I hit the ice after most of the Alumni were already out warming up. The first guy I recognized was Peter Bondra. He was using one hand to toss the puck around on the blade of his stick. Then, I noticed how big he looked on the ice. The intimidation factor really set in.
I started the game playing defense against the Alumni’s first line. Right from the opening face-off, the NHL Alums moved the puck very well. Their passes were crisp and always tape-to-tape. We spent a ton of energy chasing the play while they did not have to skate very much at all. The Alumni pumped 7 goals in. Most of them were passes beating HAHL goalie, Geoff King, to the far post.
Towards the end of the period, I think us amateurs started to figure out how to skate with the pros and stop the bleeding. In the end, Chris Wetzel scored on a cool spin-o-rama, backhander past Dave Parro. Another teammate of mine, Jordan Herd, stepped around a Gordie Lane hip check and dropped his shoulder on Peter Bondra, taking the puck strong to the net and burying it.
My claim to fame will most likely be as the guy who was stuffed on a breakaway. Yvon Labre was cheating in from the point. As soon as HAHL forward, Tony Caprinolo, gained possession of the puck I sprinted to center ice.
Tony hit me in stride and I was into the Alumni zone.
Of course, Parro came way out of his crease to challenge and stacked the pads. I never see that in men’s league. Usually guys sit back in their net and you sneak pucks in five hole.
As my mom will point out, I also stripped Bondra of the puck, twice. He was probably only going at 25% though. Bonzai is still in game shape folks.
After my teammates and I had our time facing off against the NHL Alumni, we retired to the spectator areas to watch some of our weekly competition take them on in the second period. Again, the Alumni dominated. Guys like Jim Campbell and Terry Yake can still move the puck and have great vision.
The third period featured a mix of Alums, adult league players, and a few local youth players (featuring Alex Sweeney who was profiled in the August USA Hockey Magazine) to close out the game. After the final buzzer the NHL Alumni hung out, signed a bunch of jerseys, told stories, and had a few beverages with the boys. They’re hockey players.
In between periods, the Alumni helped some of the youth hockey players show off their skills. They also did interviews for the local media. Despite the funds raised on Saturday, those things were the real benefit to the rink. The increased exposure to the local hockey program will hopefully lead to more kids and families becoming interested in hockey.
Wow. What a great event.
Here are some links to local media coverage of the NHL Alumni Game.