Many things indicated that “Champs for Charity” wasn’t a real hockey game. There were no power plays, there was a goalie taking a penalty shot and there was a coach fighting an opposing player.
But the atmosphere at the Allstate Arena Friday night felt like a real game. In fact, it was better than the previous two NHL All-Star games.
“I think we were all a little surprised with the turnout,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said afterward. “We never expected it to be that good. The amount of fans that showed up, the energy in the building was great all night.”
Put together in less than two weeks by ex-Hawk Adam Burish and notable player agent Bill Zito, the “Champs for Charity” game turned out to be a major success. The official attendance was 11,649 and more than $323,000 was raised for the Ronald McDonald House near Lurie Children’s Hospital.
“There was a lot of people who helped out with it,” said Burish, noting the assistance of Allstate Arena and the Ronald McDonald House. “Everything just kind of lined up perfectly.
“For me, it was so fun having the fans. The fans were awesome out there. Guys were laughing on the bench, ‘This is so crazy. This is so cool.’ That was pretty special for the guys.”
The World team defeated the Chicago team, which included several players from the Hawks’ Stanley Cup-winning team, 16-15 in a shootout. Daniel Carcillo, of all players, scored the decisive goal on a move stolen from Kane.
All of things that wouldn’t happen in a real game — Carcillo wrestling with celebrity coach and ex-Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster, Bears kicker and celebrity coach Robbie Gould throwing a challenge flag, choreographed goal celebrations by the Chicago team, goalie Niklas Backstrom beating goalie Craig Anderson on a penalty shot, Burish performing a little strip show and more — only gave the fans in attendance more memories and things to laugh about.
But the game did feel real too, the players said afterward.
Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp played on the same line. The crowd cheered during the national anthem and was heavily in favor of the Chicago team. They went nuts when Kane scored late to tie the game at 15.
The World team had its share of stars to contend with, including Bobby Ryan, Jordan Staal and Ryan Suter. The Chicago team saw the return of 2010 favorites in Burish, Andrew Ladd, Troy Brouwer and Brian Campbell.
“It felt like it was a real game when we tied it up and the crowd kind of erupted like that,” Kane said. “It was a fun time. The atmosphere was awesome. To get 11,000 fans for something like that was pretty special. It shows how many people are searching for hockey.”
Players said it was a good break from the lockout. The league canceled the regular-season schedule through Nov. 30 hours before the charity game and it was clear some players were bothered by it.
“It was fun. Guys wanted to get out there and get the taste for some action,” Toews said. “It was good to go out there and just focus on hockey.”
Is there one memory that players will take from the charity game?
“I know how happy Kane is to win the MVP,” a grinning Sharp said.
But seriously …
“It was just the reception from the fans,” Sharp said. “Stepping on the ice for warm-ups and hearing them cheer for you was a pretty cool feeling.
“Flipping pucks in the stands and seeing familiar faces that you normally see at the United Center was awesome. It shows you the passion that the fans have for our sport and for our team. It makes it that much more frustrating when we can’t go out there and play.”
But the show they put on Friday night offered everyone in attendance a break from these gloomy lockout days.
“I think they were just excited coming out looking for something entertaining,” Kane said. “I think we gave that to them even though it wasn’t a real hockey game. It was fun to be back on the ice and playing. Anytime you play in these things you always want to do well and showcase your different skills. It was a fun time.”