A Game Like No Other
If this was any other game, we’d talk about how Team White was able to fend off a late surge by Team Red to win 9-6.
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On Sunday, the Carolina Hurricanes hosted the inaugural Alumni Fantasy Game. The event gave 30 paying players the dream of skating alongside some of the organization’s legendary players and provided the nearly 3,000 fans in attendance an entertaining, friendly match.
“To have guys living in the community willing to come out and do this is a good sign for us to start building the alumni and doing things with guys that are around, and we all do it for a great cause,” said Ron Francis, a member of Team Red, who had at least two assists (unofficially). “I don’t think anybody expected 3,000 people to show up and watch this game, and it was certainly a lot of fun for all of us and the people involved. Hopefully we can get this bigger and better going forward.”
In what will likely become an annual fundraiser event for the Foundation, the inaugural game brought in $50,134 ($11,535 in donations at door), all of which will be given back to the community through grants to various deserving non-profits.
“I think it was everything you could ever ask for, and then some,” said Tripp Tracy, the winning goaltender for Team White. “It was a day that surpassed expectation of what you could hope for.”
A Special Day
When the teams emerged from the locker room for warm-ups, there were already hundreds – if not over 1,000 – people in the stands. By puck-drop at 3 p.m., the East side was full and the corners of the lower bowl were being opened.
“I was stunned at the size of the crowd,” said Philip Poetzinger, goaltender for Team Red. “That was fun, and I hope they felt like they had a good show.”
There were goals – seven from Team White to Red’s lone one after 40 minutes – penalty shots and even gag pucks. It was April Fool’s Day after all.
“You could see the expression on some of their faces when they did score,” said Shane Willis, a member of Team Red. “The horn was going off and the fans going crazy.”
“You can just see the difference when one of those guys scores a goal, just how their face lights up compared to somebody who’s played in the NHL that scores a goal,” Francis said. “The guy on our team that scored a goal in the third period kept the puck after he scored and wouldn’t let the referee have it back. I think that tells you all you need to know. It’s pretty important for them.”
After the game, jerseys were being passed around the locker room for autographs – from everyone, not just the Hurricanes alumni. Outside, fans waited for players’ cars, again both those of alumni and the paying players. Ted Enarson tweeted that it was the first time he had been asked for an autograph.
“It was a great experience,” Poetzinger said. “It’s hard to put into words being able to do something you always wanted or dreamed to do.”
Willis – who helped to organize the event as the youth and amateur hockey coordinator for the Hurricanes – and Jesse Boulerice each had hat tricks. Willis smoked a slap shot past goaltender Tracy’s glove in the third period that began the Team Red comeback.
“I figured I’d try and do it in the last six minutes when his microphone was turned on, and if I didn’t score, I’d at least try to hit him in the head at least one time,” Willis said. “The Red team really turned it on. I think our conditioning kicked in for us. It was a great time. The guys enjoyed it.”
Eric Staal, scored a third-period goal and proceeded to celebrate by jumping into the glass, reminiscent of his son. Eric, watching from the West side of the arena, was grinning ear-to-ear.
Late in the third period, Team Red pulled their goaltender and sent not one extra skater off the bench but their whole team. They ended up scoring a goal.
“We talked about it and someone said, ‘Why don’t we all go?’ So we said, ‘Well, we’ll try it one time.’ It worked, so we tried it a second time,” Willis said. “I don’t know if the NHL ever passed that rule.”
When the horn sounded, Team White held onto their lead, winning 9-6. That bit of information will likely get lost in time.
“The result of the hockey game is about number 99,000 on the totem pole of importance,” Tracy said.
A “Bucket List Thing”
Experiencing what it would be like to play professional hockey isn’t something that most hockey players can say they have done. The 30 that played on Sunday are in unique company.
“What a wonderful group of guys, and the Hurricanes that came out to play, really a nice thing,” Poetzinger said.
Clearly, this wasn’t just an ordinary game.
Just ask any one of the 30 players who got to bump shoulders in the locker room with guys who have played 1,000 NHL games; who, after getting their name announced, got to skate onto a professional ice surface under a spotlight with music blaring and fans cheering; who got to be interviewed by John Forslund on camera during warm-ups and speak with the media after the game; who got to put the puck in the net after receiving a pass from someone with 1,249 NHL assists; who left the arena with memories that will last a lifetime. They’ll tell you: it was a game – and experience – like no other.
“Since I ever played goal, you always wonder what it’s like to have somebody who’s played the game for real take shots on you,” Poetzinger said. “I’ll take that away. That’s a tick-mark in the bucket list.”