Hockey night in Cornwall a hit with fans and players

Hockey night in Cornwall a hit with fans and players

CORNWALL, Ont. — While the NHL lockout has left many hockey fans crying in their beer, there was dancing in the stands at the presence of NHL players here Monday night.

A crowd of 4,800 showed up at the Cornwall Civic Complex, paying $20 each for the right to see long lost locked out big-league players from the Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens, Winnipeg Jets, Columbus Blue Jackets, New Jersey Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins in a charity game.

For those keeping track, Daniel Alfredsson’s Team White defeated Jesse Winchester’s Team Black 13-9, but the biggest winners were the First Assist Charity and the Max Keeping Foundation, who took home all the proceeds. The charity tour will continue on to Thunder Bay next Monday, followed by a three-game tour of the Northwest Territories the following week.

Considering there were only nine skaters aside, the game wasn’t played at the pace or with the intensity of a regular season NHL game – or even a pre-season tilt – but it was a hit with the fans just the same.

The seats were full of fans wearing Canadiens, Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers and Team Canada sweaters. The children in the crowd, a good portion wearing their own team sweaters, were into the act early, dancing in the aisles in anticipation. The game started a few minutes late because the players coming in from Montreal – the Senators’ Guillaume Latendresse, along with Josh Georges and Brian Gionta of the Canadiens – were stuck in traffic on the way to the arena.

There were few complaints. Certainly none were coming from the Cornwall Peewee B’s, who took the ice for a once-in-a-lifetime experience during the first intermission, going head-to-head with the NHL players in a mini-game. Throughout that contest, Chris Neil good naturedly knocked sticks out of players hands, lightly pushed them along the boards and patted the tops of their helmets. The highlight came when the buzzer sounded, as the peewees came in waves at Neil, dropping their gloves as they approached. One by one, Neil pushed them to the ice.

As for the main event, there was more than enough offence to go around.

Alfredsson, who was originally hesitant to sign up for the game, believing that his once per week practice schedule might leave him a step behind the others, tied the game 1-1 and later added another goal and three assists. Depending on what happens with the NHL lockout, they could possibly have been the final points of Alfredsson’s illustrious career.

He was the star attraction, cheered throughout and greeted with the a few “Alfie, Alfie” chants. As expected, the offence was everywhere and the defence was limited. The offensive star was Latendresse, who finished the night with two goals – one on a penalty shot – and five assists. Senators coach Paul MacLean would probably take that daily production when and if the lockout ever ends.

The good vibrations continued after the game, when NHL players hung around to sign autographs.

The fans clearly enjoyed their taste of the NHL, but it was a reciprocal feeling. Playing in front of a crowd has been a long time coming for most.

“It’s a little bit more meaningful (than practice),” said defenceman Chris Phillips. “It’s just the surroundings, the people coming out to watch and cheer.”

Defenceman Marc Methot even acknowledged having some nerves beforehand. It was his first pseudo-competitive game since representing Canada in the world championships in May and the first time fans have seen him play since he joined the Senators in a trade for Nick Foligno.

He also laughed about his ah, fond, memories of the Cornwall Civic Complex. Methot, who once played for Kanata in the Central Junior Hockey League, was the enemy against the Cornwall Colts.

“Oh my god, the place was a jungle,” Methot said, with a laugh. “I remember having things thrown at me, everything from batteries to beer cans. It was awesome.”

On Monday, though, nobody threw anything. Except, of course, for the few light hits Neil delivered to the kids along the boards.

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