At the end of October, Hurricane Sandy hit. For us at NYU, it created a weird limbo; classes were canceled, we had no power or water, and some were evacuated from dorms. Surrounded by destruction, we had a pseudo-vacation, complete with Alec Baldwin. While that may seem like a distant memory, Sandy is still affecting plenty of New Yorkers.
With that in mind, the New York Police Department hockey team squared off with a team of NHL Alumni in the Rivals For Relief game on Sunday. 70 percent of the proceeds went to the Mayors Fund to advance New York City in support of Hurricane Sandy relief efforts on behalf of the Stan Lee Foundation. The hockey game, assumed to be a secondary draw behind the charity, was surprisingly competitive and entertaining.
The game got off to a wide-opened start, with each team failing to convert on uncontested breakaways. As players looked tentative and failed to convert on soft shots, a fear began to grow that the ‘exhibition’ aspect would be taken too far and neither team would try. That fear would soon prove to be unfounded.
Just over two minutes in, the NYPD took the lead off a slick passing play on a 3-on-2 odd man rush. Despite being held scoreless for 10 and a half minutes, the alumni struck back, with former Islander Pat LaFontaine tallying also on an odd man rush.
The tie was not held for long; before the previous goal was even announced an NYPD shot rang off the post and in for a 2-1 lead. Two minutes later, the cops notched another goal, this time from a big body presence in front of goal. The teams traded scores before Darius Kasparitis committed a penalty within the final minute of the period, which under charity game rules gave the police department a penalty shot, rather than a power play. It was smoothly converted, taking them into intermission with a 4-2 lead.
Undeterred by the intermission, the NYPD came out flying, going bar-down 14 seconds into the second period. Their lead increased to 6-2 three minutes later. With the alumni reeling, the police department went for the kill on a partial breakaway. With the defensemen expecting an offside whistle, goalie Dan Blackburn was left sprawled on the ice with the puck behind him. The alumni, visibly annoyed, answered back on a bad angle wrister by Jim Dowd, making the score 7-3.
Following an NYPD goalie change at the half-way point of the game Rangers Alum Ron Duguay cut further into the lead, showing the speed he was known for in the 1970s. Their hard work in the offensive zone was undone at the other end, as poor defensive positioning led to another odd-man rush for the police department, which they converted, restoring the cushion to 8-4. Before the period ended, however, the previously maligned Kasparitis converted from the slot, sending it into the break at 8-5.
Breaking the trend of the previous two periods, the alumni struck first in the third, with Brian Mullen banking a shot in off the post. Their offensive push continued on the back of Duguay, who danced through defenders in the neutral zone before dropping the puck to Benoit Houge, who fired a shot through the goalie’s 5-hole with Doogie providing a screen.
The lead should have grown, when WFAN host Boomer Esiason took a penalty shot just before the 11 minutes mark. While his forehand-backhand move had the goalie down and out, the former NFLer missed the net. Taking advantage of the missed opportunity, the NYPD struck back, forcing a shot past Blackburn, who got a piece of the puck but couldn’t make the stop, stopping the bleeding at 9-7.
Following that goal, the alumni stepped up the intensity. Refusing to be defeated by the theoretically inferior competition, they bulged the twine twice in quick succession to tie the game at 9. Following an NYPD answer, a controversial high sticking double minor gave the alumni two penalty shots. While Ken Daneyko was stopped, Lafontaine roofed his backhand to knot the game again, this time at 10.
On the back of the momentum shift, the Vets took the lead for the first time on a short side shot from Vladamir Malakhov.The game was finally sealed when Krzysztof Oliwa, an enforcer known in his day as ‘the Polish Hammer’ scored on an assist from Dugay off the rush. The game ended a minute later with the alumni winning by a score of 12-10.
The secondary match-up of the day, however, was over the best head of hair on the ice. The alumni team boasted former Ranger and current MSG studio host Duguay. In his day, he was somewhat like the Walt Frazier of the NHL, known for his looks and personality as well as his skill. In addition to being the best player on the ice Sunday, he also played helmetless, just for old-time’s sake.
His opponent was not a police office, but veteran referee Kerry Fraser. Working in the time when players were just beginning to don helmets, Fraser’s presence on the ice was always obvious thanks to his always-immaculate helmet of a hair-do.
Following the game, everyone agreed that it was a great event for a great cause. Daneyko, sporting a bloody battle wound on his chin joked, “They always told me I had a face for radio [he does the studio show for the Devils], but it was worth it.”
NYPD Captain Charlie Venticinque shared the sentiments. “I was a Rangers fan, so I remember sitting up there [in Madison Square Garden] on my dad’s lap watching guys like Ron Dugay,” Venticinque said. “It was an honor and a privilege to be out there playing against guys you idolized and to be doing it for a good cause.”
And while the NYPD would hate to hear this cliché used, there were no winners on Sunday. With all the money raised for charity between ticket sales and a silent auction in the concourse, the game was worthwhile no matter the result. With that being said, neither team mailed it in and both put on a great show for the crowd.