Like cold cream for a broken bone, the charity hockey game hosted by Kevin Bieksa Wednesday night between pro players and the University of B.C. men’s hockey team wasn’t a fix for the NHL season but gave fans three periods of welcome, momentary happiness.
A crowd of more than 5,000 was eager to see the Canucks take to the ice and take on anyone. Of course, the Vancouver Canucks weren’t on the ice. A team of hockey professionals, Bieksa’s Buddies, wore home-team white NHLPA jerseys and hosted the T-birds at Doug Mitchell Sports Centre.
Before the puck dropped, Bieksa told the T-birds — who are more accustomed to entertaining a crowd of hundreds, not thousands — “You guys remind me of the guys from Slap Shot in those jerseys. This is going to be awesome.”
He thanked volunteers and told the crowd, “I don’t know who you’re cheering for… sounds like the Thunderbirds.”
The varsity players impressed. Ben Schmidt opened scoring five minutes into the first frame and the T-birds put their first two shots past Cory Schneider to lead 2-1.
Schneider allowed three goals on the first nine shots he faced and endured catcalls from the crowd. Both are only natural for a Vancouver goaltender in October.
After the game, a large press corps crowded close to the players and someone remarked, “It’s like it’s the frickin Stanley Cup.”
UBC head coach Milan Dragicevic described it as an all-star game.
The T-birds ran up the score 7-3 by the end of the second period and equalled Bieksa’s crew of 23 shots. The student-athletes wouldn’t score in the third however, and Manny Malhotra popped home the pros’ 42nd shot of the night for the go-ahead, game-winning goal. Bieksa’s Buddies won 7-8.
The score was but an incidental detail.
“It was fun just to think about hockey for a night,” said Schneider. “It felt like a game. They've got some guys who can shoot the puck — a couple of those one-timers under the bar, you just tip your cap. It was the most fun I've had giving up seven goals.”
The fun, freewheeling game briefly hushed the nagging reality of the NHL lockout and the squabbling millionaire players and multi-millionaire owners.
Hockey was a game again and everyone played along. Late in the game, Ilan Cumberbirch was sent to the penalty box and the announcer keyed in on his long, slick hair, “Two minutes… For looking so good at one minute, 57 seconds. Just kidding, it was roughing.”
Daniel and Henrik Sedin played tic tac toe and scored, drawing some of the biggest cheers all night.
Ryan Kesler and Alex Edler were on the bench as coaches along with Michael Buble who hinted he would skate but whose status at game-time was still up in the air. The co-owner of the WHL Vancouver Giants said a “lower-body injury,” which he also described as “nerves,” kept him from playing.
Nonetheless, the Burnaby crooner made the best play of the night by donating $100,000 to the three charities benefiting from the game, Canuck Place Children’s Hospice, The Canucks Autism Network and the Canucks Family Education Centre. The game raised approximately $200,000 in total.
Dressed in Canucks colours, wearing scarves, puck-shaped foam hats and signed jerseys, thousands of spectators got a taste of NHL hockey during the NHL lockout. But it wasn’t completely satisfying.
“It’s a tease,” said Neil Lonzon, who drove from Langley to watch the game with his wife and their two-year-old son “It’s a big-time tease. We do miss the real thing.”
In something like a regular season NHL game, scalpers purchased $20 tickets for the charity match and tried to sell them at marked-up prices. One pair was offered on Craigslist for $300. Bieksa and Daniel Sedin reprimanded this behaviour, and the latter said scalpers “should be embarrassed.”
Outside the UBC ice rink Wednesday afternoon, one man was offering tickets to the game. He said he was a Canucks season ticket holder and also scalps tickets outside Rogers Arena. “You musta seen me there, I’ve been there for years.” He said he purchased 10 tickets to the charity game and had so far sold six at $40 each.
The game made for a special night for Sarah Revill and Micah Reid, who regularly attend Canucks games through the winter and build their social life around hockey. She uses a wheelchair and the married couple said they acutely feel the loss of the NHL hockey season so far.
“We’re just beside ourselves,” she said.
He said, “That’s the only thing we look forward to in the winter. We can’t go out if it’s raining or snowing. [Hockey] is one of those things we look forward to: hibernating and watching hockey.”
“We never forget about the fans,” said Manny Malhotra. “We never lose sight of that. It's just fun to play in front of fans again.”
Bieksa said he hopes to organize a second charity game if the NHL season is further postponed.
For more pictures from the game, visit vancourier.com/sports