NEWARK, N.J. -- Andrei Kovalenko scored a hat trick and added an assist as Team Russia defeated the North American squad, 7-6, in the Global Legends charity game staged Saturday at the Prudential Center.
The event gave fans the opportunity to watch and meet some of the game's biggest names. But more importantly, the event and related charitable activities raised more than $50,000 for those affected by Hurricane Sandy.
What started as a conversation between former New Jersey Devils defenseman Ken Daneyko and Kontinental Hockey League president Alexander Medvedev eventually produced the charity game. Tickets only went on sale 11 days before puck drop, but a strong fan contingent made it out regardless.
"I got to know Alex Medvedev, who is so generous with his time and with his resources. We approached [Devils owner, Jeff] Vanderbeek and he was very interested as long as we could figure out a time," said Daneyko, who personally called friends and former teammates about taking part. "We've all been affected. I've been in Jersey 30 years. I'm very tentative to ask guys, because it's tough to get them out of their busy schedules. Almost every guy said they'll be there."
Ticket revenue was only part of the funds collected for the event. Autographed memorabilia was auctioned off in the arena's main concourse and, in an interesting twist on philanthropy, players auctioned off their own jerseys on the ice between periods. Stephane Richer sold two separate jersey-and-stick combinations for $3,000 each.
And while the game started slowly in the first period, the action picked up as players found their legs, not to mention their competitive spirit.
"I don't do this at all. This is my first game ever since I retired. But when Ken Daneyko called and said he was putting together a game for Sandy Relief, I said yes right away," said Brendan Shanahan, the former Devil and Ranger who currently serves as the NHL's Senior Vice President of Player Safety and Hockey Operations. "You want to have fun and you know the guy you're playing with is probably in the same boat as you. He went down to look for the equipment last night. At the same time, that competitiveness is always in you."
The Russian team, coached by longtime Soviet great Sergei Makarov, took the lead midway through the first when Rustem Kamaletdinov finished a cross-ice pass from Alexey Pogonin. His quick shot beat North American goaltender Chris Terreri and gave the Russian Legends a 1-0 lead.
Kovalenko got his first of the game a few minutes later, making a nice move on Terreri after being awarded a penalty shot, which were handed out by longtime NHL referee Kerry Fraser instead of two-minute penalties. Victor Gordiuk gave the Russians a 3-0 lead just 1:42 later.
Down after two periods, the North American line of Shanahan, Bill Guerin and Brian Propp started taking control. The trio combined for 1,510 goals in their respective careers and got the North American Legends on the board 6:51 into the second when Guerin put home a rebound off his own shot. Kovalenko would score his second of the game moments later, followed by a Shanahan goal that made for three scores in a 2:26 span.
Kovalenko would complete his hat trick late in the period before earning an assist on Vladimir Malakhov's goal 34 seconds later. The former Devil and Islander's goal made the score 6-2, but the action was picking up and the crowd was getting louder.
"It was very competitive. I could feel the camaraderie," said Rod Gilbert, the former Rangers great who served as a coach for the North American Legends alongside Phil Esposito and Chico Resch. "It was not that long ago when I quit playing these alumni games. But I'm glad I wasn't out there, the pace was really fast. I think the fans enjoyed it."
Although the game grew more intense, there was also time for levity among players. Early in the third, Grant Marshall responded to Vitali Prokhorov's hit from behind by kissing the Russian defenseman on the check. Minutes later, with Russian goaltender Andrey Malkov pulled after the North American Legends were assessed a delayed penalty, former Ranger Ron Duguay ignored the referees whistle and scored into an empty net, making sure to celebrate the play.
The ensuing penalty shot pitted Malakhov against Mark LaForest, who replaced Terreri in the third period. While the Russian defenseman slowly strided towards the North American net, Marshall jokingly threw a glove in his path.
Those jokes may have helped the North American Legends catch their Russian counterparts off guard.
Three third-period goals in less than six minutes courtesy of Jim Dowd, Shanahan and Marshall cut the Russian lead to 6-5 and got the mostly-partisan crowd going. But when Valeri Kamensky scored on a penalty shot with just over five minutes remaining, the game appeared to be in hand. Rangers legend Brian Leetch scored late to make the game close, but the Russian Legends held on for the 7-6 win, a result that hardly mattered when the final horn sounded.
"It was great to see friends, teammates," Kamensky said. "It was a great game. Good for fans, good for everybody."
With players staying on the ice after the final whistle to sign autographs for fans, the event slowly came to a close having done a lot in a short time to aid the victims of Hurricane Sandy. And for the players who participated, many of whom still live in the New York/New Jersey area, it was nice to see old friends while giving something back.
"A lot of us live here in Jersey, so a lot of us witnessed [Sandy] firsthand. This was just a tremendous turnout by everybody," Terreri said. "It's great to see some old friends. You can't say enough about the way they put it on. It was tremendous."