The Alumni Fantasy Game is not just a game, but rather a unique experience unlike any other.
That much was evident walking into the locker room after the game, seeing the smiles and introspection on each of the paying participant’s faces, as they grasped onto their fantasies lived out just moments prior.
“There’s nothing better,” said Jason Sorrentino, a 39-year-old tax account from New Jersey. “I can die a happy man.”
Though likely to get lost in the grander memories of skating with legends, Team White topped Team Red by a score of 5-3 in the second annual event held Sunday afternoon at PNC Arena. Just over 2,700 fans were in attendance, and the event took in $52,600 ($9,225 in donations at the door), which surpasses the fundraising efforts from last year’s inaugural event. All of funds collected will be given back to the community through grants to various deserving non-profits.
“It was awesome. There were a lot of people cheering us on,” said first-time participant Matt Alala. “It was just a really good time.”
A Complete Experience
The game itself was, of course, the highlight of the package for the 19 paying participants. But the experience extended beyond the 60-minute friendly match with some of the best to ever wear a Hurricanes’ sweater.
It began Saturday, as the participants took in the Hurricanes morning skate before dressing out for a practice of their own. New for this year, the two teams held a full practice with the alumni, led by Canes assistant coach Rod Brind’Amour. The night was capped off as the group watched the Hurricanes defeat the Boston Bruins 4-2.
Sunday marked the main event, as the paying participants made their way into the recently renovated, history-rich Hurricanes locker room, where they found each of their names adorned on a nameplate at the peak of the stalls. This was their life for a day.
“I had a couple of buddies that told me about it and they were like, ‘You ought to do it,’” Alala recalled. “And I was like, ‘Yeah, once in a lifetime opportunity.’ It was an unbelievable time.”
John Forslund introduced each player as if it were the All-Star Game or the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with music blaring and the spotlight shining down. The crowd was on its feet.
“It was a huge rush,” Alala said. “I just wanted to make sure I didn’t fall down.”
Notably more low-scoring than last year’s inaugural contest, the second annual Alumni Fantasy Game saw the two teams combine for eight goals, including a penalty shot tally and an empty-net goal.
The penalty shot goal, scored in the third period by Glen Wesley, was the game-winner.
And it was a nifty move, as well.
Wesley skated in, did a spin-o-rama and turned his back to goaltender Jorge Alves before turning back around and burying a shot glove side, a move you probably wouldn’t have expected to see from a 44-year-old defenseman who hasn’t played in the NHL since 2008.
“As soon as he was coming in slowly, I said to myself, ‘I’m poking, I’m poking,’” Alves said. “He turned his back to me, and I was like, ‘That’s like shooting a man in the back. I can’t do that.’ So then I got all confused, he turned around, shot it and got me.”
Unofficially, Alves had some amount of saves and Tracy had another amount. None was better than the glove saves each of them made, both highlight-reel worthy. In the first period, Alves made a patient glove snare on Jesse Boulerice, who burst into the zone and crashed the net with speed.
“We have a long-time history of skating in the summer time, and I kind of had a feeling he was going to go glove side, maybe five-hole,” Alves said. “I just had my glove in the right spot, and he put it right in there.”
The save came just a day after Justin Peters robbed Jaromir Jagr with a spread-eagle desperation glove stop.
“I couldn’t match that one,” Alves said, laughing at the comparison. “That was unbelievable.”
Tracy responded to Alves’ glove work with a great save with the mitt on Cory Stillman in the second period.
“I showed him what I had, and he showed me what he had,” Alves said of the goaltending duel.
In addition to Wesley, Stillman, Bates Battaglia and Steve Rice were the other goal scorers from the crop of alumni. Four paying participants also potted goals; Sorrentino opened the scoring, and Mike Hearne sealed Team White’s victory with an empty-netter.
“Scoring a goal put this on top of my bucket list forever,” said Sorrentino, who plans to frame the puck and his autographed, game-word jersey. “I’m keeping it forever.”
Alala also got on the board, and he’ll have quite the story to tell his friends. After missing the net on an initial chance, Alala parked himself in front of the net. Brind’Amour circled around behind the net and placed the puck right on Alala’s tape for the one-timer.
What amateur hockey player can say he has scored on a one-timer with a perfectly-placed pass from someone who has 732 career assists and 1,484 career points?
“I just went to the front of the net and there he was. Good to have someone like that on your side,” Alala said. “It’s always easy when you’ve got someone like that to pass it to you.”
A Weekend to Remember
Sorrentino, who said he was a Hartford Whalers fan dating back to 1987 and kept his allegiance to the franchise when they became the Carolina Hurricanes 10 years later, drove nine hours from New Jersey just for this experience. In fact, he even purchased season tickets for the sole purpose of guaranteeing his spot in the game.
“It was all worth it,” he said with a grin.
“Guys come in, they get an opportunity to skate with these legends,” Alves said. “They come out here and have a great time.”
That’s the essence of what has become an annual treat for the participants and fans alike. It’s not about the game or the stats or the outcome; it’s about the experience of living the dream, even if only for a day.
“I’m pretty sure I’ll be doing it next year, too,” Alala said, smiling.