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NHLers raise $100K in charity game

TORONTO — For one night, Steven Stamkos and 38 other locked-out NHL players were back where they belonged.

The passes might not have been as crisp, the shifts weren’t nearly as intense and the atmosphere wasn’t quite up to par with a typical NHL arena, but the joy of being back on the ice was undeniable for the participants in Wednesday’s charity game at the former Maple Leaf Gardens.

And reminders of the NHL — last seen on ice in June, when the L.A. Kings lifted the Stanley Cup — were everywhere to be found. The most interesting sight was in the stands, where a good portion of the 2,600 fans in the crowd dusted off sweaters that have been collecting dust during the lockout.

Among the teams represented? The Habs, Red Wings, Maple Leafs, Oilers, Bruins, Devils, Penguins, Flames and, naturally, a few Lightning jerseys emblazoned with “No. 91” and “Stamkos.”

“That was outstanding,” said Stamkos. “Obviously, the fans are hurting through this process. I’ve had an opportunity to play in two charity games (during the lockout) — the Hurricane Sandy relief one in Atlantic City (last month) and that was an unbelievable turnout. It was a big venue and we sold that out.

“This one was a little smaller one, but still the great support from the fans — that’s why we have the best fans in all of sports in my opinion and it was great to play in front of them.”

For the record, the Stamkos side came out on top of P.K. Subban’s team 14-10, but the only number anyone was concerned about afterwards was the $100,000 raised for the NHLPA’s Goals & Dreams Fund and RBC’s Play Hockey initiative.

It was clear from the get-go that this evening was about the people who paid $25 to watch a game of shinny. Some players threw sticks into the crowd during the warmup while others launched NHLPA hats and shirts over the glass during stoppages.

The game was played at the newly minted Mattamy Athletic Centre, where Ryerson University’s hockey teams now play. The building opened earlier this year after sitting dormant for more than a decade after the Maple Leafs last called it home in February 1999.



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