CHESTERFIELD, Mo. — The NHL remains locked out. Saturday, Cam Janssen was locked in to fighting Hurricane Sandy.
Two weeks of whirlwind planning led to this gem: After a 9-8 victory by his “Team Black” over “Team White,” Janssen stood before a capacity crowd at the Hardee’s Iceplex with gratitude. His “Cam Janssen Fights Sandy — Hockey Helps Rebuild” charity game raised money for first responders impacted by the superstorm that affected the East Coast in October.
Janssen looked toward the bleachers, fans standing with applause. Close by, players raised their sticks near mid-ice. Hockey was back, even if this was only a taste.
“I just want to thank everybody for coming out and supporting us,” Janssen, a New Jersey Devils winger and former St. Louis Blues player, told the crowd.
“I want to thank the boys for coming out. What a great turnout. Unbelievable. We miss hockey too…. Thank you for everything everybody. Awesome to see a hockey game, awesome to play hockey in front of all you guys.”
For about two hours, there was normalcy. Hockey returned for a fan base that wonders when Scottrade Center’s organ will ring again. NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman continue to quibble over the league’s future. Meanwhile, Janssen used the opening in the schedule to throw a swing at Sandy.
The event was a collective punch, strong and focused. Blues players like center David Backes, winger T.J. Oshie, goalie Brian Elliott, winger Andy McDonald, center Scott Nichol, and defensemen Barret Jackman and Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo took part. General admission tickets sold for $20 and 100 VIP bracelets went for $200 each. A silent auction that included autographed memorabilia also was held.
“Everybody knows how hard Cam works on the ice,” Pietrangelo said. “It translates off the ice. He did so much to get this organized. Two weeks ago, he told us that he wanted to do this, and he put on this show. It’s pretty impressive. He’s an unbelievable guy to be able to set this whole thing up. We were all happy to be a part of it.”
They were happy to be part of it, because Sandy left a bruise for Janssen. The St. Louis native, who has played for New Jersey in three of his seven NHL seasons, felt a need to help prop the area that has become his professional home. He worked with Captain Patrick Byrne of Responder Rescue — an organization in St. Charles, Mo., that provides assistance for responders — to make the event possible.
“It’s awesome that they’re donating their time to help the police, firefighters and EMS workers,” said Debbie St. John, a member of Responder Rescue’s executive committee. “It’s just awesome.”
This was awesome too: Action on the ice that served as a reminder of what’s missed with a lockout that has stolen 327 games, including the Winter Classic. The pace was quick, the commitment high and colorful accessories were present: Caps were tossed onto the ice after Janssen earned a hat trick late in the second period; a horn was blown, followed by a “Let’s…go…Blues!” chant; and with about five minutes left in the third period, fans started a “We want hockey!” cheer.
“It felt great,” Janssen said. “You get energized, and you feel their presence. We haven’t felt that in awhile, and that’s a unique feeling, and it was good to see it.”
Others thought so too. Afterward, Janssen mingled in the rink’s VIP area with players and supporters. This event was a labor of love, and seeing it come together was his reward.
He sipped his drink from a plastic cup. The NHL lockout lingers, but he and others rallied for a cause larger than themselves while they wait.
“It was beautiful,” Janssen said. “It’s a sigh of relief, because I put a lot of hard work into it.”