VANCOUVER – A classic it was not.
But everyone involved had a good time Wednesday night at the “Bieksa’s Buddies” charity game, which featured a team of the same name—locked out Vancouver Canucks, other NHLers and assorted guests—taking on the host UBC Thunderbirds.
A sellout crowd of more than 5,000 came to get their hockey fix in a contest that had as few hits and as many goals as an NHL all-star game.
“When you throw an event like this, there’s so many things that could go wrong,” said Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa, who organized the game. “Some things are out of your control. Some things aren’t. I thought, for the most part, it went pretty smooth. We accomplished everything we needed to.”
For much of the game, the crowd cheered loudest for the Thunderbirds. The support proved fitting as the T-Birds built a sizable lead, but the Buddies stormed back with five unanswered goals in the third period to win 8-7.
Not that the final score mattered.
Most fans were there just to experience some hockey in the wake of the NHL lockout that has been in effect since Sept. 15. Some paid inflated prices beforehand from scalpers, much to Bieksa’s chagrin. The bad publicity did not deter ticket touts from showing up Wednesday night though.
“Anybody got tickets?” one asked as spectators streamed into the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Winter Sports Centre about an hour before the game.
“Anybody selling tickets,” another asked.
But nobody responded.
Meanwhile, the game drew other members of Vancouver’s sports teams.
B.C. Lions kicker Paul McCallum served as a Bieksa coach and also dropped the puck in the ceremonial opening faceoff. Recording artist Michael Buble, a co-owner of the Vancouver Giants of the WHL, also served as a coach, although he was listed in the Buddies’ lineup and even had his own No. 88 jersey.
Buble jokingly indicated that he could not play because he was hurt.
“I’m not going to say what (the injury is), but it was a lower-body (injury),” he said. “It’s actually most of my lower body and my also upper body that didn’t allow me to play tonight. And, it was probably the greatest decision that I’ve ever made in my lifetime, not playing, because it was a competitive game, and I think those UBC boys would have kicked my butt pretty bad.”
Buble also matched the $100,000 raised with another $100,000 from his own pocket. Net proceeds from the game went to three charities—Canuck Place Children’s Hospice, Canucks Autism Network and the Canucks Family Education Centre.
Former Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Martin Nash, now a coach in the MLS team’s system, played on the wing and did not look out of place. He even drew an assist on a goal by Canucks forward Aaron Volpatti, who hadn’t played since being sidelined with a shoulder injury last December.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Volpatti. “I’m hoping to get the real deal here pretty soon. It’s been a while.”
Usually a winger, Volpatti played defence as Bieksa’s team only iced 15 skaters and goaltender Cory Schneider, who allowed a goal on the first shot he faced and surrendered another soon after.
“Put (Roberto) Luongo in!” said one wise-cracking TV reporter after UBC took an early 2-1 lead.
Injured Canucks players Ryan Kesler, Alex Edler and Jason Garrison, who are still earning their paycheques because they are recuperating from injuries, and Los Angeles Kings defenceman Willie Mitchell also served as coaches for the Buddies.
The Bieksa lineup included Canucks stars Daniel and Henrik Sedin and veterans Manny Malhotra, Chris Higgins, Max Lapierre and Dan Hamhuis.
Other NHLers taking part included Pittsburgh Penguins winger Tanner Glass and defenceman Jim Vandermeer, who played for the San Jose Sharks last season but is currently an unrestricted free agent.
The Bieksa’s Buddies wore white National Hockey League Players’ Association jerseys with their names on the back along with an assortment of helmets and different-coloured pants and socks.
While Schneider played the whole game, the Thunderbirds dressed three goaltenders. UBC starting netminder Jordan White finally got to play against some Canucks after a near miss almost two years ago. White was pressed into duty as an emergency backup for the Sharks in January 2011 in Vancouver after Antero Nittymaki suffered a groin injury during the morning skate.
The NHLers broke from tradition and signed autographs as they came out for the second period.
The Buddies prevailed despite trailing 7-3 after the second period. Daniel Sedin scored the winning goal as he put the Buddies ahead 8-7 at 12:20 of the third period on a 2-on-1. Left with a wide-open net Daniel took his time in an apparent chance to give UBC time to recover, but then roofed the puck into the net.
Time will tell how soon it will be before he scores his next goal.
Notes: Bieksa, Henrik Sedin, and Schneider, a member of the NHLPA’s bargaining committee, indicated the NHL’s latest offer, which includes a 50-50 revenue split, is not acceptable. But they expressed hope that it will lead to further progress in the negotiations. … No members of Canucks management or ownership were spotted in the crowd. … Bieksa’s Buddies included his brother Marty, who scored a power-play goal in the third period. Their dad, Al, served as the lone referee.