Chicago area aching for hockey

ROSEMONT, Ill. -- One thing became clear by the time the night was over: people in the Chicago area miss their hockey. And that’s not just the fans talking.

“It was fun playing with these two (Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp) guys again,” Blackhawks star Patrick Kane said after his team lost 16-15 Friday night in the ‘Champs for Charity’ game at Allstate Arena. “Johnny and Sharpie -- it feels like forever since we’ve been back on the ice. A lot of memories, a lot of good times and always fun scoring goals.”

NHL players from around the country and those working out in Chicago played in the charity event which raised over $320,000 for the Ronald McDonald House of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana. Kane won MVP honors with a four-goal effort and there were plenty of laughs along the way. It provided a brief respite from the problems facing the league -- which canceled all November games earlier in the day.

“They’re going to keep exercising the power that they have to lock us out and try to use the fact that they can cancel games to try and sway us their way,” Toews said before he took the ice Friday.

Union boss Donald Fehr attended but wanted to keep a low profile. The idea of an exhibition game for charity -- full of entertaining antics -- along with some competitive hockey contrasts with the dour feeling that the six week old lockout emotes. But for one night, over 11,000 hockey fans embraced the idea of a game -- even if it's just for fun -- with some their favorite players.

“The atmosphere was awesome,” Kane said. “To get 11,000 fans for something like this was pretty special. It shows how many people are searching for hockey.”

And, again, that includes the players. No matter the meaning of the game, their competitive nature takes over.

“We obviously love to play together, the three of us,” Toews said of he, Sharp and Kane. “You saw sometimes tonight we were moving the puck well and making some plays. I think just getting that feel back makes you want to get back out there.”

And when Chicago was down a goal with minutes remaining: “We said we’re not coming off the ice until we score,” Kane explained.

They did, and eventually the night ended in a shootout with Dan Carcillo scoring the winning goal and celebrating it in an excessive manner. It was one of many entertaining moments which celebrity coaches Ryan Dempster and Robbie Gould also helped provide. And those on the ice know where the energy in the building came from.

“I think you saw the pace was pretty good right off the start,” Toews said. “It just goes to show you we have some great hockey fans here in Chicago.”

That’s not in dispute. How long they remain great fans might be. The Hawks might have a large leash of goodwill with their fan base but the league certainly does not. And the longer the lockout goes on, the less good-feel charity games like Friday night will have an impact.

“It’s almost to the point where you kind of believe they are excited to do this just because they’re the NHL,” Toews said of the league canceling more games.

So for now a glorified all-star game will have to do. Luckily, the performance by those involved as well as the money raised made the night a successful one. But it still isn’t what everyone wants.

“It’s hitting me now, it’s my last night in Chicago,” Kane said as prepared to leave for Switzerland to play during the lockout. “It will be exciting when I come back and play with the Hawks again.”

When that is, is anyone’s guess.