Denied NHL pre-season games because of the lockout, hockey-starved fans got possibly even better value for their money at a suburban Montreal rink Thursday night.
Montreal Canadiens stars Brian Gionta, Andre Markov and Josh Gorges, as well as Simon Gagne and Jonathan Bernier of the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings were among 20 NHL players who took part in the first game of the Tournee des Joueurs at the Complex Multisports de Chateauguay.
Maxime Talbot and Jason Pominville each scored twice to lead the red "Montreal" squad to a 7-4 win over the white "Quebec" team.
First-come, first-served tickets sold at the door for $20 drew a standing-room-only crowd of 1,250 to the multi-rink arena.
Talbot and Bruno Gervais, both of the Philadelphia Flyers, organized the tour, which will see more games played next week in Saint-Hyacinthe and Sherbrooke.
"We could go in any rink, close the door and have these two rosters and just play between us and compete and try to get ready for next season," Talbot said. "But at the same time we decided we might as well give a show to the fans and get money for charity.
"So the fans are really something that is important for us, to give them a little hockey while they can't get NHL hockey and hopefully they'll enjoy what we're putting on the ice."
Chicago goalie Corey Crawford, a native of Chateauguay, got the win behind a lineup that also included Gionta, Markov, Gorges, Gervais, Alexandre Burrows, Guillaume Latendresse, Colby Armstrong, Mathieu Darche, Derick Brassard and Steve Begin.
"It's crazy," Crawford said. "This town, they don't really get a chance to see players like this live, especially coming to their hometown rink, my hometown rink. It's unbelievable for them.
"I think the kids really enjoyed it and it's a great experience for everyone."
Gagne and fellow Quebec City natives Patrice Bergeron, Steve Bernier and David Desharnais were among the members of the losing squad, along with Lars Eller, Travis Moen, Brandon Prust, Francis Bouillon, Roman Hamrlik, Benoit Pouliot, Mathieu Perreault.
Lilianne Demers was in the front row wearing her Canadiens jersey.
"My favourite player is Lars Eller and he's just right there in front of me," said the 14-year-old high school student, who brandished a puck which cost her a bruise on her right hip.
The hard-won souvenir will prove to be a special keepsake from a memorable evening in the wake of the NHL's confirmation earlier Thursday that it had scrapped its pre-season schedule.
"I think it's sad because no one thinks of the fans," Demers said.
Collective bargaining talks are set to resume in the wake of the NHL's announcement that it was cancelling the rest of the pre-season schedule.
"I think the fact that they're meeting is a good thing," Gionta said. "I'm not quite sure if anything will come of it but I think it's a good start. At least they're speaking and they're willing to try to get a resolution to this."