Rain is no pain at Ivor Wynne

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:11 AM ET

As the great Gordie Howe stood at centre ice and peered up at the stands at rain-soaked Ivor Wynne Stadium last night, it was difficult to tell whether he was wiping rain drops or tears from his eyes. Chances are, it was both.

About 20,000 water-logged fans had just serenaded the venerable Howe with a hearty rendition of Happy Birthday as part of an emotional tribute to Mr. Hockey, who recently turned 77.

Howe has experienced pretty much everything in more than seven decades of his hockey life, but never a moment quite like this.

Moments later, Howe dropped the ceremonial opening faceoff between captains Doug Gilmour and Steve Staios, and it was game on.

"To see the reaction to Gordie, it was overwhelming, not just for the fans, but us as well," Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan Smyth said. "I bet if his body allowed it, he'd have played with us too."

On a damp gusty night along the shores of Lake Ontario, the much-ballyhooed charity event billed as "Our Game to Give" probably should have been renamed "The Slogfest in Steeltown."

But not even Mother Nature's cruel combination of pelting showers and bitter winds could stop this evening from being considered a success.

If ever the resolve of hockey-starved fans yearning for their Saturday night shinny fix was on display, it was here in Hamilton.

Braving the elements, the massive throng oohed and ahhed as 26 locked-out NHLers joined up with a number of former players to slosh though several puddles in the makeshift rink in a game in which Team Gilmour outlasted Team Staios, 11-8.

"It was a little warmer than the Heritage Game," said Smyth, whose Oilers played the Montreal Canadiens in frigid conditions at Commonwealth Stadium 17 months ago in front of 50,000 fans.

"But it was tough going against the wind out there."

Prior to the game, Smyth handed his cellphone to coach Terry Crisp.

"My wife is expecting, so I told him to let me know if it rings."

For Wade Redden, Marty Brodeur and Kris Draper, who have received invites for Team Canada, it was a fun, if not bizarre, tuneup.

Draper, for example, was set up for a second period goal by Indianapolis Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt, who exchanged his cleats for blades.

Vanderjagt, however, was not as successful when he slipped and pushed a 40-yard field goal attempt wide right as part of a promotion during the second-period intermission, earning the former Argonaut a round of deafening jeers from the pro-Ticat crowd.

Boos aside, what mattered the most on this night was the money raised for a pair of charities -- the tsunami fund of the Canadian Red Cross and Camp Trillium, which houses cancer-stricken children.


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