News | 8/8/2011 3:14:50 PM | Warren Kosel

Former Sabre Tim Connolly & Brian Gionta

The everlasting brotherhood of hockey players really is second to none in professional sports, especially those who make up the local fraternity here in Rochester, where several of the game’s past and current stars currently call their home.

It’s an unbreakable bond that unifies its members, as evidenced by the outpouring support demonstrated by Rochester’s hockey community at the second annual Craig Charron Memorial Classic that took place Sunday evening at the Sports Centre at MCC.

The celebrity exhibition contest attracted more than 1,700 loyal supporters and featured current National Hockey League stars like Ryan Callahan, Brian Gionta, Erik Cole and Tim Connolly faceoff against former Amerks Scott Metcalfe, Paul Gaustad, Patrick Kaleta and Martin Biron.

The hockey community once again affirmed why it’s among the best as it gathered to not only witness some of the greatest names in the sport on the ice together, but more importantly, pay tribute to the life and memory of Rochester Americans Hall of Famer Craig Charron.

“Sharky” passed away on October 19, 2010 at the age of 42 after a 10-month battle against stomach cancer, leaving behind his wife, Wendy, and their four children, Nicholas, Jackson, Hunter and Emma.

“It just goes to show you how tight-knit the hockey community really is,” said ex-Amerks and Sabres enforcer Andrew Peters. “It doesn’t matter if you know the guy or don’t know the guy. Hockey guys are the kind of guys that will always be there for each other. That’s just who we are and we’ll never forget him.”

“Just take a look around and see how strong this hockey community really is,” echoed former Amerks head coach John Tortorella, who addressed the crowd before the game as the honorary chairman for the event. “Take a look at the list of players who made it out today. This just shows you the kind of people hockey players really are how much of an impact ‘Sharky’ had on everyone.”

It was Tortorella’s first time back in Rochester since serving as the Amerks’ bench boss from 1995-97, including guiding the team to their last and most recent Calder Cup championship in 1996. Now, entering his third season at the helm of the New York Rangers, Tortorella couldn’t think of anywhere he would rather be than back where he enjoyed one of the most successful stints of his coaching career.

“I am humbled and honored to be here today, and I’m extremely disappointed I missed last year’s event,” said Tortorella, who also won a Stanley Cup championship with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004. “This is a tremendous event because it honors an individual who was a great player, but an even better person.”

The game consisted of a showdown of “Sharky Blue” taking on “Sharky White”, in which all players respectfully and appropriately donned Charron’s legendary No. 5. The teams, captained by Charron’s sons, Nicholas and Jackson, were coached by Tortorella (White) and Amerk Hall of Famer Geordie Robertson. Rochester native Billy Sauer, Buffalo Sabres prospect David Leggio and Biron all split time between the pipes.

Prior to the game, Greece native Brian Gionta presented Nicholas Charron with his very own game-worn sweater, the same one he used during the 2010-11 season as captain of the Montreal Canadiens. In similar fashion, Hilton’s Ryan Callahan offered his No. 24 New York Rangers uniform to Jackson Charron, fully equipped with the “A”, signifying his alternate captain status he’s held with the team the last few seasons.

In addition to full-team introductions of all the players participating in the event, the pre-game festivities also included a ceremonial puck-drop with Tortorella and the Charron boys and a brief testimonial from former Amerks captain Scott Nichol.

“‘Sharky’ was a great friend, but he was an even greater person,” said Nichol, who played three seasons with Charron, including Rochester’s Calder Cup run in 1996. “He not only taught me the game of hockey, but he was instrumental in teaching me the game of life and how to be a good person. I look around and see all these people that are here tonight and that just shows you the lasting impression he had on us all.”

The game saw Team Blue jump out to a commanding 3-0 lead within the opening minutes of the first half with goals from Sabres prospect Marus Foligno, ex-Amerk Paul Gaustad and local product Ryan Flanagan. Callahan also had his hand in the first two goals, assisting on both.

Team White would rally back, however, with the first of four straight tallies, starting with Gionta’s nifty move on a breakaway to put his team on the board. Chicago Blackhawks prospect and Auburn native Jeremy Morin then potted back-to-back tallies, including one via penalty shot, before Mark McCutcheon, son of former Amerks head coach Brian McCutcheon, converted on his own breakaway opportunity to send Team White to a 4-3 lead over Team Blue at the half.

Ex-Sabre and current Toronto Maple Leaf Tim Connolly evened things up at four apiece to kickoff the second half, but McCutcheon capitalized on an impressive tic-tac-toe passing play with Nick Scahus and Kyle Palmieri of the Anaheim Ducks to restore Team White’s one-goal advantage.

The teams would exchange goals throughout the remainder of the game. Schaus made it a 6-4 game not long before Rochester’s own John Padulo brought Team Blue back within one. Morin then completed the hat trick with his third of the game, but not without another last-minute come-from-behind rally from Team Blue as Flanagan netted his second of the night to make it 7-6 heading into the final minute of play.

With only 30 seconds left in regulation, Peters, in the midst of his first summer of retirement, found the top right corner over from the high slot to set the stage for a dramatic finish, sending the game to a shootout to determine the winner.

Biron never saw Peters’ shot through traffic, and before he was able to get his glove on it, the puck was already in the back of the net and Peters was in the middle of his celebration to the elation of the crowd. In response, Biron scooped up the puck from the back of the net, skated it out to center ice and personally hand-delivered Peters his souvenir, insinuating it was the fighter’s best goal of his career.

“Marty and I sat next to each other for a long time on the bench in Buffalo before Ryan (Miller) came in,” said Peters after the game. “I felt bad that I scored on him, but he really did not see it go in. I thought it was in my best interests with him going to training camp and his coach being here that a nine-month retired fighter can score on him to force the game-winning shootout. It was all in the nature of our friendship.”

“It was definitely a clutch goal that he scored at the end there,” said Biron. “To be honest, I did not see at all. It was a great shot that hit the top corner through the defenseman’s legs. I was concerned with his minus-six (plus/minus rating) up until then, but that is as clutch of a performance you’re going to get from Andrew Peters,” countered Biron.

Although facing a 3-0 deficit in the early stages of the game, Team White prevailed in the shootout 2-1 with goals from Nichol and Oswego’s Erik Cole, despite Peters’ multiple attempts as the final shooter for Team Blue to force extra rounds.

With the game in his hands again, Peters’ initial shot was denied by Biron, only for him to collect the rebound for a second and third time before accepting defeat. Biron even left his crease to retrieve the puck in the corner and passed it to Peters at center ice, encouraging and welcoming a third and final attempt.

Aside from the series of friendly banter and the affable chitchat among the ranks at one another, the game did represent who Charron was and the way he conducted himself on and off the ice. It was another opportunity for those in attendance to really celebrate Charron’s life and the profound effect he had on those who were closest to him.

“It’s a great event and it’s really nice to honor Craig and his family like this,” said Gaustad, now a permanent fixture with the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres. “It’s nice to see all the guys come together and help out. I knew Craig a little bit, but anything you can do to help out someone in the hockey community is great. It’s always good to see guys step up.”

“I played with Craig earlier in my career when I was a rookie with the Rochester Americans,” added Gaustad. “He always preached professionalism whether it was on the ice or off.”

Despite being a two-time MVP, Rochester’s leading scorer and a Calder Cup champ, some say his biggest achievement was with people. He succeeded most in life as someone who was always willing and able to lend a helping hand and he had the natural ability to change a person’s life through a small gesture or a simple act of kindness.

“He was a guy who was always really good with the younger guys,” recalls Peters. “I was only 20 years old when I first started playing and he was someone I could always rely on for good, positive feedback. Whatever problem you had, he was always there to help you out.”

“Craig was one of the best players I’ve ever had the pleasure to coach,” said Tortorella. “He was someone that gave it his best on the ice, but I’ll always remember for him the person he was. He may not be with us now, but he’s not gone.”

TEAM WHITE                                                                    TEAM BLUE
Nicholas Charron (team captain                          Jackson Charron (team captain)
Dave Leggio                                                     Marin Biron
Brian Gionta                                                     Clarke MacArthur
Steve Gionta                                                    Ryan Callahan
Erik Cole                                                         Matthew Barnaby
Scott Nichol                                                      Paul Gaustad
Patrick Kaleta                                                   Tim Connolly
Kyle Palmieri                                                    Scott Bartlett
Jeremy Morin                                                    Marcus Foligno
Jason Cipolla                                                    Dan Frawley
Mark McCutcheon                                              Scott Metcalfe
Chris Palmer                                                     Ryan Flanagan
Cole Bardreau                                                   John Padulo
Dan Ford                                                          Matt Lane
Nick Schaus                                                      Nick Tuzzolino
Rory Fitzpatrick                                                 Andrew Peters
Frank Lattuca                                                    Dan Ringwald
Kevin Quick                                                      Dave Shields
Dave Leaderer                                                  Cameron Burt
Vinny Pizzo                                                       Bill Sauer
John Tortorella (Honorary Chairman/Coach)          Geordie Robertson (Coach)


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