APATLANTIC CITY, NJ -- Justin Williams knew what Saturday night's Operation Hat Trick charity game in Atlantic City, N.J. meant to the people who were affected by Hurricane Sandy.
The Los Angeles Kings forward spent his summers at the Jersey shore when he came up with the Philadelphia Flyers. He met his wife there, and after owning a condominium nearby, the couple purchased a home in Ventnor, just a few miles from Atlantic City.
Williams' home made out fine during the hurricane, but the severity of the damage affected many in the area. "You tour around and see other people who weren't so lucky. You feel for those people," said Williams.
Which is why Operation Hat Trick was a roaring success. It brought together various NHL stars; sold out an 11,000 seat arena; gave those fans a taste of real live hockey -- something they haven't seen in a while; and once everything is tallied up, the event will have raised a ton of money to benefit the Empire State Relief Fund, the New Jersey Hurricane Relief Fund and the American Red Cross.
The storm hit the last weekend in October, and in three weeks the entire event was organized.
"I'm surprised how it took off so quickly," Williams said. "It gained momentum. With the storm hitting it gave us another legitimate reason to try and raise money."
Last June 11, when Williams was busy celebrating his second Stanley Cup success, he wouldn't have guessed the next "game" he would play would be for charity at the end of November. But with CBA talks still ongoing, there's still hope that some part of a season can be salvaged and the Kings can take advantage of a shortened schedule.
"We'd rather be playing by now," Williams said. "Hopefully at some point we get back soon and we can benefit from the extra added rest that we've gotten."
"We're the last team to have played a hockey game. Maybe we'll be the freshest, but at this point it's kind of irrelevant. We're here celebrating a good cause, playing some hockey which we enjoy. I thought the fan response was unbelievable."
Sunday would have been the Kings' 20th game of the season, an afternoon tilt against the Dallas Stars. Instead, the players must wait and see when they'll play again. With over a month and a half of games wiped out from the 2012-13 schedule, Williams and the rest of his NHLPA brethren are chomping at the bit to get going again.
"When you end your season with a win and you're the champs, obviously we have a good taste in our mouth right now from the last time we played," Williams said.
"But at the same time, [we're] extremely frustrated we're not playing a meaningful hockey game right now."
Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy