Justin Falk knew it was going to be a cool night when two military kids met him at his car to carry his equipment bag to the locker room.
"You put all the lockout stuff aside for one night, and you really enjoy this moment of playing for a great cause," the Wild defenseman said before he and 30 of his fellow locked-out NHLers put on a show for 3,000 NHL-starved fans at Mariucci Arena to benefit charity Sunday night.
With no end in sight to a lockout that is six weeks old, the Wild's Zach Parise came up with the idea for a charity game. He called Shane Hudella, founder and president of Defending the Blue Line, which helps military families with the high costs of hockey.
"If one good thing comes out of this lockout, it's that we were able to play in this game," Parise said.
Hudella, who guesses the event will have raised almost $50,000, was "humbled by these pro athletes supporting this cause to help military kids."
"It was an awesome night," said Hudella, who tended goal for one period. "The guys had a blast. The fans had a blast. It's pretty moving to see all the talent that was on the ice."
The Army rallied from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Air Force 9-7 thanks to shootout goals by Wild left winger Stephane Veilleux and former Wild heart-and-soul Wes Walz. The two also scored in regulation, while Cal Clutterbuck scored twice and Ryan Suter, Matt Kassian and Erik Johnson once.
Former Gopher Kyle Okposo "had a nice little homecoming" with a hat trick for Air Force, and former Gopher Blake Wheeler had a goal and three assists. Ryan Carter, Matt Hendricks and Jimmy O'Brien also scored.
"It's been almost seven months since I played a hockey game, so just to get in front of fans again and get a sweat going, it was a good feeling," Wheeler said.
The night started heartwarmingly when paralyzed hockey player Jack Jablonski dropped the puck for a ceremonial faceoff.
"We'd sure like to play for real, but for us players, it's an escape from reality," said Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom. "An event like this shows hockey is so much more than just a game."
Last month, Backstrom nearly signed to play with Minsk of the Kontinental Hockey League before hurting his ankle. He again will look into jobs in Europe.
"I think the [lockout's] going to be a long one," Backstrom said. "At the end of the day we've got to do what we think will help us be ready when the season start -- or if it starts. You never know if we'll be locked out a year from now."
As Okposo said, "[The players] are standing firm and resolute. We know what's right."
Added Parise, who noted how many Wild jerseys were in Sunday's crowd, "It's unfortunate we're in this position right now. It's bad for the game and for the fans and you hope the fans come back because if they don't, there is no revenue to split at all. I hope everyone can get this thing figured out soon because it will kill our sport if we miss another season."