All Star “Extravaganza” Recap

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Raleigh, North Carolina was the centre of the hockey universe for the first time since they won the Stanly Cup in 2006, as they played host to the NHL All-Star Weekend.

THE FANTASY DRAFT

In a unique twist introduced this year, the NHL named 42 players as All-Stars, and after that the weekend was pretty much in the hands of the players.  The All-Stars voted on captains, and Eric Stall of the host Hurricanes and 11-time All-Star Nick Lidstrom of the Red Wings were named the captains and had the honour of having their teams named after them.

Friday night saw the captains in a open draft, which created lots of buzz, something the NHL was hoping for and had to be considered a success.  Eric Staal had the first choice, and selected Carolina teammate Cam Ward with the first pick.  The Sedin twins went in consecutive picks (5th & 6th), and the intrigue was that for the first time ever, they would be facing each other on different teams.  Senators’ representative Erik Karlsson was the last defenseman chosen, going to Team Stall, ending his hopes of playing with his countryman Lidstrom.  The most drama ocurred when it came down to the last pick, and who would have the honour of being the least-coveted All-Star?  It was down to Colorado centre Paul Stastny and Toronto Maple Leaf Phil Kessell.  Staal chose Stastny, so much to the delight of Senators fans, the lone Leaf All-Star was the last man sitting.  To his credit, he took it really well (better than Brian Burke did) and as a “reward”  for being such a good sport he was given a new Honda automobile and a $20,000 donation to charity in his name.

THE SUPERSKILLS COMPETITION

The Saturday skills competition saw some new events, like the interesting relay race, but the highlight as always was the hardest shot competition, and it didn’t disappoint.  The final came down to Nashville defenseman Shea Weber, and Boston captain and former Senator Zdeno Chara, who was two time defending champion and the record holder for the event.  Weber had actually defeated Chara in their head to head match in the preliminary round, but his 103.4 MPH effort wasn’t quite good enough as Big Z saved his best for the final, with a record breaking 105.9 MPH slapper.  Michael Grabner of the Islanders was the fastest skater (downing Taylor Hall in the final), while Daniel Sedin proved to be the most accurate shooter (just edging Patrick Kane in the final).

The shootout portions of the event leave something to be desired, however.  The event is supposed to be the showcase event of the skills competition, but the lack of finish just doesn’t allow it to bring the attention it deserves.  Yes, PK Subban donning Jeff Skinner’s jersey in an attempt to bring the crowd into the festivities was original and worked somewhat, but the showmanship didn’t trump the fact that he didn’t score.  Unlike the NBA Slam Dunk contest, where it is just player and rim, the NHL shootout has to involve a goaltender, and however willing that goalie is to be a pylon, the creativity is not yet there for this to be the event that it is expected to be.  Ovechkin’s wining effort was nice, but not something to draw fans out of their seats.

The evening closed with the elimination shootout that was again disappointing if you wanted to see goals.  Only 12 players scored in the first round (six per team) and only Corey Perry and Martin St. Louis advanced to a third round.  Perry won the event, after St. Louis missed on his third attempt.

All in all, when you are counting on technology so much in the events to make it work, you can expect some glitches.  Radar guns and timing can easily malfunction, and they did on more than one occasion.  It was indeed a couple of hours of entertainment, and the show that was put on was worth watching.

THE ALL-STAR GAME

Sunday’s game was about what is expected of the All-Star game, and if you enjoy pond hockey you were entertained.  It was a no-hitter, and it was tough on goalies.  In the end, Team Staal coughed up a 4-0 lead, and Team Lidstrom ended up winning 11-10, with the winning goal actually being an empty net effort from Dallas Star Loui Ericksson.  It was a display of skill where players went out of their way to avoid contact and let offensive skill reign supreme.

CONCLUSION

In the end, the All-Star game fulfilled its promise.  The best players in the game, all on the same ice, displaying a skill level that most of us can only dream of possessing.  I look forward to this time next year, when the circus that is NHL All-Star Weekend visits Ottawa for the first time.