In almost every sport, the weeks leading up to All-Star weekend have a bit of a "do we have to?" feel. Players try to find reasons they can't attend (looking at you, Sidney Crosby) or exaggerate injuries (every San Antonio Spur ever). But the story is mostly the same every year: those who attend seem to enjoy themselves.
This year, the NHL wanted to introduce 3-on-3, so they had a tournament. As I am sure you have heard by now, there was a four-team tournament (one team from each division) with the champion receiving $1 million in cold hard giant check. Combining this new level of "stakes" with the Skills Competition the night before, the NHL was hoping to hit a home run.
There was some kind of interview event Friday night but to be honest, I didn't watch a second of it. But I did watch Saturday and Sunday. Today, I present to you a review of All-Star weekend with a heavy Dallas Stars bias.
The skills competition is kind of like your 6th birthday party. The buildup is incredible. You can only imagine all of the toys you will receive. Everyone is there to see you. Then it's over, and you are left pondering the party's long term significance on the outcome of your destiny.
As it turns out, and I know this may come as a shock to some of you, not every player gives his greatest effort in the skills competition (more on this later).
Tyler Seguin showed himself well in the hardest shot contest. Personally, I was surprised he wasn't involved in the Fastest Skater, but I am glad he wasn't. It seems like it would be much easier to get hurt skating a hard lap without stretching, as opposed to shooting the puck super hard. Seguin put up a strong 95 mph on his second blast and it was hard to be displeased, especially given he's a forward who doesn't take all that many slapshots. Seguin is not a big human being. It is no coincidence that Zdeno Chara and Shea Weber win the Hardest Shot every. single. year.
Jamie Benn was in the accuracy contest, and never really seemed to get his feet under him. Benn's time of 16.66 seconds was the second slowest in the Western Conference, ahead of only Patrick Kane (20 seconds). Kane and Benn bringing up the rear in the West was odd, given they are two of the best players on the planet. But, sometimes it just isn't your day. I don't get the feeling that either player was torn up emotionally. John Tavares' winning run of 12.29 seconds was pretty cool.
The shootout was fun, but the goalies pretty much dominated. Seguin scored, so that was cool.
Effort is not required of players at All-Star events, nor should it be. It is a fun time. But there is one thing you can take to the bank: players try during the relay event. Every player participates, and there are a ton of opportunities to get embarrassed. If there is one way to draw some effort out of a professional athlete that does not want to try, put him on camera and make him throw a 40 foot saucer pass into a net the size of a shoe. Make him do this four times, with America and all of his peers watching.
The relay challenge was a ton of fun to watch, with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn going in the second Western Conference heat. Benn was asked to put four saucer passes into a tiny net, and Tyler Seguin had to bob and weave through a million orange pucks nailed to the ice.
I felt like I was a parent watching my kid play high school football. As it neared Benn's turn for the hardest task (bar none) of the saucer passes, my heart was in my throat and my stomach in knots. To his credit, Benn stepped up and did very well and it was over in no time. Seguin's part in the stick handling was fun because he (a) did better than Patrick Kane in the other West heat and (b) almost lost the puck but kicked it back to himself in such a way that I had to rewind it multiple times to make sure he didn't cheat.
It was a joy. And obviously, Benn and Seguin's Western Conference heat won the whole contest with a time of 1 minute and 27 seconds.
There were other events, but you don't care about those because Benn and Seguin weren't involved. You may not have even watched these events. If you didn't, here are the highlights: Brent Burns put on a Chewbacca mask and scored a goal in the Breakaway Challenge. And P.K. Subban in general.
The NHL split the divisions into teams, and had a four-team tournament. The games would be 3-on-3 with two 10 minute halves. Also, there was a million dollars on the line.
The Eastern Conference game was first, and the Atlantic beat the Metro 4-3. Then it was time for the Central to face the Pacific. You could tell just from listening to the announcers in the pre-game that they were excited about watching the Central team. What more could you ask for? Benn, Seguin, Kane, Vladimir Tarasenko, Matt Duchene; there was going to be a ton of skill on the ice.
Lindy Ruff coached the Central team, and I tell ya his fingerprints were all over this one. Benn began the game with Kane and Roman Josi, and Seguin started with Tarasenko and Dustin Byfuglien. The Seguin trio was odd, given the fact that Ruff put his three most offensively minded players all together. Surely it would work out fine.
The Central started out fast, but the Pacific just seemed to try harder (and get significantly better goaltending). No harm, no foul. Just, maybe, let us know first next time? The final score was only an indication of how seriously the teams took the game. To be honest, they probably had more to play for than the Central, because John Scott.
Jamie Benn had a sweet feed on the Patrick Kane goal. After Kane scored, he dropped the mitts and fought John Scott. Of course it was a joke, but it made me laugh. Seguin scored a nice goal and then got stoned by John Gibson. Seguin looked good, but no one really looked bad. It was fun, but I wish the Central team had skated harder because...
The final score of the game was 9-6 in favor of the Pacific.
This is out of the scope of a Dallas Stars-centric article, but I am going to say it anyway: the championship game was the most fun I have ever had watching an All-Star anything ever. The Pacific and Atlantic were actually skating, back-checking, and generally competing. It made me wish that the tone of the games had been set earlier, so maybe I could have watched that Central team with the intensity ratcheted up a bit. The final was 1-0 Pacific, and it would be a mistake to assume that a low scoring game indicates failure to entertain.
My roommate (we will call him Charles) doesn't watch a lot of hockey. He will drop in for a few shifts when he happens to come in the living room while I am watching. He knows who Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are, but that's about it.
Saturday night, I turned on the Skills competition and starting watching. Charles walked in, grabbed a cold one, and sat down to watch with me. He was completely enamored. He loved the Hardest Shot contest, he was yelling at the TV during the shootout, and even managed to laugh at Patrick Kane when he fumbled during the relay.
He kept asking me about players. "Where does he play? Do we like him?" Of course, I filled him in on the John Scott drama and Charles intently watched his every move. He began to recognize names, and by Sunday was cheering for specific players by name. He loves Brent Burns, but who doesn't?
Charles was losing his mind during the games on Sunday. He was screaming and jumped off of the couch more than once. This is someone that has watched 15 minutes of real time hockey in his life, and he was soaking up the weekend.
Isn't that why the NHL has an All-Star game?
Sometimes it is easy, as diehard fans, to get caught up in the pageantry and the lack of effort. It is easy to think about how slow the game feels, or how docile some of the skills competitions. After all, we have seen them do something cooler in a game at much higher speed.
But this weekend wasn't about that for the league. It was about drawing in new fans. It was about the John Scott story (maybe not at first, but eventually), the competitive nature of the final game, and allowing the players to have some fun on Saturday. I can't speak for America, but I watched them win over one new fan.
Welcome to the NHL, Charles. As long as you promise to hate Corey Perry.