I was going to open this up by making some reference of how for a person usually used to all the excitement in the New York Rangers games, that the excitement of a challenge like this must pale in comparison, but, well, you can use your imagination there.
What was not to like about tonight? Honestly I have enjoyed the Super Skills part of the All-Star weekend for at least the last dozen years now. It was always about showcasing talent. But now, in most recent years, it's really become even more about cutting lose and having fun. And, boy, did most of these guys look like they were having fun!
So I sat back, with my Canadian in hand, and watched the greatest in hockey put on a show. My random thoughts as the night progressed:
Fastest Skater: Kudos Cogliano. My only problem with this competition is that I think we were overly blessed to have seen guys like Mike Gartner and the like do this competition. There is no way this can compete with that. And it's not anyone's fault. It just is. But this, and in some way the hardest shot competition, would benefit from having the guys around the league (whomever they may be) that genuinely are the fastest skaters. I'd love to know the "true" fastest skater.
The Ovie Competition: Honestly, ignore whatever it's called. I know it's only two years old, but it should already be named after Ovechkin. But before I get to that, I must say, it's refreshing the competitors this year "got it." Last year, guys were a little unsure of what to do and ANYTHING Alex did would look marvelous next to that. But this year, he did have competition. Patrick Kane turning his stick around and moving the puck with the knob. Martin St. Louis had some sick moves with the stick, a la lacrosse style scoop up. Kovalev (skating to "There goes my hero" in Montreal) had some nice ideas with heading the puck, and might have very well won, if not for the other Alex. Combining skill with heart, he had a few fun moves, before teaming up with alleged feuding superstar Evgeni Malkin, to don a hat, sunglasses, take a swig of Gatorade, before taking two sticks down the ice and making a shot. Priceless Ovechkin. Priceless. And seeing the players voting in the lockerroom - hilarious!
Ovechkin: Whatever that guy is, I want to be it. He's THAT guy. He really is. I am not even going to compare him to guys nowadays, like Crosby or Malkin. Instead, take all-time superstars scorers like Gretzky, Dionne, Lemieux, Francis, or Messier. Those guys had talent. Those guys had passion. But not one of them ever had the personality of Alex Ovechkin. Not even close. So you now not only have a guy who has the potential to be one of the all time greatest scorers, and players, the game has ever seen. But that same guy just happens to be one of the funniest and most personable characters the league has ever seen. Remarkable. Box him. Bronze him. I don't care what you do with him, but embrace him. Embrace him for all he is for the game. Pure talent and pure entertainment.
On that note, glad to see Ovechkin and Malkin getting along. See, All-Star games DO bring people together.
Random Thought #1: For you Rangers fans pining for Jay Bouwmeester. Did you see his in competition interview? My first thought was that he'd fit right in with the boring personalities of half the New York Rangers team. Think about it. Perfect first intermission interview after a boring first period. (Don't take this personally Jay; just an honest opinion and a little ribbin' of my favorite team).
Sadly my notes at this point have gotten a little scrambly. Must be the Canadian. ;) Haha, kidding. Kidding.
Now onto the Young Stars Game. Sadly, during the Buffalo/Rangers game two weeks back, the Rangers announcers and MSG's John Giannone all seemed for have forgotten that Marc Staal WAS there last year with Brandon Dubinsky. So he was back for a second time. A quick shout out list:
LOVE Marc Staal!
LOVE Steven Stamkos!
LOVE Luke Schenn!
How cool was it Marc Staal scored AFTER checking someone. If he wanted to showcase what he's been doing all year - well he did. Loved it! Now if only he wasn't one of the precious few playing defense for the Rangers, he might get to score more often. Loved his post goal smile though. :)
Luke Schenn got his very "unofficial" first goal. Another guy concentrating on what got him there. Good stuff.
As for the rest of the guys, Pekka Rinne stepping in for Steve Mason. My gosh did that guy make some nice saves. Easily out-dueled home-town favorite Carey Price. Blake Wheeler, well deserved MVP honors. Does anyone on Boston not play well? Is there anyone to hate on Boston? I honestly can't find an example either way.
I do love the new format for the game though, as first showcased last year. Three on three, three short periods, plenty of ice time. Just enough to break up the skills competion and showcase new talent. Good decision by the league.
Oh and for the record,I SOOO called the Rookies were going to win. (You can look it up if you doubt me). They have too much goal scoring prowess. And for that I win...well I'm patting myself on the back right now.
Shooting Accuracy: My favorite from the hay-day, when Mark Messier went 4 for 4. Why, I ask myself, does it seem that more players nowadays are going 4 for 4. Can they truly be better players? Has anything changed? Both Dany Heatley and Evgeni Malkin went 4-4 before the tie-breaker, which Malkin inevitably won. But many were impressive. Do more guys compete?
On Malkin: I am glad they interviewed Malkin. And here's why. I do not have to like the player. And honestly, until proven otherwise, I don't. He's got talent. I'd be a moron to deny it. And I am still mad over his slew-footing of Mara in last year's playoffs. I am. BUT. There is one good thing that came of Sergei Gonchar's injury. I often attacked Malkin for (unlike Ovechkin) failing to try to learn English and using Sergei as a translator. Well, with Gonchar out, apparently Evgeni saw fit to try to learn. Good for him. And while this changes nothing about what I think of him when NY plays Pitt, I enjoyed seeing him let loose and smile a little bit. It's good for the game and good for the fans to see a once mute Russian player, now laughing and joking with an interviewer. Kudos Geno.
On Hardest Shot: I never thought I'd see the day Al Iafrate's mark of 105.2 be broken. But if anyone was going to do it, I guess we can't be surprised it was big Zdeno Chara. That guy is unreal. And what a great idea to put some charity component to the competition and kudos to the league and teams for jumping on board. The hardest shot now is held by Zdeno Chara with 105.4 miles per hour and the Right to Play charity has earned themselves $24,000 in his name.
Time for more shoutouts:
LOVE Tim Thomas!
LOVE Marc Savard!
Again, I can't hate on the Bruins. I wouldn't want to. (Although Montreal fans sure did!)
Thomas made last year's all star game with his commentary. Guy is as unique a goalie as you will see. And so deserving of being there.
And I have loved Savard since was a Ranger. I still have a sign in my room from a hundred years ago where I list current favorite players and he's on there. (Hell, Nikolai Khabibulan is on there too because I loved his name!) Anyway, Savard was just a perfect guy to stick a microphone on. Humble, yet funny. I am just so glad for his success these last few years so that FINALLY people can see how amazing a player he really is. And has been. I just cry thinking he could have been a Ranger longer. Boston fans are so lucky.
And bonus that he was able to keep his microphone duties so long in...
The Breakaway Competition: Newly re-worked and highly improved, players get one shot and are eliminated if they don't score. Eliminated parties must leave the ice and return to the locker room. (Hence Zach Parise's mic going cold early on; although I'm sorry, but anyone would have paled next to Savard on this night.) Shane Doan impressed. (One of the few remaining original guys from my fantasy team this year). Milan Hedjuk. . .who knew he still had it in him? And Alex Kovalev - boy is it good to see this guy smile or what? I know his play has improved as of late, but if there's a guy who's been up and down, up and down, especially in Montreal, it's him. And he is a really good guy. To see him smile, made me smile. I hope his moves tonight, follow him through to the regular season. He's got marvelous ones.
Overall thoughts on the night:
I was highly entertained the entire night, from the player intros, where French Candadians Vincent Lecavalier (ooo la la) and Martin St. Louis, as well as former Canadiens Sheldon Souray and Mark Streit were cheered and Boston Bruins Thomas, Savard and Chara were booed, through the final interview with our own Hank Lundqvist, complete with complementary stick throw.
I love interviews because they showcase the player behind the helmet. I was laughing at most of them, starting right with Joe Thornton's in the beginning. He's calling the West to have the best showing. Was he right? Will he be right tomorrow?
Watching the smiling faces was priceless. You have to admit almost everyone seemed to be having fun. That, and the Canadian, made me have fun too. ;) (Kidding again.) But in all seriousness, that's why you play the game. Some guys don't come to All-Star Game who are selected. For personal, for family, for injury reasons. I'm not one to judge. But I do not think ONE person that comes does not have fun. If they don't, they are missing something. They really are. Once in a lifetime type stuff. I saw Ovechkin talking with Steve Stamkos. It's not like Ovechkin is a 15 year league veteran, but can you imagine the thrill for this years #1 draft pick to be talking to someone as dynamic and well-liked as Alex.
Seeing Lucky Luc Robitaille and Pat LaFontaine again always makes me happy. Despite playing for the Rangers when the team might not have been the best, these guys were fantastic and I'm so proud they got the chance to be New York Rangers. And the segment on LaFontaine's charity work with the Montreal hospital was inspiring, as if we'd expect any less from him.
Lastly, the NHL should always have someone mic'd up for these things. Always. It adds a fun element, and Savard was a premiere choice. What, too much Savard loving in the blog tonight? :) Sorry, I apologize.
One final note. If you want more info on the charities showcased tonight, click below.
Chara and Right to Play: http://www.righttoplay.com/site/PageServer?pagename=Canada_PressRelease_Chara2008
LaFontaine and Companions in Courage: http://www.cic16.org/
I hope everyone enjoyed as much as I did. As always I'll sit down to the real game tomorrow, but tonight was really the true highlight for me.