TAMPA, Fla. – What a weekend.
From a rookie MVP to an emotional homecoming, from mocking refs to playfully recruiting free agents, Tampa’s All-Star Weekend offered up plenty of memorable moments.
Even if the actual 3-on-3 hockey is played at three-quarters speed and features more passing than a Mitch Marner season, the spirit of the NHL’s mid-season showcase gets it right.
The Pacific Division defeated the host Atlantic 5-2 to seize the $1 million bounty.
“We’re playing in the final for a nice chunk of money,” Drew Doughty said. “We might as well give ’er — and we did give ’er.”
Here are 18 awesome things we learned over two sunny days in Tampa.
1. Brock Boeser’s lucky stall.
The Vancouver Canucks rookie arrived at All-Star Weekend as a ball of nerves, but when he walked into the Amalie Arena visitors’ room and saw his nameplate above the very same stall he occupied as when he won the 2016 national championship with the University of North Dakota, he took it as a promising omen: “That had to be good luck, right?!”
We’d say so. Boeser was crowned the accuracy contest champion on Saturday night and sniped the Game 1 winner for the Pacific Division, clinching his squad a spot in the final.
The kid then scored again in the final and added an assist en route to his All-Star MVP award.
“I had some sweat running down my palms yesterday for the shooting contest,” Boeser said. “Once you get here and you meet most of the guys, you have a blast.”
Here’s Boeser’s haul for the weekend: a $212,500 entry-level bonus for being invited to the event; $100,000 for being part of the winning team; $25,000 for being the most accurate shooter; $212,500 for being named MVP; and a Honda Clarity plug-in hybrid car.
Also: He keeps the hair.
As Boeser walked away rich and happy from his press conference, he turned to a reporter and said, “Honestly, how’d I win MVP?”
Western Canada represent. pic.twitter.com/NwwRLuRvAP
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) January 28, 2018
2. Game 2, Period 2 was a classic.
During a break in the Atlantic vs. Metropolitan match, both teams gathered to honour Willie O’Ree, who received a warm standing ovation. Every single player lined up to shake Mr. O’Ree’s hand. Cool moment.
Then they played the most entertaining 10 minutes of the tournament.
Erik Karlsson had a goal nullified by a lengthy all-star offside video review challenge. Yes, that happened.
“I don’t score many more anymore so I really wanted that one,” Karlsson said. “It was offside, so no hard feelings.”
“That was him. We were [talking] at the face-off dot after they called no goal, and we kinda were like, ‘We better score this shift so we can do it,” said Eichel. “Luckily we did.”
Says Matthews, “We were in panic mode trying to score because we wanted to do that celly so bad.”
Local favourite Nikita Kucherov followed that up by scoring a disgusting fake shot that just slid between Braden Holtby’s legs for a hat trick (the same cheeky move Kucherov pulled during a shootout on Buffalo’s Robin Lehner last year).
Mike Smith was lying on floor of the Pacific dressing room trying to take a nap when he saw Kuch’s trick on TV.
“He did that and I couldn’t sleep anymore. I was having nightmares,” Smith laughed. “I would’ve just skated out at him and given him a flying poke-check if he tried to embarrass me like that.”
At the suggestion of coach Jon Cooper, who also approved the Eichel-Matthews celebration, all the Atlantic players tossed their helmets onto the ice in acknowledgement.
3. Alex Ovechkin’s reasoning for why the Vegas Golden Knights have the NHL’s best home record:
“I think the atmosphere over there. It’s not a regular rink you go to. It’s an unbelievable show. You get excited. You get into, like, a nightclub. Like a party. Everybody dancing over there. It’s like, ‘Holy [expletive], are we having a hockey game, or is this like a pool party out there?’ They’re very, very tough to play against. They jump in right away. They have tremendous skill, tremendous speed, and they use it. When you’re not ready, you’re going to be in a tough position.”
As a follow-up, Ovie was asked if he’s concerned about the Capitals’ next game against the Knights.
“We’re going to play in Washington, so it’ll be OK,” he said. “Not so much dancing moves over there.”
When I listened back to my recording of this slice of gold, I can hear Steven Stamkos cracking up multiple times during Ovechkin’s description.
5. Brian Boyle, inspiration.
The man they call “Boyler” could not have been more appreciative or more deserving of the endless waves of love he received this weekend.
“I’ve been dying to try 3-on-3 since it started,” the bottom-six role player said when he first got the news. “This will be a good taste. Kind of ease me into it against the best in the world.”
Winnipeg’s Blake Wheeler explained how everyone around the league is rooting for Boyle.
“When we played him [in the season], I think every guy on the team went up to him and said, ‘Great to see you out here and we are pulling for you.’ That’s the cool thing about hockey,” Wheeler said. “It can get ugly out there sometimes, but with that comes a high level of respect for each other.”
Stamkos developed a strong relationship with Boyle during his Lightning days.
“I know it’s very special for him, especially what he’s gone through before the season with the diagnosis. We knew Boyler was gonna be the guy who was going to fight it,” Stamkos said. “He has that fiery personality on the ice, but off the ice, he’s one of those gentle giants.
“A true inspiration.”
6. Victor Hedman getting the Dwight Schrute treatment.
Tampa defenceman Hedman wouldn’t let a lower-body injury prevent him from enjoying the weekend. Unable to play, Hedman still dressed up as a pirate for Skills and was named assistant to the equipment manager for Team Atlantic.
“He needed some polishing,” Stamkos cracked. “He was a little slow getting some tape and towels.”
— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) January 28, 2018
7. Alex Pietrangelo and Wheeler receiving their overdue due.
First-time all-stars who should’ve been invited to the showcase long ago, it was great to see these Central Division captains honoured for their excellence.
“No matter what guys say or how long you’ve played, it’s nice to be acknowledged for the work you put in,” Wheeler said.
“When it didn’t happen in years past, there was a little bit of bitterness, thinking you could be here or whatever. But I got over that the past couple years. It’s maybe immaturity in years past—you felt like you could’ve been part of that, maybe you got slighted. If I wouldn’t have made it this year, I would be just as happy hanging out with my family. You get to a point where it doesn’t matter anymore. Now that I’m here, I’m enjoying the experience and taking it all in.”
8. The NHL found the perfect replacements.
It’s probably for the best that Jonathan Quick opted out this weekend. Flames goalie Smith’s play this season makes him more deserving, and Smith loves this stuff, as evidenced by his (failed) attempts to score on an empty net. (“Bad ice,” he quipped.)
Point got a call from GM Steve Yzerman last week while on the team bus telling him the news. It was late. They’d just played a game.
“I woke my parents up in the middle of the night and told them I was an all-star,” Point said.
Cooper described Point as the most “wide-eyed” of the young players. He even wore a helmet during his Fastest Skater lap.
“Pointer’s the smart one,” Stamkos said. “Some guys want to look good. If you have the nice hair to show off blowing in the wind, I guess you do it.”
9. Brad Marchand trying to coax a parrot into kissing him.
“He’s got a bigger nose than I do.” pic.twitter.com/bGiEy0NMPV
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) January 27, 2018
10. Drew Doughty admitting to trolling us with his free agency plans.
We asked the Los Angeles Kings star if part of him gets a kick out of the headlines he creates when he answers questions about his UFA status in 2019.
“I love it, but at the same time I hate that I have to make all this grief for my organization,” said Doughty, smiling through his tooth.
“I do kinda find it funny, because you can take my words and show them however you want to show them. I truly never want to leave L.A., but it’s fun to kinda to throw those things out in the media.” He laughs. “It’s kinda fun doing that stuff, but I do feel bad a little bit about it at the same time.”
11. Marchand embracing the villain role.
The boos for Patrick Kane, whose Blackhawks spoiled the Lightning’s parade in 2015, are understandable. It was somewhat curious, however, that Tampa fans would boo the introduction of superstars and nice guys Sidney Crosby and Ovechkin, although the former did help oust their team in the 2016 Eastern Conference final.
Less of a surprise was the relentless razzing of NHL villain Marchand, the only player to our knowledge to show up at All-Star Weekend while serving a suspension.
Marchand ate it up, blowing kisses through the boos and cheesing next to a fan’s poster that read: “Exterminate the Rat.”
The crowd adored watching the Bruin struggle to a last-place finish in the accuracy shooting contest.
“When you get a minute in the accuracy thing and everyone else is getting 10 seconds, you deserve a little heat,” Marchand said.
“When I started getting up around 30 [seconds without hitting a target], then you got a play it off like you’re not trying, but you’re really just hoping that’s something’s gonna hit a target. Full panic mode sets in, especially when the whole crowd is cheering and loving it.”
Marchand even got booed when he touched the puck for the hometown Atlantic, but those boos switched to cheers when he scored and he waved to the fans.
Full heel mode.
“I think he really likes that whole role,” Matthews said.
This is why we love Marchand.
All Star Game set for the big screens starting at 3:30 today!#hockey #nhlallstar #nhlallstarweekend #nhlbruins #sportsbar #nhl18 #pest #marchand #barstool pic.twitter.com/gSrGqukxB9
— Boston Billiard Club (@BosBilliardClub) January 28, 2018
12. Reunions galore.
Young U.S. junior products Matthews, Werenski, Eichel, Noah Hanifin and Boeser enjoyed the chance to catch up. Sweet Swedes Karlsson and Hedman were downright adorable parading around town in pirate costumes. And when Shane Doan and Paul Bissonnette spotted each other form across the street, they ran and met in the middle of the road to exchange man hugs.
There was also a reunion of the Nova Scotia boys.
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) January 28, 2018
13. Barry Trotz saying what so many are thinking about the current playoff format…
…which currently leaves the top three Atlantic clubs with a comfortable cushion and creates a dogfight in the Trotz’s Metropolitan.
“I have my own idea on that,” Trotz said. “This is not sour grapes, but us and Pittsburgh were one-two [in the 2017 Eastern Conference standings] and we played each other second round. I think the format has worked well, and I’m not going to go against the league, but when you win the Presidents’ Trophy you shouldn’t have to play the second-ranked team in the second round. That’s my only sour grapes.
“I like what the NBA does: You finish first in your division, you’re either a one or two seed and everybody gets reshuffled.
“Look right now: there is good and bad in the setup. Toronto is playing Boston or Tampa unless something drastic happens, and a team like Carolina in our division has to climb through a bunch of teams to make it.”
14. Matthews revealing his favourite game and favourite goal this season.
The Maple Leafs sophomore loved rallying to defeat Ottawa earlier this month in the Patrick Marleau speech game, and savoured his play-mad, no-goalie-interference strike against Colorado Monday.
16. Ron MacLean going straight at Gary Bettman about the Calgary arena situation during an intermission interview:
17. A thoughtful Doughty reflecting on his hate for the Flames.
“That was an emotional game, especially for me,” said Doughty, thinking back to the Kings’ intense 2-1 OT win over Calgary Wednesday.
“When I’m like this [sitting comfortably at media day], I think about my emotions like, ‘I can control them.’ Then I get out there and I just can’t control them. I just lose it. I get embarrassed about it after. The next day I’m like, ‘What was I doing?’ I just go into the game and I do it again. I guess I just don’t learn. But I try.”
18. Boeser is cool, but the real MVP may be the Pacific Division’s white pants.
In 2017, the Central Division sported white gloves. This year, the championship-winning Pacific went one step further.
Ridiculous at first blush, we quickly warmed up to the look, which is reminiscent of the 1974-75 Washington Capitals.
“They were loud,” Tyler Seguin said. “I liked them.”
Looks like a million bucks.