The NHL didn’t get what it wanted, but dang if it didn’t get what it needed.
John Scott and all 17,002 of his proud, standing, cheering, hashtag-voting daughters, a brand-spanking new, million-dollar idea and a van-load of stranger-than-fiction fun where there had once only been yawning — cages and viewers.
Zebra pants and the Drake–Meek Mill beef weren’t the only things revived this weekend. So was the NHL All-Star Game. Or at least, as Patrick Kane put it, the showcase took “a step in the right direction.” And that’s coming from a guy who got booed lustily every time he touched the puck or had his name uttered.
Here are 16 takeaways from the 2016 NHL All-Star Game (incidentally, the same number of takeaways Patrice Bergeron had Sunday).
1. John Scott is Rudy
That the captain without a team logo patch on his shoulder scored twice doesn’t even scratch the surface of his night.
He also laid out Kane with the game’s first body check, mock-fought the Hart Trophy front-runner, playfully burned perhaps his biggest critic, Jeremy Roenick, on national television, captained the Pacific to a $1-million win in the final, generously passed up a chance at an open net, won the game’s MVP award by way of write-in votes, got carried off on the shoulders of Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns, and won a new van for his family.
“Probably one of the better weekends of my life. I’m not gonna lie,” he said smiling sometime after hugging coach Darryl Sutter’s son, his nine-months-pregnant wife and his own daughters.
2. Scott didn’t get to celebrate quite the way he wanted to
After he scored, the Last Enforcer had planned to ride his stick as a nod to legendary tough guy Tiger Williams, but Burns hugged him too early.
So he busted out the P.K. Subban-patented scoop instead.
“I was sitting next to Johnny and Taylor, and I said, ‘You guys better give me that van. I need it,’ ” Scott said.
Fortunately, the M-V-P chants roared, and the pro-Scott fans spoke. Again.
Scott’s wife, Danielle, admittedly “pregnant and emotional,” was gracious enough to speak, even though she’s set to deliver twins on Thursday.
“I jumped up when he scored his second goal and said, ‘Oh, my God, I’d better stop.’” Afraid she’d trigger labour and add yet another layer of wow to this crazy night.
“He’s been in the league for so long and he’s faced a lot of adversity, but he’s so lighthearted. That’s how he deals with it. I think that’s why people like him so much,” Danielle said, wiping tears. “I just knew he could do it. I’m just really happy he’s here.”
4. The 3-on-3 format works, and it could return in 2017
Steven Stamkos said you can’t mimic a game situation at an event like this, and it’s true.
Players are too concerned about saving themselves for the playoff push, and no one wants to be that guy who aggressively steals another player’s opportunity to shine a bit for the fans — with the possible exception of relentless all-star back-checker Bergeron.
Yet to a man, the 3-on-3 format got a thumbs-up. The open ice forces the players to work harder (Stamkos gasped that he was exhausted after the final), the open ice allows for more dangles and passes, and no one wants to get embarrassed.
“It’s hard to coast out there,” Subban said. “It’s just really fun to watch. It’s like pond hockey out there.”
Matt Duchene said the league informally polled the players post-game for their 3-on-3 thoughts, but they were already talking on the bench about how much they enjoyed it.
5. Jaromir Jagr didn’t want to be here, but everyone wanted him here
Atlantic Division coach Gerard Gallant revealed that every single player on his squad asked to skate at least one shift with No. 68 in Jagr’s 10th and, according to him, final all-star game. (Same thing happened with Coach Sutter regarding Scott.)
Jagr, 43, got set up for a goal by underage speedster Dylan Larkin, 19: A puck passed through generations.
“It was respectable,” said Jagr of the competitiveness. “Even though there were not a lot of goals scored, there were chances. I think the fans like that.”
Kuznetsov, who scored a nice goal, compared attending all-star weekend to his first day at Washington Capitals practice two years ago, both making him bubble with nervous energy.
He opened his palms for proof.
“It’s a little bit sweaty,” he said, laughing. “But this is the good nervous. It’s a special moment for my parents and my family. That’s what I want to do: Make these people happy every day.”
Kuznetsov immediately rang his parents the night Ovie backed out.
“I just called them and said I may be going to all-star game. I can’t hold this news. I gotta say something. They not sleeping after the game, and I think mamma crying a bit for sure. But it’s good. It’s happy. If I had a son like me, I’d be pretty happy too.
“I just want to say thanks [to the Capitals]. It all starts from our locker room, the relationship, how we love each other.”
7. Kris Letang and Leo Komarov made up
Pittsburgh Penguins and Toronto Maple Leafs fans should recall when, on Dec. 30, the freight train that is Uncle Leo mashed Letang into the boards from behind. Well, Komarov apologized this weekend.
8. Make no mistake: Music City is a hockey town
The sea of (mostly gold) sweaters; the breakfast chatter about Jonathan Quick, delivered in thick southern accents, over sausage, white gravy and biscuits; the hunger for autographs and selfies; the popularity of the outdoor rink adjacent to Bridgestone Arena… Nashville bought into this celebration of the game whole hog.
The live bands during warm-ups were a sweet touch.
“It’s amazing how much the city embraces it,” said Metropolitan captain John Tavares. “You really get into it once you’re here.”
9. And almost all of the Tennessee hockey fans were cool
10. Vince Gill saved face, did not get hit by a puck
The country music legend, and forever Nashville Predators supporter, reunited with his old buddy Barry Trotz and celebrity coached the Metropolitan.
Gill’s game plan?
“Just try not to get hit by a puck,” he said.
11. Brent Burns is the definition of “beauty”
For that one soul who is still not a fan of Burns, even after his Chewbacca stunt and his playful razzing of Scott and his adorable kid, here’s a short story.
Burns was one of the very first all-stars to arrive in Nashville. Wednesday night, before the circus rolled in, he and his family were dining at Rippy’s on Broadway, clapping along to the live tunes. He notices three college-aged, hockey-fan-looking dudes on the opposite end of the bar, goes over and hangs out with them for a while, returns to his family.
Fifteen minutes later, a bucket of icy beers is plunked on the guys’ table. The server motions — a gift from Burns.
“Brent Burns bought those for you?” I asked the fans. “Do you know him?”
“Not really,” one replies. “He’s just a nice guy.”
“We’re all trying to create memories, for all of us,” said Burns, whose dad is always lurking around trying to hound autographs.
13. Nashville wants Barry Trotz back
Braden Holtby said he’s never seen a coach who was “let go or whatever” return to the city of the team that didn’t want him and get received so warmly.
When Trotz was shown on the Jumbotron, he received a Scott-sized ovation. He blew a kiss.
“Everyone here says they want Barry back,” Holtby said. “But they’re not getting him from us.”
14. Man, do Preds fans hate the Chicago Blackhawks
Kane was surprised just how frequently he was booed, considering he was playing for the Central — a team with four Predators on the roster.
But the Chicago hate really came out when a fan wearing a Blackhawks sweater won a seat upgrade. He was splashed on the Jumbotron and got blasted by jeers.
15. Our pal Steve Dangle won the Best Random Cartoon Reference Award
16. Jagr was not at all surprised by John Scott’s MVP performance
“You got to understand. He played in the league, for a lot of years,” Jagr said.
“The difference between the best player in the NHL and the worst player is a very small. The gap is not huge like it used to be. That’s why it’s so tough to score now.
“There’s a lot of guys on the fourth line skilled enough to play on the first two lines. They just didn’t get the opportunity.”