SAN JOSE, California — Despite being eliminated in his first game, Keith Yandle had himself a moment in San Jose Saturday.
The 32-year-old Florida Panthers defenceman looked up in the crowd from the ice and spotted his wife and children and a cluster of proud relatives, all of whom flew across the country to take in Yandle’s first all-star weekend in seven years.
“It was a lot of fun to see how happy they are,” Yandle said.
“My nephew said to my sister, ‘This is something I’ll never forget.’ That’s what you do it for.”
They do it to make sponsors happy and grow hockey-related revenue, of course.
But they also do it to show off skill and spark dreams in young boys and girls. They do it so a hockey nerd like Mark Scheifele can get a thrill from talking about stick curves with Sidney Crosby. So Gritty can hug Claude Giroux to death and so Steven Stamkos can score a between-the-legs beauty set up by childhood teammate John Tavares.
And they do it so Drew Doughty can fill our notebooks with Dewy quotes.
Here are 19 awesome things about the 2019 NHL All-Star Weekend.
1. Kendall Coyne Schofield’s hot lap for the ages
Her practice run was even faster.
So when Coyne Schofield zipped across the red line, a blonde ponytail and jet stream flapping behind her, with a Fastest Skater time of 14.346, there was the briefest moment of disappointment, knowing she’d posted a 14.226 in dress rehearsal.
That’s faster than the laps posted by Zach Werenski, Noah Hanifin and Josh Bailey at the 2018 NHL Skills Competition, and Clayton Keller at the 2019 event.
But any whisper of dissatisfaction the Team USA Olympic gold medallist felt vanished just as quick as her stride when the SAP Center rose in ovation and she realized a ceiling had been smashed.
“My first impression was, ‘I can do this.’ Speed is my strength. I was a little nervous, but I knew it was a moment that was going to break a lot of barriers and would change the perception and show support to our game,” Coyne Schofield.
“It just shows the top players, men or women, belong.”
As Coyne Schofield secured photos with Connor McDavid and Patrick Kane, the accolades poured in, a replay of her burst still popping up in Twitter feeds 24 hours later.
If, as Coyne Schofield says, the NHL made a statement by showing that women are just as skilled as the men, well, she was the exclamation point.
“I was fortunate to be a part of a lot of people pushing for it, a lot of hard conversations that have been had. I’m thankful for the opportunity,” she said. “I think it went pretty well.”
— Kendall Coyne Schofield (@KendallCoyne) January 26, 2019
2. Sidney Crosby won something he’s never won before
Despite emerging from an illness severe enough to prevent him from participating in Skills, one that confined him to his hotel room for two days, the man who’s won everything but Flyers fans’ hearts actually won something he’d never won before.
Crosby’s eight-point showing (four goals, four assists) over the two 3-on-3 games led the Metropolitan Division to a $1 million victory, defeating the Central Division 10-5 in the showcase final.
“Sid’s still one of the best if not the best in the world,” losing goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “He’s not a fun guy to see coming. He has every skill imaginable.”
3. David Pastrnak and Mathew Barzal’s secret pact
The young Eastern Conference hot shots went out to dinner Thursday night and hatched a plan heading into Skills, which awards the champion of each discipline with a $25,000 prize cheque.
“We make a deal. We shake hands on splitting the money, whoever wins. While I was doing this deal, I didn’t even think about me winning. I thought he might win [Fastest Skater]; he’s pretty fast,” Pastrnak said, after taking the Accuracy Shooting crown.
“I only saw a win there, and I kinda lost. Half to Mathew Barzal.”
The easiest $12,500 Barzal will ever make.
4. Henrik Lundqvist living his best life, and probably the best life
The King stands in the centre of the jam-packed nightclub, an extra $25,000 in the pockets of his custom shiny suit that fits him like money. Not a hair out of place. Stubble just right. Smile immaculate. Posture on point.
He accommodates drunken fans’ selfie requests with class. The man’s a magnet, a super all-star.
Lundqvist seemed to savour every moment of the weekend and even arranged to have his glistening all-star suit lined with quotes from The Godfather.
“Special weekend, special event. I thought it would be fun to do something different,” he says. “Something unique that I’ll remember.”
What we’ll remember is what happens next in that club.
One poor partygoer has passed out on a leather couch. He’s nothing more than a bag of dead weight, his slumping body propped up like Weekend at Bernie’s. Unwakeable. His friends are using his comatose body as a prop, snapping silly photos at his expense.
Then the King slides on the sofa beside this passed-out guy, flashes a Colgate smile and two thumbs up. Click.
Oh, what I’d give to see that guy’s reaction to the photo when he finally awakes.
5. Auston Matthews owning the moment
He may only be 21 years old, but three all-star games deep, Matthews has grown to embrace the event — and now he’s putting his own twist on it.
“I think it showed the first year. I was nervous, shaking, couldn’t control he puck. The second year wasn’t much better. It’s kinda nerve-wracking, but you get more comfortable,” Matthews says. “You get to know the guys more around the league. It’s a fun couple days.”
Last year, he and pal Jack Eichel stole the show with their iconic good-goal celebration, and on Friday, Matthews’ tribute to local hero Patrick Marleau was at once fun, clever and touching.
He’d hatched the idea over dinner with his parents the night before, raced to get a No. 12 all-star jersey stitched up, then slid it on underneath his own sweater during intermission, surprising the Sharks, the fans, and — best of all — the Marleaus.
Matthews got the Sharks to sign the sweater and plans to put it up for auction to raise money for the MLSE Foundation.
The “C” on Matthews’ Leafs sweater didn’t look out of place.
“He was a great leader. He’s definitely a guy I could see wearing the C one day,” said Keith Yandle. “It started here.”
— Jackie Redmond (@Jackie_Redmond) January 25, 2019
6. All-Star Game ‘old guy’ Patrick Kane still getting excited about it
Alex Ovechkin and Carey Price begged out, and a handful of veteran stars showed up late, skipping Media Day.
Not Patrick Kane, who easily topped all peers by making his eighth all-star appearance and made certain to get a sweater signed by everyone.
“The old guy here this year,” Kane smiled. “Someone was telling me that 10 years ago, it was in Montreal — and that feels like yesterday to me. Pretty crazy to be at eight all-star games here. But it’s cool to see that number keep growing. I feel pretty good about myself and my game and where it’s at.”
As an all-star rookie in 2009 at the Bell Centre, Kane recalls having a blast with teammates Brian Campbell and Jonathan Toews. Kris Versteeg skated in the Young Guns game.
“I remember Mike Modano was there. Joe Thornton was there. [Alexei] Kovalev, who I really liked watching play. All of a sudden you’re considered an all-star with these guys? It was pretty wild.”
Now, Kane cherishes the chance to talk shop with the elite, singling out Nathan MacKinnon as a favourite.
“I think he’s a funny kid,” Kane says. “It’s cool to talk to some of the guys and hear the reasoning behind their success and different things they do off the ice, or what they do with their equipment. Any topic is on the board when you’re talking to these guys. He’s one guy that I really like talking to.”
Ugghh Can’t believe they are still letting this goon @88PKane in the ASG. When will the league learn, this type of player doesn’t belong in the game! @MilburyNBC @NHL #playersafety #NHL #NHLAllStar pic.twitter.com/z0o4FVRuVi
— John Scott (@johnscott_32) January 23, 2019
7. Paul Maurice discussing Owen Nolan’s called shot
The Jets head coach served as an assistant on the bench of the greatest all-star team assembled the last time San Jose hosted an all-star game, back in 1997.
“I remember Owen Nolan calling his shot. Hasek was sour. He was angry about it. [I remember] the discrepancy between everyone else having a good time and Scott Stevens being wired into the game like it’s Game 7. He was respectful; he didn’t catch anybody, but he was available if that needed to happen,” Maurice said.
He’s not big on collecting memorabilia, but he keeps a team picture from that game featuring Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Mario Lemieux.
“Those three are I the front row, and I’m sitting between two of them. For a kid who 10 years prior to that was watching hockey in Sault Ste. Marie, that was a pretty big deal,” he says. “Ray Bourque played almost a perfect game positionally in that game. There was no other way for him to play. He’s wired that way.
“There was still that edge, right? It was right at the time where players didn’t talk to each other before the game. There was no talking at the redline.”
But let’s go back to Nolan’s called shot.
“That he made it, right? And he comes right by our bench to do it. It’s funny, but it’s not. Dominik Hasek is a professional. Those guys come, show up and play. No one, I don’t think, has ever done anything like that in hockey—certainly not in a legitimate game,” Maurice says.
“I don’t want to say it was in-your-face, but it was. I’m calling a shot. Ha-ha. We’re having fun. Then, boom, it’s there. That’s a pretty good goalie you’re doing that to. He’s not missing that. Nobody calls a shot on one of these guys and then makes it. Pretty good shot.”
8. #PayDecker got trending, then Decker got paid
In demonstrating the Skills’ passing contest (untelevised) to the crowd, Team USA’s Brianna Decker actually completed the circuit three seconds faster (1:06) than eventual winner Leon Draisaitl.
“[Erik] Karlsson went after me, so I was like, ‘OK, I think I might have beaten him,’ but I didn’t know how long it took me,” Decker said. “I was just casually going through the demo.”
After getting $25,000 richer, Draisaitl was informed Decker had posted an even better time.
“She did?” Draisaitl said. “Wow. That is impressive. That’s really impressive. Good for her.”
CCM, a Decker sponsor, smartly stepped up Saturday and gave the woman her due.
“You saw how skilled they are,” Draisaitl said. “[Coyne Schofield] was flying. I’m 100 per cent sure she’s probably faster than I am. And the passing, too. That’s a hard event and she crushed it.”
9. Nathan MacKinnon didn’t use injury as an excuse and united the NHL’s best line
Rare, especially under today’s tight all-star roster restrictions, that an entire line would qualify for the weekend.
So it was nice to see MacKinnon show up in San Jose anyway, even though his injured shot-blocking foot prevented him from taking the ice.
“It’s pretty special that you have a whole line here. It tells you about the consistency we have,” all-star rookie Mikko Rantanen said.
“We’ve been together a long time now, over 150 games. It makes playing easier. It’s a lot of fun.”
— Colorado Avalanche (@Avalanche) January 26, 2019
10. Eating boos for breakfast
Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang and, yes, the loveable Marc-Andre Fleury were all the targets of lusty boos for their role in robbing the Sharks of the 2016 Stanley Cup.
So was Toronto’s John Tavares, who interviewed with San Jose during free agency but turned down the teal.
“I guess it’s just part of sports and fans being proud and passionate about their own teams and being protective of that,” Tavares brushed off. He’s Zen. He only worries about what he can control. “I’m sure there’ll be a few more boos down the road.”
But the lustiest of boos were reserved for Drew Doughty of the struggling Kings.
“Hey, Doughty, how’s the season going?” a kid chirped as he walked the red carpet.
“I had to laugh at that one,” Doughty said. “They boo me every time I play here, and I secretly love it.
“I love playing the villain out here. Those boos just encourage me and make me want to do it better.”
Unflappable, Doughty stands by his team, the worst in the West, and their chance to make the playoffs.
“None of us are giving up, and we still believe that we could possibly do it. That’s the truth,” Doughty said. “I know everyone is thinking I’m an idiot right now, but that’s the truth.”
Pacific goalie John Gibson bore the brunt of the fans’ wrath, surrendering seven goals in 10 minutes to the tune of “Ducks suck!” chants.
“We were laughing because we were so embarrassed we were playing so bad. It sucked. When they were doing that to Gibson, too, we got even more pissed off. We felt bad for him because it wasn’t his fault,” Doughty said after a 10-4 loss.
“Shift after shift, they were scoring, scoring, scoring. We kinda knew once it was 7-1, we were pretty screwed.”
— LA Kings (@LAKings) January 26, 2019
11. Connor McDavid’s defiance
“More tough questions?” McDavid quipped as he sat down to meet the media after his Skills showing.
The Oilers/Pacific captain refused to be painted as a victim, sticking up for his struggling club in some uncomfortable circumstances.
How tense are things in Edmonton? Gary Bettman was asked if he was concerned about McDavid losing hockey games. Maybe the Commish can play wing.
So, it was nice to see Joe Pavelski’s eight-year-old son, Nathan, running around representing with a No. 97 sweater.
“Pretty cool,” McDavid said. “He’s obviously a fan, and that means a lot. It’s a little bit different to think about when the Sharks are a team we play all the time and they’re a division rival.”
“He likes watching him,” Pavelski explained. “He needs a favorite player. How do you tell him no, right?”
12 a. John Carlson making the case for no more face targets…
“Me and Holts were talking about this,” Carlson said of the glowing Accuracy Shooting targets.
He misses the old-school Styrofoam ones.
“Maybe it’s cool and interactive the way they do it now, but it’s also nice as a fan to see some targets being blown up left and right, too. That was our childhood anyways.”
12 b. …and Pastrnak making the case to keep them.
“That hurt, to hit my own face,” Pasta deadpanned.
Wait. They had the Bruins sniper firing at his own emoji mug?
“Yep. Top-left corner. It hurt. I could feel it every time I got hit.”
13. Jon Cooper flossing like a boss
14. The monochrome sweaters looked slick
All-star sweaters, for the most part, have been a mixed bag. I loved the black-and-white look this year. And prominently featuring each individual player’s team crest instead of, say, the NHL logo is a smart play to increase sales.
True, it might be a bit gimmicky that Adidas created the Parley material out of recycled plastic from ocean waste, but we approve of the message and the aesthetics.
“I love the idea behind it. It’s good for the environment,” McDavid said. “It’s pretty remarkable what they can do, turning plastic into those jerseys, it’s a pretty cool thing.”
15. Jack Eichel pitching the Sabres to sign impending UFA Jeff Skinner long-term
“It would be great,” Eichel said. “He’s gotten closer and closer with our group over the year, and you can see in his performance, in his work ethic, and the way he’s gelled and meshed with our group has been awesome. He’s scored some really big goals. You can’t say enough good things about him.”
16. Marc-Andre Fleury and Kris Letang arriving to the game via scooter.
“You saw that, eh?” Fleury smiled, because Fleury always smiles.
“No falls. No, no, no. They’re very safe. I stop at the red light and the stop signs. I’m careful.”
When in San Jose, you take a scooter to the #NHLAllStar Game
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) January 26, 2019
17. Hearing Leon Draisaitl describe Erik Karlsson
The Oilers winger didn’t want to disrespect the others, but he had to admit EK65 tops his list of defencemen.
“To me, Erik Karlsson, he’s always my favourite defenceman to watch. He’s just always relaxed. He seems so chill on the ice,” Draisaitl said. “There’s no stress point ever for him.”
Looming free agency doesn’t even seem to faze the guy.
“Yeah, the time is nigh,” Karlsson cracked. “It’s coming up. We all know it. There’s no way around it. You guys are going to talk about it. I’m going to think about it. That’s just the way it is.”
Karlsson said he and his wife moved to San Jose with open minds and that GM Doug Wilson has been respectful of his freedom and provided him with all the information he needs to make a decision.
“So far, the Sharks organization has done everything more than good,” Karlsson said. “Both me and my wife liked it here instantly.
“The people around here — the organization and my teammates and everybody — did a great job in helping us settle in as quickly and as comfortably as possible and giving us all the room that we needed to grow individually to establish ourselves. I think we’re past that threshold now where we wake up every day and kind of know what to do.”
Having suffered an injury prior to the break, it was commendable of Karlsson to play through.
“Being here in San Jose, I think it was important to,” he said. “When you get the opportunity to participate like I did, I felt like it was something I wanted to do.”
18. Elias Pettersson leading the youth movement
Led by Vancouver’s sure Calder king, the 2019 All-Star Weekend featured 11 players under 23 years old.
“Amazing, isn’t it?” Lundqvist, 36, marveled. “These guys seem to be getting better and better at a younger age.”
Steven Stamkos said he was most amped up to see the 20-year-old Pettersson, one of several first-timers.
“And the thing is, they’re not afraid to make mistakes. They have a quiet swagger around them, and that’s not a bad thing,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper.
“Remember when it was the guys who were 30, 31 who were getting the big contracts? Then it went to 27. Now it’s the 22-, 23-year-old kids who are cashing in because they are so impressive.”
Brock Boeser, who repped Vancouver in his rookie year as well, couldn’t speak highly enough of his centreman.
“He deserves it more than anyone there. It was exciting last year,” says Boeser, the 2018 MVP. “I thought I wouldn’t be nervous, but once I got there? You get nervous. I feel he’ll get nervous.
“He’s a humble kid. He’s quiet around people he doesn’t know, but once he opens up to you, he’s a super nice kid. He kinda reminds me of myself a little bit. He’s awesome. He just respects everyone.
“He’s just a normal kid; he doesn’t act like a superstar.”
19. Guy Gaudreau patrolling the pine
Guy Gaudreau, Johnny’s father, thought Pacific Division coach Bill Peters was kidding around when he asked Guy if he’d like to join him on the bench and help coach the 3-on-3 tournament.
So Peters and Gaudreau Senior hunkered down for 20 minutes to draw up lines and game plan.
A helluva gift for a man who, Johnny says, has endured a tough year. Guy survived a cardiac event in March that shook the family.
“He was quiet at first,” Johnny said, “but I think he hates losing more than me, so he started giving guys little pushes on the back, saying, ‘Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!’ So he had a lot of fun with it.”