LOS ANGELES – No one remembers the score from an All-Star Game.
You’d be hard pressed to even find someone who remembers what division won last year’s inaugural 3-on-3 tournament – save for the 11 men who split the $1-million sweetener up for grabs.
And yet this still means something.
When Auston Matthews acknowledges that it was “a little nerve-wracking” to participate in Saturday’s skills competition you know you have something. This is a guy who scored four goals in his NHL debut, and 23 times in a little more than half of his rookie season, and finally we have some evidence that a moment was big enough to shake him ever so gently.
“It was a blast,” he said.
Of course, it’s not every day that he’s seated between Erik Karlsson and Shea Weber in the dressing room. When he glanced to his right in the visitor’s room at Staples Center, he had Sidney Crosby playfully chirping him about their pending head-to-head matchup in the shooting accuracy competition.
Then they took the ice and Matthews briefly took the lead in the competition.
Crosby was next up and bested him.
“He made me look bad there,” said Matthews. “I was feeling really good, too. Four out of five (shots hit the target), not bad. … Then he goes four for five in like three seconds earlier.
“I guess that’s the reason why he’s got 26 goals this year.”
There’s still a special buzz when you get all of the top players together under one roof. The NHL took it to another level this year by inviting the former greats honoured as part of their top-100 list – making it a who’s who event for anyone who loves this game.
Again, that’s basically beside the point.
This is about showcasing the skill of the athletes – the extra room on the ice certainly helps with this new format – and putting them in an environment to mix with their peers. There’s still some value to having the future stars spend time with the established ones.
Now the 29-year-old is the one Matthews and Connor McDavid and Patrik Laine are looking at with some awe.
“I’m sure they’re having a lot of fun here and taking it all in,” said Crosby. “Early on, you don’t necessarily know all of the guys so you’re really just trying to meet everybody. It’s kind of a blur.”
Years down the road it will be something to reflect on and tell stories about. It’s one of the rare times in hockey where the outcome is completely secondary to the experience.
The All-Star Game is more about a celebration of the sport and honouring the guys who make it special than determining who is the best player or division at any particular moment. The winners will again have a $1-million incentive to split up on Sunday afternoon, but the rest of us will almost immediately forget who won.
It’s still pretty cool to see what happens when you bring the best of the best together.
“Hockey’s a small world,” said Crosby. “Everyone kind of follows each other. … It’s fun to see everyone just kind of interact. It’s quick, though.
“We’ll leave here and we’ll all be competing against each other in no time.”