EDMONTON — The NHL All-Star Game concluded with a good ol’ Alberta love-in, as Edmonton Oilers Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid celebrated a Pacific Division victory in a goal-crease group hug with Calgary Flames Mark Giordano and David Rittich.
Earlier on, Matthew Tkachuk had traded pucks with Draisaitl to create an open-net goal for the big German, then Tkachuk playfully bolted to the bench without even hanging around to celebrate. “Ha ha!” laughed Draisaitl, who only a week before had said he’d probably “leave the ice” if he were teamed up with the pesky Tkachuk in St. Louis.
Word spoken in the heat of the moment, as it turned out.
“We all enjoyed ourselves at the All-Star game. That’s not the time to start any drama,” Draisaitl said on Monday. “We had a good time, it was fun, but now we’re back to our teams. It’s an important game on Wednesday.”
The Battle of Alberta is finally back to a point where we have some hatred. Surely we didn’t extinguish all of that with a crummy all-star game?
“It’s the all-star game, and we’re trying to have fun and put a show on for the fans,” McDavid said. “When it gets back to the real games, not much changes.”
Alex Chiasson was the rare Oilers player who actually watched the game. He had a quiet chuckle when he saw Giordano teamed up with McDavid and Draisaitl as one of the units in three-on-three hockey.
“Kind of ironic, in a way,” he said. “The guys, you make it to the all-star game, all those guys are special players. They respect each other for that — they’re good players. But you’ve got to draw a line. You’re at an NHL event, with all the cameras on them. I thought they did a great job — they went out and they won.”
But now that everyone is singing “Kumbaya” together, what becomes of The Battle?
“I think we’ll be all right,” said Chiasson, himself a former Flame. “The importance of the two points goes a long ways.”
James Neal has also played in Calgary, recently as a matter of fact. He also played in Dallas, Pittsburgh, Nashville and now Edmonton.
He’s an old pro when it comes to playing against familiar faces.
“I played with Mark Giordano. He’s a great guy, an unbelievable captain, an unbelievable person. Great guy, good friend,” said Neal.
But you’d still line him up?
“I wouldn’t line him up,” he said. “You’d hit him if he was in your way, or he was making a play. You’d take the body and I’m sure he’d do the exact same to me. We’re both competitive guys.
“Maybe if you had him in a vulnerable position, like anyone else, you’d definitely lay off,” he said, laying the groundwork with a veiled shot at Tkachuk and his hits versus Zack Kassian.
Neal had the ultimate experience when he played his former team in the Stanley Cup Final.
“When you’re teammates with guys you’re friends with then. Then you play (against) them and you turn the switch on and play hard. There are lots of guys who have good friends and then get traded, and find themselves playing in the Stanley Cup finals,” he said. “I had good friends in Pittsburgh, then I find myself in Nashville playing against them. It’s on out there. You’re doing anything to win. To help your new teammates win.”
He recollects playing in four all-star games, dressing alongside many a foe along the way.
“Guys go into all-star games hating each other, talking to each other like it was nothing, and then going right back to doing the same thing the next game. I don’t expect anything different here,” he said of Draisaitl and McDavid.
So, you’re saying it doesn’t make for a lifelong friendship just because you traded a few pucks and won a few grand together in St. Louis?
Phew! We’d hope not.