21 awesome things about NHL All-Star weekend

Anaheim Ducks' Trevor Zegras participates in the Skills Competition breakaway challenge event, part of the NHL All-Star weekend, Friday, Feb. 4, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP)

LAS VEGAS – The Metropolitan Division defeated the Central Division 5-3 to claim the 2022 NHL All-Star Game and the $1 million prize.

OK. Now that the hard news has been dealt with, let’s get into some fun stuff from the NHL’s showcase in a showtime town.

“It’s a pretty easy city to show off,” local hero Alex Pietrangelo said. “I mean, everyone knows what Vegas is, right?

We scribbled down 21 awesome things about All-Star in our notebook.

1. Behind-the-scenes blackjack access when the Strip shut down

“Double down, Papi!”

Brian Matthews is wearing a cowboy hat. He’s standing on Las Vegas Boulevard and hollering encouragement at his son, Auston, who has just hit 11.

Matthews is standing on a large pedestal alongside Joe Pavelski, Nazem Kadri, Steven Stamkos and Brady Tkachuk. They are taking turns firing illuminated pucks off a slippery platform and toward a massive grid of 52 oversized playing cards.

Hockey’s version of blackjack.

The Fountains of Bellagio spray and dance to the west. Palm trees loom to the east. Flashing lights everywhere.

A Dallas Stars fan diving by flings his head out the car window and screams, “Come on, Joe. You got this!”

The NHL has shut down one of the busiest blocks of the Strip at rush hour to tape this extravagant stunt-slash-contest for its Skills showcase the following night.

It’s ridiculous but fun, and the league’s senior executive vice-president, Steve Mayer, the engine behind this madness, loves this stuff.

Bigger. Cheesier. Full Vegas.

“We’re in Vegas to do something unique to the city and just change it up a bit,” Matthews says. “I thought it was actually fun.”

Cale Makar and his girlfriend show up just to support Colorado teammate Kadri.

Commissioner Gary Bettman mills about, greeting the onlookers. By the fountains, where the burlesque dancers just walked by, a cluster of NFL mascots pose for a group photo in full fur. Did we mention the Pro Bowl is in town?

Matthews’ whole family is out on the street to root him on.

When Matthews punches a 3 with his first shot, his mom, Emma, says, “Not what I was looking for.”

And when he adjusts with an 8 on his second attempt: “He knows how to play the game.”

Indeed, they all do.

One way or another, they all reach 21. But the NHL has the street permit for only so long.

A TV producer’s voice pipes through the players’ earpieces: “We gotta get done in four minutes, or we’re gonna get fined.”

The sun is going down, and with it the warmth.

“I don’t want to be here all night. I’ve been in Florida for 14 years. I’m freezing,” Stamkos says.

A tie-breaker feels made up in haste, and the players are learning the rules as it goes along. High card wins.

Pavelski and Stamkos nail the last two aces available, then Pavelski — who goes a perfect 5-for-5 — pounds a king and a queen. Stamkos can’t match.

Pavelski even snaps a couple pucks that punch right through cards and shatter lights in the rig.

“Yeah, that double explosion was kind of cool,” Pavelski says, smiling.

2. Nate Pavelski’s stick-collecting mission

Joe Pavelski’s 11-year-old son, Nate, says he has a collection of hockey sticks from 15 NHL stars.

Nate’s most prized one? Cole Caufield’s. Wisconsin represent.

“We’re gonna double (his collection) up,” Dad said Friday. “There’s the potential to go home with 20 to 30.”

3. Auston Matthews getting to meet Evgeni Kuznetsov

Kuznetsov wouldn’t have been in Vegas had Adam Fox not gotten injured, but Matthews was just fine with the substitution.

A fan of the Russian since his world junior medal runs, Matthews has long admired his creativity.

“Ever since he’s been in the NHL, he’s just a sneaky guy that does a lot of really impressive stuff out there,” Matthews said.

The Leafs star had heard that Kuznetsov is a bit of a stick nerd like him, so he wanted to chat sticks with him.

4. Vegas lustily booing Tom Wilson any chance it got

“That OK. That’s how they love him,” Kuznetsov said.

5. Wilson shaking his head at Claude Giroux’s nonstop mouth

“He honestly has probably chirped me on every single faceoff we’ve had,” Wilson said, smiling. “He’s a competitor. He’s always getting in guys’ heads — or trying to. That’s just part of his game.”

Sometimes, Wilson said, Giroux will act really friendly with an opponent and try to be buddies between whistles in effort to shake them off their game.

6. Giroux not ready to greenlight a trade just yet

The Flyers are floundering with a 15-22-8 record and a minus-39 goal differential.

With the All-Star Game MVP on an expiring contract, a trade feels inevitable.

“it’s been a roller coaster kind of year, so it hasn’t been that fun,” said Giroux, asked about his thoughts heading toward the trade deadline.

“A lot time left. That’s all I have for you right now. It’s a lot of hockey left. I know playoffs, for us, it’s gonna be a long shot. We know that. But I’ve seen crazier things.”

7. Steven Stamkos feeling the love from his enemies

Something has really struck Stanley Cup champion Stamkos at these massive league events, and it started at the NHL’s pre-season media day.

“I had multiple guys come up to me and congratulate me and say how happy they were for our team. And that kind of caught me off guard a little bit,” Stamkos said.

It wasn’t only his buddies on the other teams; opponents he didn’t know well at all were approaching him too.

“And they just seemed like they were genuinely kind of happy for us and amazed that we’ve had won two in a row. So I thought that was pretty unique.”

8. Yes, Stamkos has designs on a Toronto-Tampa playoff series

“Yeah, there’s no secret I have a lot of friends and family in the Toronto area. Every time we go there, it’s always fun to play against them and to have a good game there,” Stamkos said.

“I thought it was gonna happen last year, and we thought it was probably happening the year before. It didn’t work out, but I think it’s gonna happen here in the next couple of years with the way things are going.”

9. Nathan MacKinnon having Kadri’s back

A charismatic star having the season of his life and tied for third in league scoring probably should’ve made the original All-Star roster.

But when Kadri didn’t get named, teammate MacKinnon spoke out, calling it ridiculous that Kadri had been snubbed and needed to be voted into the showcase.

“That meant a lot to me, especially a player of his magnitude and the knowledge he has for the game. I think he’s pretty well-respected,” Kadri said. “That’s just what I’m talking about — guys going to bat for each other. And I think this year specifically with our team, it seems like everybody’s that way with each other, so that’s something I definitely respect.”

10. Trevor Zegras fathering a million dangles

Incredibly smart move by the NHL to invite Dishigan sensation Zegras to take part in the weekend despite not actually being named to team.

The Ducks’ Zegras stole the show at Skills with a blind dangle that should spawn young imitators all over.

Zegras said he’s seen a bunch of kids mimicking his lacrosse-style, over-the-net assist to Sonny Milano that stunned the hockey world.

“Definitely got tagged in a couple of photos or videos,” Zegras said. “I honestly think that was the best thing that kind of came out of that goal.”

11. Rod Brind’Amour singling out the Florida Panthers as the team to beat

“That’s the juggernaut team for me. That management has done a great job in the way they’ve assembled that team. There’s no weaknesses,” Hurricanes coach Brind’Amour said.

“They play to their identity, which all the top teams do. You’re gonna get high-octane. You gotta be on your toes … . It’s a fun team to watch, not so much fun to play against.”

12. Brind’Amour could relax this time

Brind-Amour said this All-Star weekend felt like the complete opposite of the one he attended as a player in 1992 in Philadelphia.

“I was over my head. There’s the Gretzkys and all the guys you look up to. I was just so nervous. I couldn’t wait for it to get over,” Brind-Amour admitted.

This time he just enjoyed the opportunity to get to know some of the fellow Metropolitan players he’s so used to disliking in the heat of battle and game-planning against. He found himself in an elevator with Capitals tough guy Tom Wilson, and they had a nice chat.

“You can let your guard down for at least a day or two and be real with each other,” Brind’Amour said. “That’s a great experience.”

13. Speaking of being real …

We loved Pacific coach Peter DeBoer’s candour upon elimination. He admitted he had difficulty focusing because he was coaching guilty.

“Today’s a little bit foggy for me,” DeBoer said. “I’ll be honest. I’m a little hungover.”

Vegas remains undefeated.

14. These Cam Talbot saves

15. Mark Stone’s love for Brady Tkachuk

Once believed to be in line for the Ottawa Senators’ captaincy, Stone said his former housemate couldn’t be more deserving of the honour and loves that Tkachuk committed long-term to the city.

“You could tell from Day One that he was the guy, you know? When I was there kind of leading the charge, he was my righthand man — when he was 19. The way he plays speaks for itself. He brings you into the fight every night,” said Stone, who was thrilled to catch up with Tkachuk.

“I loved (our time together) and still have that relationship to this day. Look forward to keeping that relationship. Maybe someday down the road we’ll meet up again and play.”

Now a member of the NHL’s glitziest franchise in Vegas, a thoughtful Stone reflected on his years in Canada’s capital.

“I loved my time there. Loved playing. Loved going on those playoff runs,” Stone said. “It’s kind of disappointing the way everything went down. You know, I only know a couple guys left there.

“Seeing how incredible the downtown area is, how awesome it is to live in Ottawa, I really hope they can get that rink downtown. It can be incredible for the city, not just for Senators events but for other events throughout the summers and concerts. I think that could add a crazy element to that city.”

16. Homer Jon Hamm trolling everyone with his suspect scoring system

The trouble with allowing celebrities to adjudicate a trick-shot competition is they might let their biases slip.

Handsome actor and diehard Blues fan Jon Hamm plays by his own rules. So, he awarded Alex Pietrangelo a score of 19 (the max is 10) during the Breakaway Challenge in honour of the Stanley Cup Pietrangelo brought to St. Louis in 2019.

That Pietrangelo didn’t even score on his attempt, or that Zegras easily put on the best show didn’t matter to the dastardly Hamm, who got everyone riled up.

17. Matthews’ and Campbell’s media word challenge

18. Wyatt Russell borrowed Bill Ranford’s gear

Fun fact: Movie-star goalie Russell and Cam Talbot were teammates at the University of Alabama-Huntsville.

“As soon as he got named, he reached out to me and asked if I’d seen the news,” Talbot said. “I told him to beat it. He’s got Hollywood now, and this is my thing.”

19.Connor McDavid is a Troy Terry stan

When a reporter relayed to Terry that the Oilers captain had singled him out as the player he was most excited to share the ice with this weekend, Terry’s response was wonderful.

“I got goosebumps when you just said that,” Terry said. “When you’re coming to an All-Star Game, the guy that stands out to everyone is Connor McDavid. He’s someone everyone in the league follows, everyone is in awe of.”

20. “Halftime” performer Machine Gun Kelly getting raised to the rafters like a retired jersey

21. Stamkos’s post-game availability ending because his son, Carter, just had to see the Zamboni

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