Greetings from La Belle Province. As I alluded to a few days back, I was lucky enough to score tickets to the NHL All-Star Game, Skills Competition and NHL Party this weekend.
We left for Montreal early Saturday morning, and for those who know me well, getting up at any time that doesn’t have a double-digit in front of it is a major chore. Yet by 8 a.m., we were on the road; thankfully, I only had to navigate. “Uh, get on the 401 and go east.” Nap time.
Traffic was non-existent, so short of a little confusion that almost took us into Lake Champlain, Vermont, we managed to find our way to the hotel fairly seamlessly.
A huge poster of Sidney Crosby adorned the hotel exterior, but unfortunately, that’s as close as anyone is going to get to actually seeing Sid the Kid in action this weekend. A sore knee will keep him from playing, but at least he showed up to participate in the festivities. As a result, he won’t be suspended by Dictator Bettman like Pavel Datysuk and Nicklas Lidstrom will be.
In other news, our room was actually still reserved, so I overlooked the ominous fact that we were given room number 1313. I’m not superstitious…much.
As guests of the NHL, we were each given a funky little gift bag. It was an NHL laptop bag, and inside was: a toy Honda CBR 600RR motorcycle (not sure what the connection is there…oh wait, that’s right…Honda is a major sponsor of this event); what looks like an extremely challenging 250-piece All-Star Game jigsaw puzzle; an official NHL All-Star Game keychain; the NHL All-Access DVD, billed as “an unprecedented look behind the scenes”; a Joe Sakic Fathead Tradeable card; a deck of All-Star Game playing cards; two packs of Upper Deck MVP hockey cards; an NHL water bottle; an NHL All-Star Game luggage tag; some Bell marketing material (ya!); an official NHL All-Star toque (which came in seriously handy given the local weather); and the obligatory bag of silica gel.
So after checking in, we headed over to a local brew pub to lubricate ourselves for the Saturday evening Skills Competition. Yeah, about that Skills Competition…I’ve always been a fan of this, but it definitely left something wanting this year. For starters, what happened to the Conference pride? No longer are players competiting for their respective conferences; now, it’s all about individual glory. This ain’t the NBA, baby…don’t pretend to be.
Among the more interesting things during the player introductions was the immense ovation reserved for Vincent Lecavalier. How bad do Hab fans want this dude in Montreal? Sure, all the French Canadians were given very warm greetings, but man, what a hard on these people have for Lecavalier. Well, according to my inside sources, this ain’t gunna happen. I heard from someone who spoke to the Lightning owner who said he feels like dealing Lecavalier anywhere will reek of desperation as far as the TB financial situation goes. So don’t expect Vinny to move anywhere, never mind Montreal.
I couldn’t help but laugh my ass off when Tomas Kaberle was booed mercilessly. As a noted Leaf hater myself, I had no problem with that.
Philadelphia Flyer All-Star rep Jeff Carter did quite well in the fastest skater competition, looking like he was going to win until the final competitor, Andrew Cogliano, beat him out. Generally, though, this event is a good time to go grab a beer.
Then came the breakaway challenge, a new event where players have 60 seconds to score as many goals as they can in apparently as big a hot-dog mode as humanly possible. Most of the players just wound up deking themselves out. Pathetic. At least Alex Ovechkin took the competition in the spirit it deserved, making a mockery of it by donning a fishing hat with a Canadian flag, huge-ass sunglasses and swooping in on the goalie with a second stick. Kudos to OV for cutting through the boredom.
Next up, the Rookie-Sophomore Challenge (again, a page from the NBA) was held. Three six-minute periods of excruciatingly boring, three-on-three shinny hockey — nothing resembling a real game. We decided to head off for some freaking yummy french fries at this point, but did return in time to witness Devin Setoguchi show some serious skill. Man, this kid is freaking good.
The accuracy competition is one of my faves, and as always, it was entertaining, although how Evgeni Malkin made it into the finals was beyond me. Sorry, he did not go 4-for-4 in the opening round. In fact, following this event seemed incredibly difficult in person, especially since the arena commentators would be doing things like “Jarome Iginla is now 2-for-6…now he’s 4-for-7.” Uh, okay…I’m with you. In spirit. Right.
Malkin finished 3-for-4 in the tiebreaker to take out Dany Heatley and then he proceeded to show off his poor command of English by telling the interviewer how easy this event was. What he meant was that he wasn’t nervous, but he inadvertently came off like an asswipe. Lost in translation, part one.
Of course, at one point, the whole show was off as the audio wasn’t matching the video of a player interview. Good thing Cisco was a key sponsor here, as it really knows how to synch these video issues….right? Where’s Nortel when you need ’em?
In the hardest shot competition, somehow three players went well over 100 mph — Shea Weber, Sheldon Souray and then Zdeno Chara with a new record. Check that radar gun, boys!
Next up was the shootout. Now, who doesn’t love the occasional shootout? The problem is this was a case of too much of a good thing — every single player on both teams shot, and anyone who scored moved on to subsequent rounds. Holy long event, Batman! The highlight of the event, and what garnered the biggest ovation was when Mark Streit missed and then, on his way back, wiped out a sign and went sprawling. Classic drama.
Ryan Getzlaf came down wearing a bright orange Ducks cap. That shouldn’t be allowed — how the hell is the goalie supposed to follow the puck when he’s blind?
Is Patrick Kane 14 years old, or what?
Man, do they ever love Alexei Kovalev in Montreal. Didn’t this dude go 19 games without a frigging goal earlier this season? And how the hell is he the captain of the Eastern Conference? Am I missing something?
More frivolity: one of the officials wiped out on a Honda sign on the ice. Man, who says All-Star games have no contact? They’re dropping like flies!
At any rate, both Shane Doan and Milan Hejduk impressed the hell out of me in the shootout competition. Some serious moves going on there. But because of the deep-sixing of the whole East vs. West thingy, the shootout was a free for all, with — on a couple of occasions — players shooting on goalies who were their real life teammates! Oh, now that’s fair. I mean, when Tim Thomas high-fived fellow Bruin Marc Savard after Savard beat him, you couldn’t help but think this entire process was total bullshit. Not that I’m bitter. Much.
After that, it was off to the invite-only NHL party. We had to be herded through this hallway on to buses, so the process took forever and damn I was getting thirsty!
More to come later….time to get go drunk!