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20 Awesome Things about NHL All-Star Weekend: Big names, great surprises

Sportsnet logo Sportsnet 2020-01-26 Luke Fox
all-star © (Scott Kane/AP) all-star

ST. LOUIS – “It feels like Winnipeg.”

That’s how Mark Scheifele described chilly, snowy St. Louis over the NHL’s 2020 All-Star Weekend.

“Feels like home,” Scheifele smiled.

The Jets star was referring to the weather, but he could’ve just as easily been talking about the atmosphere. The mixing and meshing of hockey royalty in celebration of the game we love.

While the skies may have been grey — it’s no fluke the 2021 showcase is heading to Florida — inside Enterprise Center the personalities were colourful and the surprises were plentiful.

Little touches, like having Laila Anderson introduce the Blues’ stars and local celebrities Jenna Fischer and Jon Hamm serve as honourary coaches, went a long way.

“A well-done show. The NHL did a great job,” Jordan Binnington approved. “The boys are happy.”

Over the course of three days, we crammed our notebook with nuggets from some of the biggest names in the game (and applied earmuffs when Green Day performed, lest Billie Joe say something not so kid-friendly).

Here are 20 awesome things about the 2020 NHL All-Star Weekend.

1. The Oilers and Flames played nice (for now) — and got paid

Not only did Leon Draisaitl not get off the ice when he and Matthew Tkachuk shared a shift, but he accepted a Tkachuk feed and scored for the Pacific Division, who went on to win the $1 million.

“It was a nice play by him,” Draisaitl chuckled. “This is not the time to be grumpy about anything, or whatever it is. We’re a team, and everyone here, I think, had a great time. It was a lot of fun.”

Mark Giordano knows the feud will pick right back up Wednesday.

“I thought both sides handled themselves really well this weekend,” Giordano said. “I’m sure next week when we get back to the Battle of Alberta there’ll be that fire.”

2. Markstrom emphasizing his desire to re-sign in Vancouver (and raising his suit game)

Vancouver Canucks fans should be encouraged that one of the most coveted impending UFA goaltenders, Jacob Markstrom, sounds more than happy to stay put.

“I want to stay in Vancouver. I’m sure the people with the suits will figure it out with my agent. I just got to play hockey, and if I play good, I’m sure I get to stay,” says Markstrom, on target for a juicy bump from his current $4 million salary.

“It’s been tough. It’s never fun to be in a rebuild process, and as goalie it’s frustrating. You want to win hockey games, and it’s frustrating for you, for every guy on the team, for the coaches, for the fans and for the city. Now, we got a little flash and people are excited around town and at the rink. It’s super exciting. You definitely want to be part of something in a Canadian market and be a successful team.”

Markstrom didn’t start dreaming of dollar bills once he saw Sergei Bobrovsky’s $70-million UFA payday last summer.

“That’s a big goalie,” Markstrom says. “He’s done a lot for a long time and a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, so we shouldn’t get too excited.”

3. Tocchet seeking Gallant’s blessing

Before Rick Tocchet accepted the NHL’s invitation to replace the fired Gerard Gallant behind the Pacific Division bench, he rang up his coaching comrade.

“I’m a big fan of Gerard Gallant’s, so I actually talked to him. I just wanted to get his blessing because I feel kind of bad about it. But I’m here to represent the Coyotes. With [Darcy] Kuemper getting hurt, I think somebody should represent,” Tocchet says.

“He made me feel comfortable. He’s an awesome guy, a terrific guy, and his big thing was it’s the nature of the beast and he’s gonna enjoy his grandkids. I just told him, ‘You’re not gonna be out of a job very long.’

“When a guy like Gallant goes down, it makes you think sometimes. I think your partnership with the general manager and the owner is huge, because sometimes things aren’t in your control.”

With Kuemper injured, Tocchet quite literally took one for the team by leaving sunny Scottsdale for drizzly St. Louis.

“I’m sick of planes. I didn’t feel like going anywhere,” Tocchet says. “Some guys went to Cabo. It’s only an hour-and-a-half [flight], and still that’s too long for me right now.”

4. This incredible Jon Hamm All-Star Game promo

(And seeing casual Hamm hanging out at rink in a beard and ballcap, just wanting to be where the hockey is.)

5. 80-year-old Red Berenson bending twine

At the ripe age of 80, legend Red Berenson stole the show at Thursday’s alumni game when he niftily redirected a Jeff Brown shot past Mike McKenna and lit the lamp.

“It’s not just about scoring goals, but it feels good to help the team,” the octogenarian told reporters post-victory. “And I think it makes the young guys feel inspired, too.

“Hockey is a lifetime sport, I’m here to say that.”

6. Duclair eager to sign up for the Senators’ rebuild

Ottawa has seen more than its share of star players on expiring contracts leave town.

Anthony Duclair, a pending RFA, doesn’t want to be one, saying “for sure” he’d like to re-sign long-term in Canada’s capital. Contract extension talks have yet to begin, though.

“I just want to focus and really end the season on a positive note like I did last year, and really make a statement to the management and the coaching staff that I want to be a big part of this rebuild,” Duclair, 24, says. “I’m still a young guy.

“When the change is gonna happen, when Ottawa’s gonna become a contender, I want to be part of that. So I’m working as hard as I can.”

7. Andersen’s special mask design concept

“The second Mitchy got voted in,” Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen came up with the idea of commissioning mask artist David Gunnarsson to create a specific bucket for the All-Star Game.

“He pumps them out quick,” Andersen says. “Over 100 a year. Impressive.”

A tribute to friends and fellow all-stars Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews, the mask features images of the three Toronto friends in celebration.

Andersen unveiled the design to Marner and Matthews Friday night.

“It stunned them a little bit,” says Andersen, who also debuted some slick new CN Tower pads.

The goaltender has collected 10 to 15 masks from his career already and plans to one day display them all on a wall in his home.

“I’d rather keep it,” Andersen says. “Toronto’s been really good about letting me keep my masks.”

8. The world’s love/hate relationship with Kane

Marner’s favourite moment was hanging out on the Shooting Stars platform with Patrick Kane and talking shop. Quinn Hughes singled out Kane as the player he was most excited to meet. And Nathan MacKinnon gushed about how much loves watching and competing against one his all-time favourites.

While veterans like Alex Ovechkin and Marc-Andre Fleury chose rest instead, Kane happily showed up at his ninth all-star weekend… if only to get showered deliciously with boos from Chicago’s rival city. (Kane: “To be honest with you, sometimes you get booed, you kind of like it a little bit.”)

“I love talking to Patrick Kane. He is probably my No. 1,” Scheifele perks up. “Obviously you see what he does on the ice and the skill he has, but he’s just such a great person. Such a great hockey mind. Loves to talk hockey. He’s a guy that I definitely looked up to in my career and I’ve learned a lot from watching him play, and he’s definitely a guy I really enjoy talking to.

“You talk shop, about life, about their team, about your team, and then you talk about individual things. I watch a lot of Kaner. So I definitely remember a lot of plays he makes, whether it’s against us or in other games, and it’s just cool to talk about them.”

Move over, Pavel Datsyuk. Patrick Kane is now your favourite player’s favourite player.

9. Hertl not caring that Pastrnak won MVP

In a surprise choice that even caught the winner off-guard, David Pastrnak (four goals, six points) was crowned the tournament’s MVP despite the Atlantic losing the final.

Tomas Hertl scored five times, including the million-dollar winner, and would’ve been our selection.

“It’s not up to me; it’s up to the fans,” Hertl said, all smiles, zero cares. “Pasta was great, too. He scored a lot of goals. It’s all good. I’m happy just we won.”

What’s he going to do with his share of the winnings?

“Buy some nice watches, I don’t know.”

Then Hertl scooted over to Jenna Fischer to make sure he got a photo with The Office star and signed her son’s jersey.

10. Cassidy’s candour

I always appreciate Bruce Cassidy’s forthrightness. So when we asked the Bruins coach about the recent waiving of respected veteran David Backes, he was typically thoughtful.

Backes’s road to the waiver wire, Cassidy says, began last season in Philadelphia, when the coach had to tell Backes he’d be getting healthy scratched. Increasingly, they wanted a forward who could move around the lineup, contribute to special teams and slot in different positions. The Bruins saw Backes only as a right wing, and they also wanted their veterans to get pushed by kids in Providence hungry for a shot.

But there was a human element at play, too. Cassidy has a conscience.

“David, at the end, had a few concussions. I think as a coach it’s tough to tell a guy, ‘OK, we’re missing that gritty guy,’” Cassidy says. “You get to know a player and his young kids. So that was more on me. And at the end of the day, how did he take it? Probably not very well. I spoke to him a while ago. I haven’t since he’s on his break.”

Backes is assigned to Providence, but the Bruins have given him the bye week to decide if he’s willing to return to the AHL for the first time in 13 years. Cassidy wouldn’t rule out calling him up at a later date, but the 35-year-old is certainly staring at a crossroads.

11. MacKinnon going to school on Barzal

MacKinnon and Mathew Barzal both study from skills development specialist Darryl Belfry, and MacKinnon tries to incorporate elements of Barzal’s game into his own.

“Sometimes Darryl will send me a clip of some of the things Mat does. It’s pretty special,” MacKinnon says. “His first year he had like [85] points and took everyone by surprise. What an amazing player. I think he leads the league in like possession or something — the puck’s always on his stick.”

12. Seguin singling out a more deserving teammate

Tyler Seguin has 11 goals and realizes the all-star roster puzzle can leave some more worthy players on the outside. He made the case that born-and-bred St. Louisan Ben Bishop (.927 save percentage) should’ve been the one representing Dallas.

“He’s huge. He’s No. 1. He’s should be sitting in the seat — especially being from St. Louis. I wasn’t happy that he didn’t get invited. He could’ve been taken over me, especially. He’s our backbone,” Seguin says.

“He’s consistent, he’s confident, he’s got it all. A lot of times, he’s the one driving the bus and we’re just trying to get on.”

13. MacKinnon hilariously shouting out Tim Hortons

Here’s MacKinnon’s great answer to a question about guest-coaching 2019’s all-star Central Division squad alongside Paul Maurice:

“That was fun. Just had a coffee and hung out, stress-free. Tim Hortons — my sponsor. No big deal. Whatever.

“I think the Winnipeg guys were actually like minus-10 combined last year, so Paul and I weren’t too thrilled with that.”

Does MacKinnon’s Timmies endorsement deal come with free coffee and doughnuts for life?

“No,” he said. “It’s all good. I’ll pay my share.”

14. Learning that Hertl and Pastrnak battle for sandwiches all summer

San Jose’s Hertl let his personality fly this weekend, stealing the Saves Streak spotlight when he slipped on a Justin Bieber mask before his breakaway against Jordan Binnington.

Hertl loved having a couple fellow Czech around, David Rittich and David Pastrnak.

He told me that he and Pastrnak train together back home throughout the summer and throw games where each is a captain and they select the teams.

“We get some bets for lunches or something, so we’re kind of always competing against each other,” Hertl says.

15. Alex Letang stealing Kris Letang’s thunder

Turns out, no one wanted to speak with Kris Letang on the red carpet or at the podium. Not when they could interview his more unpredictable and enthusiastic seven-year-old son, Alex, who fluently fielded questions in French and English.

“I am really excited to see the hockey players and my dad. I’m most excited to see my dad play on the 3-on-3,” Alex dished. “Yeah. I’m already playing hockey, but I’m not in the NHL.”

16. The story behind Binnington’s “Pony” request

Jordan Binnington tapped his pal, Jordan Schmaltz, for a fun song to play while he participated in the Skills Contest. Naturally, Schmaltz suggested Ginuwine’s 1996 club banger, “Pony,” which the NHL discovered wasn’t literally about a pony.

The league only allowed the instrumental version. Binnington tested the tune out in his car, and of course it still bangs 24 years later.

“I thought it was a good choice, but, you know, everyone is so sensitive these days, I don’t know what you can put out there. But it’s all in good fun. You’ve got to keep it light,” Binnington shrugs. “I was taking a look in the stands. I was hoping people would be feeling it a bit more.”

17. The awkwardness of Team Canada and Team USA sharing one dressing room

Hamilton, Ont., native Sarah Nurse laughed at the post-game atmosphere in the women’s room following Canada’s 3-on-3 triumph over the U.S.

“It was a little strange after the game,” Nurse says. “We wanted to celebrate a little bit, and we were looking across the room and we see the Americans. Sorry guyssssss….”

All the all-stars watched the women’s game, and afterward Marner argued for more support of female hockey.

“I think a lot of those players can play in this league. They got a lot of skill. You saw it out there. I mean, the plays some of them made and the moves they were making, it was impressive to see,” said Marner, who thinks it would be great to see the NHL form a WNHL.

“A lot of those players are great players and to see them not in a league right now is disappointing. I really hope they get a league back up and running.”

Because Andersen has a younger sister, Amalie, playing for the University of Maine, he too feels strongly about the situation.

“I don’t know what the right answer is,” Andersen says, “but of course I want to see a women’s side in the game for young girls to dream of playing in. I know firsthand with my sister. She goes to college. And after that, I don’t know what really is the future. I think it’s just important we keep trying to grow it and hopefully down the road they can have something to strive for besides playing college.”

18. Alumni galore!

Hats off to organizers for incorporating Blues legends Brett Hull, Bernie Federko, Wayne Gretzky, Keith Tkachuk, Chris Pronger and Al MacInnis into the festivities, adding a spice of history to the mix.

Gretzky joined pal Tocchet behind the Pacific bench for the game, Hull co-coached the Central with Craig Berube, and MacInnis clapping a slapshot in jeans with a wood stick to warm up the Hardest Shot was a fantastic touch.

“I asked him if I could use his wood stick and see if I could do it, too,” Shea Weber says. “It was a special night. I think a lot of those old Blues, it was cool, I watched a lot of those guys growing up, played against a couple of them.”

19. The Blues’ blatant Kansas City Chiefs support

Ryan O’Reilly hilariously warmed-up for the Skills Competition while wearing a Chiefs football helmet, and Binnington arrived wearing a Patrick Mahomes jersey.

“Patty Mahomes threw out a tweet at me last year in the playoff run, and it was pretty cool,” Binnington says. “I have so much respect for a guy performing at an elite level at such a young age with such a veteran mindset. You’ve got to respect a guy, and I’m looking forward to the game coming up.”

When the Rams move on, St. Louis must too.

20. Pastrnak’s apology for not winning the Shooting Stars contest

“Bad preparation by me. I never practised that. Should’ve built a 30-feet high [platform] and practised that before All-Star,” Pasta said. “Unfortunately, I was a bad pro and didn’t do it. That way I can’t deserve a win.”

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