ST. LOUIS — The NHL All Stars descended upon St. Louis for the past three days, and what a weekend it was.
Players perched atop the 100-level launched pucks over the crowd. Women’s hockey players dazzled. Blues legends … appeared. Connor McDavid was dethroned. Green Day singer Billie Joe Armstrong spewed out a few F-bombs (no, that wasn’t your TV feed cutting out). And oh yeah, they also staged a 3-on-3 tournament that wasn’t half bad!
Here is a look at the highlights and lowlights.
Best: The games weren’t horrible!
The no-hit, little-defense 3-on-3 NHL All-Star Game doesn’t always produce the most compelling product, but two of the three games in the mini-tournament were quite entertaining: The Pacific Division’s 10-5 win over the Blues-laden Central Division, and the Pacific’s 5-4 win over the Atlantic in the final.
“You got more and more serious as these events go on. Both teams wanted to win,” said Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman. “Of course, we gave up like six breakaways in the second period, so I don’t know if it’s that tight.”
Worst: Two out of three ain’t bad
That Atlantic win over the Metropolitan was a reminder of how much this All-Star Game could have used Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Artemi Panarin, among others.
Best: Laila Anderson’s intros
The St. Louis Blues’ most famous fan — apologies, Jon Hamm — and postseason inspiration set the tone for the All-Star Game with spirited introductions for the hometown heroes playing for the Central Division.
ROUND OF APPLAUSE FOR LAILA ANDERSON. 👏👏👏
Awesome, awesome, AWESOME job! 💙 #NHLAllStar pic.twitter.com/7atGtvnVVe
— NHL (@NHL) January 26, 2020
Anderson has battled hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, a life-threatening immune disease. One year ago, she received a life-saving bone marrow transplant from donor Kenton Felmlee.
Worst: Misusing the legends
As expected, some of the St. Louis Blues’ legends were integrated into the skills competition, but alas, it was in the most awkward of ways:
Hall of Famer Bernie Federko appeared during the shot accuracy competition and didn’t shoot a puck, instead passing to Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo for three missed shots and then … getting a hug and leaving?
Al MacInnis returned to the hardest shot competition with a wooden stick, and almost no one got the bit where he was “clocked” at his 1998 speed of 100.4 miles per hour — many thought it was real.
Keith Tkachuk and Brett Hull appeared in the last event of the night, getting nice pops from the crowd but adding little to the festivities otherwise.
Best: The women’s 3-on-3 game
This is the third year the NHL has included elite women’s hockey players at All-Star Weekend, and 2020 marked the most significant involvement yet. Twenty Canadian and American national team players faced off in a two-period, running clock 3-on-3 match that showed off the women’s speed and skill — despite some choppy ice — and definitely some stellar goaltending. Canada won 2-1, but the most important thing was exposure.
“My two girls aren’t too big into skating yet, but I think one day they will be,” Capitals All-Star T.J. Oshie said. “For them to look up to role models like this and be able to see them at the NHL All-Star Weekend, I think it’s pretty cool. They were on the bench with me out there and they saw some of the girls skating around, so it’s pretty special for them to see that and have some people to look up to.”
Worst: No clarity on the NHL’s future relationship with women’s hockey players
All indications are that the NHL will continue to include women in the All Star Weekend next year; this should be a new staple.
But the women — all part of the Professional Hockey Women’s Players Association, a group of some-200 players boycotting the National Women’s Hockey League — really want a sustainable pro league. And they’ve suggested that the NHL should run it, a la the NBA’s relationship with the WNBA. Once again, commissioner Gary Bettman stayed mum on a formal relationship.
“It’s a step in the right direction that the NHL is supporting women’s hockey and they’re helping us get the exposure we need,” Canadian forward Rebecca Johnston said. “I think the partnership is there. It’s not something you can build overnight. So for us, it’s just being patient, trying to continue to grow the game, getting as much exposure as we can and keep working at that.”
Best: Mathew Barzal beats Connor McDavid
One of the genuine surprises at the skills competition was New York Islanders star Mathew Barzal winning the fastest skater race with a time of 13.175 seconds — ending the three-season reign of Connor McDavid, whom Barzal watched blaze to a time of 13.215 seconds, for second place.
“I might have gotten lucky this week. He was on a break, so he hadn’t been on skates for a while. We just finished two days ago, so I was fresh on my skates,” said Barzal. “I don’t think I could have skated a better lap. I don’t think I could have done it again.”
Worst: Technical difficulties
The shot accuracy competition was needlessly complicated by a CGI plexiglass enhancement that was distracting at best and inaccurate at worst. And nothing screams “All-Star excitement” like seeing an IT guy shuffle out on the ice after it broke during an early shooter’s turn. We yearn for the simplistic charms of chunky foam targets.
Best: Tomas Hertl breaking out the Justin Bieber mask
Prop comedy is back! In the spirit of P.K. Subban’s mullet wig, Alex Ovechkin’s hat and sunglasses combo and Brent Burns’ Chewbacca costume, Hertl skated into the shootout streak competition against Jordan Binnington wearing a Justin Bieber mask. (If you’re not keeping up with the Instagram follies of the youths these days, Bieber and Binnington have tentatively arranged a breakaway challenge).
Hertl’s personality was on full display, even if the oversized mask caused him to fall and nearly lose the puck as he skated toward the net.
Worst: Justin Bieber not actually being there
The NHL tried to arrange it, but apparently visiting St. Louis in January for an NHL event just didn’t fit into Mr. Bieber’s schedule. In the NHL’s defense, the league did get St. Louis celebs like Jenna Fischer and Jon Hamm to show up.
Best: Trying new things
As one NHL executive put it: The new “Shooting Stars” event, the Topgolf-inspired competition in which players fired pucks over the crowd at targets on the ice, “probably needs some rethinking.” But that’s OK! As a first draft, the event was wildly inventive, played well on television and included both NHLers and women’s All-Stars. (Next year? Get the goalies in there.)
“It was a little different. Pretty unique,” said Jack Eichel of the Sabres. “It seemed like the crowd had a good time with it. They were trying to do something new to try to spark the fans’ interest a little bit. I thought it was cool.”
Worst: The 10-point gateway arch
The shooters in the “Shooting Stars” competition all agreed before the event that they would target the large 10-point target at center ice that resembled the Gateway Arch, which immediately sapped the event of any strategy. But the biggest problem was when pucks landed in the netting but weren’t counted because they didn’t go through the front, instead dropping into the netting from above the target. Count Mitch Marner and David Pastrnak among the baffled when their 10-pointers didn’t count.
With Brad Marchand not here, someone had to ascend to being the event’s primary villain, and that player was Patrick Kane. Blues fans jeered him on both days, which led to perhaps the funniest moment of the All-Star Game: Kane scoring a goal for the Central Division, putting his glove to his ear to hear the boos only to hear Blues fans cheering him … until they realized it was Kane that scored, and then they booed him.
“To be honest with you, sometimes you get booed, you kind of like it a little bit. It’s St. Louis and Chicago, it’s a huge rivalry. Not only in hockey, but pretty much every other sport they play against each other,” said Kane. “I guess that’s only baseball, but … you know what? Had a lot of fun this weekend and I thought that was a pretty cool moment.”
Worst: Green Day vs. NBC censors
The good news: Green Day was trending on Twitter after their performance in the NHL All-Star Game.
The bad news: It was because of the barrage of F-bombs they dropped during the performance, some of which were caught by broadcast censors and some that were absolutely not caught. The worst news: This is only Year 1 of a two-year contract with the band.
Best: T.J. Oshie
The Capitals winger, who spent the first seven seasons of his career in St. Louis, was voted to his first All-Star Game and enjoyed the weekend being feted by fans. But the best moment came when Oshie scored to give the Metropolitan Division a 3-2 lead over the Atlantic on Saturday night. Afterward, he exchanged a wave with his father, Tim, who is battling Alzheimer’s.
A special moment between @TJOshie77 and his dad after he scored in the #NHLAllStar Game. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/jI0yifv1ol
— #NHLAllStar on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) January 26, 2020
“He missed our fathers’ trip this year, it’s kind of hard for him to travel,” Oshie said afterward. “But we were able to make it work for him to come to St. Louis where a lot of the people you see working down here behind the scenes probably know him better than they know me, so he got to see some old friends.”
Worst: Armistice in the Battle of Alberta
Entering the weekend, the Oilers-Flames rivalry was hotter than ever. Oilers star Leon Draisaitl even threatened to “get off the ice” if he had to play with Matthew Tkachuk in the All-Star Game.
Apparently that was all talk. Draisaitl set Tkachuk up for a pretty goal in the final. Some fans caught Draisaitl muttering something under his breath afterward, but the Oilers star quashed any controversy afterward.
“I was just joking around,” he said. “I hope everyone knows I was just joking around.” And then he continued with plenty of pleasantries. “We’re all here to have fun,” Draisaitl said. “We’re all here to have a good time.”