Player Membership Made All-Star Weekend a Success

Las Vegas was the perfect place at the perfect time for the 2022 NHL All-Star Game.

After nearly two full years of COVID-related closures, hiatuses and general unease, the NHL was finally able to stage a world-class event at scale.

Players, fans and members of the media from across the NHL landscape were able to gather in person for what felt like the first time in forever. It was a meeting. It was a party. And it was a demonstration of what the NHL is capable of when creative minds are allowed to take the lead.

Saute pucks while surrounded by the fountains of Bellagio? Brilliant. Shutting down the Las Vegas Strip so players can play a targeted game of blackjack? Pretty cool.

But what I think really mattered was that the players really wanted to be there.

All-Star Games are not always desirable for players. Some prefer to rest or go to the Bahamas. Others may not be thrilled with the city hosting the event.

This was not the case with Vegas. A free trip to Sin City in high season? All the NHL players wanted to go there. There is no shortage of adult entertainment in Vegas.

What I really love about the All-Star Games is the family element. Players skate with their children and allow them to be part of the festivities. It’s so pure, and it leads to incredible soundbytes. Like when Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos’ 2-year-old son stepped onto the podium and told the world he wanted to drive the Zamboni. Adorable.

I loved bringing my girls for post-game interviews when I was playing. It lightened the mood and made things fun. From time to time, I watch these interviews on YouTube, and my heart melts.

It is the natural progression of a professional career. When you’re young, the only goal is to perform at the highest level. Getting married or starting a family is usually not of the utmost importance.

This is why being selected for an All-Star Game can have very different meanings for players.

For young gamers it’s an adrenaline rush, and for many it’s a chance to dress alongside some of their childhood heroes. Making the NHL is one thing, but getting named to an All-Star team? It’s a career exclamation point.

My first All-Star Game was in 2007 when I was a rookie for the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL. Even though it was “AA” level hockey, I was thrilled.

It was also an opportunity to make a name for myself.

This is also true for NHL players like Jordan Kyrou. The St. Louis Blues forward is having an exceptional season. He was the 2022 Winter Classic MVP when his team faced the Minnesota Wild at Target Field.

In Friday night’s skills competition, Kyrou beat Adrian Kempe and Connor McDavid to win the NHL’s fastest skater event.

Fans outside of St. Louis may not have known much about Jordan Kyrou before the event. They do now.

Think of someone like Maple Leafs goaltender Jack Campbell. This is his 10th professional season. He’s 30 and Campbell just made his first NHL All-Star appearance after spending eight seasons working in the minor leagues.

Since Campbell grinded, he had to validate to receive the All-Star nod. He could have quit countless times in his career, but he kept working and found a way to excel at the NHL level.

Something similar happened during my time in the AHL. I wasn’t named to an all-star team in this league until my 10th professional season. I was 33, but it made me feel like a kid again. My work had paid off. I had been recognized.

That’s really what it’s all about. Twenty-one players from the 2022 All-Star Game were first-time selections. Some will have more. Others don’t. But the memories last forever.

It seemed fortuitous that the first NHL All-Star Game since 2020 took place in Las Vegas. I haven’t heard a single complaint about the location from anyone.

What I really found striking was the sheer happiness displayed by everyone involved. Players were legitimately excited to be on the ice. Fans came from all over the world sporting replica jerseys of their favorite players.

It felt like the hockey world was collectively taking a breath of fresh air.

I think that made a difference in the product on ice. The games may have started slowly, but they gradually became more competitive throughout the event.

When the Central Division pulled Juuse Saros for the extra forward against the Metropolitan Division with just under two minutes left in regulation time, things got intense. It turned into a four-on-three power play. With a million dollar bonus on the line, I thought we’d definitely see someone laying down and blocking a shot.

It may not have happened, but it was nice to see the pace pick up. The Center team was spinning the puck but couldn’t solve Metropolitan goaltender Tristan Jarry, who made 14 saves in the final period.

The NHL has faced many obstacles so far in this 2021-22 season, but for once something has gone right. The 2022 NHL All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas was not all a hit. It was a party, and it was just what the hockey world needed.

Sports Grp1

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