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Monday, January 26, 2009

GAME ON! NHL Back in the Game and an ASG Review

Today, the games resume for the NHL. Nothing could make me happier right now as the withdrawal (Lordy, the summer is going to be long) is beginning to take on Jones-ian type characteristics.

While many players may have enjoyed some family time at home or a quick vacation to one of those DisneyDwellings, for those fortunate enough to have been in Montreal over the weekend, a truly great All-Stars presentation was had.

Why truly great?

Not just because the All-Star Game itself saw the most goals and shots of any ASG to date, concluded by OT (w/ a power play, for Goodness' sake!) and a shootout...and not just because OV-1 retained his crown in the Breakaways Skills competition with humor, props and a Perestroika-like peace-making with Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin...and not just because of the hockey-hallowed host-city, Montreal - but because the All-Star Celebration in and of itself is Great.

The All-Star Game comes at the mid-point of the long, 82-game NHL season where the nightly battles of positioning are put aside and the game itself is appreciated and adored. December and January are often called the 'dog days of the NHL' since, at this point, many teams are nursing wounds, have already played 40+ games and the start of the playoffs still seem so far away.

Its a perfect opportunity for teams to take a break, let the players who have not been named to the All-Star festivities have some much needed down time with their families and, for those players who have been invited to participate, to market the game and share their time with us, the folks who make it possible for their very livelihood.

The Breakaway Challenge, a fan-favorite, was certainly entertaining. In addition to Alexander Ovechkin's antics, we were treated to some pretty nifty moves from the likes of rookie, Steven Stamkos, Ryan Getzlaf and last-minute replacement, Martin St. Louis.

And for those who were amazed at Martin St. Louis Breakaway Skills Competition tricks, I present the man's inspiration, a young Max Gerlach. At the time, 9 years old, performing during a shootout exhibition during an intermission at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, TX when the Stars hosted the Ottawa Senators in early December, 2007. I was fortunate enough to be at this game and the crowd was simply amazed at what they had just witnessed. There were equal amounts of cheering and jaws clanking on the floor. Once they began showing the replays on the jumbo-tron, the place erupted.

Kudos to St. Louis (I think his Breakaway skills were actually the most fun to watch), but this fellow was 9 when he pulled off the following move (and actually scored the goal!)

This All-Star Break, however, was not all fun as proposed penalties for skipping the affair were metered out in the form of 1-game 'suspensions' (actually, sit-downs since the players do not forfeit any of their pay) and some heated debates before the events as fans and analysts alike discussed what should change about the ASG format and whether or not the current format is the best way to play the All-Star Game...or if it should even be played at all.

I'm sure the league and the NHLPA will continue to research ways into expanding the appeal of the All-Star Game to the wide spectrum making up today's NHL hockey fans and they will have plenty of time to do so with next year's ASG out of the schedule to accommodate the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, BC.

For example -
  • how to ensure more teams don't get Red Wingy with it (players bailing to nurse elbows, etc and the subsequent NHL-mandated 1-game sit-downs for the offending players)
  • how to encourage a more 'normal' flow to the ASG (perhaps a hit or two, some defense, something on the line worth fighting for?)
  • a Young-Stars game that is just completely awkward to watch
  • an All-Star weekend that is more designed to grow the fan-base and cater to the new or casual fan as opposed to us, the followers of Lord Stanley

In fact, you should also read some of the creative ideas proposed by the OGA writers where Big Tex believes we could re-learn some of the lessons taught during the Cold War (click here) and The Colonel proposes a 4-year rotation of themes guaranteed to see the players show up to the host city with pride intact, even if the elbow has actually fallen off (read here).

One note on that from the Frozen Pill - Nicklas Lidstrom is a class act and the real deal. I certainly get (and respect) the concept of ANY team having their collective energy completely directed towards the goal of winning the games that count for the chance to Kiss the Cup. That's why we fans watch, after all.

But the ASG is more about marketing the game itself, for all 30 franchises and for the respect of those who came before, those who came to the host city in cars and airplanes, and for those who are currently practicing their drop-pass in my kitchen since that's where a 2-year old has enough room in the Pill house to do so.

Let the gimps drop out of participating in the actual game (an honorary skate-in-clause?) but come they should, lace up the skates and roam on the ice during the Skills competition and participate in meeting the fans during the many ancillary events in and around the rink over the 3 days.

For the All-Star break is a celebration of the history of hockey, the players who entertain us and an opportunity for the fans to be brought inside the magic for a unique view none of the regular season or post-season play offers.

Personally, we at the Pill Household planned all our errands and homely chores around the schedule to maximize our time in order to watch the practice skate, the Red Carpet arrivals, the Skills Competition and Young Stars game as well as the Main Event on Sunday, shared with good friends and good food.

That's quality time, folks, spent with family and friends, courtesy of celebrating the game we love. And the young 2-year old I spoke of very much enjoyed the opportunity to say, "I have HIS hockey card...!", whether he did or not.

And seeing the players enjoying themselves on the ice, rivalries aside and children in tow certainly reinforces the nature of hockey fans everywhere - we love the sport and its history and we love to share it with others.

So in a time of changiness and hopitude - and when so much debate centers on what should change with the ASG - its good to reflect on what we already have...and to be grateful and celebrate it.

I mean, come on, Montreal....Mr. Hockey in the House....the smile that wouldn't leave Shane Doan's face....Ovechkin trying to recreate 'the Goal' on his first breakaway attempt and the analysts thinking he just 'fell down'....Marc Savard's awesome commentary as he was mic'ed up for the on-ice antics...all of it was incredible.

And fun. And isn't that what games are all about?

But alas, another ASG is in the books....and we know return you to normally scheduled program...the race to the playoffs!


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1 comment:

BigTony said...

It's funny because in my estimation the all-star game should be great for everyone. The game itself notwithstanding because it is pretty boring and there's no reason to try to make it more entertaining. By its very nature the game will not be there. However, I think the festivities surrounding the weekend are fantastic. The best part (in my estimation) is the skills competition. In the past it was a competition between east and west and I think that should be brought back. The new breakaway challenge with all the artistry was a nice idea but overall it is pretty boring. Get back to an east vs west format and offer points for individual performance in an event and a bonus point for the team that wins it. I could go on but that's basically what should be the focal point of the weekend.