The NHL All-Star Game was a heck of a lot more fun than I had any right to expect.
I don’t want to recount the game itself because that’s been done elsewhere. One consistent theme that seems to run through all commentary, even in the lead-up to the weekend, surprises me.
Local hockey journalists can’t seem to write a story about the all-star game without disparaging it because it’s not real hockey.
Dave Stubbs: “At no point was there danger a real game would break out.”
Mike Boone: “The game was fun, but it wasn’t hockey.”
Pat Hickey: “Was it hockey? No.”
Even the stale Red Fisher (sure he is): “How do you spell ‘burlesque’?”
That’s not to say that the above gentlemen disapprove or dislike the all-star contest. Neither do I, but I appreciate it as legitimate hockey.
Obviously, the all-star game doesn’t offer the checks and bravery to face the body-crunching hits that you see every night in the NHL and its feeder leagues, but that doesn’t matter to me.
I don’t know how much hockey the writers above have played. I started playing 37 years ago, and I took three years off during university, and maybe another three years in there that I forget about. Figure I’ve played for 30 years. I stopped playing organized leagues after Bantam A, I think when I was 15. After Bantam is Midget, and things get serious, at least here in Montreal. A bunch of us in high school started our own house league and kept playing. In fact, that same bunch of guys still gets together to play twice a year, at Rosh Hashanah and Passover, when the emigrants return to spend holidays with their parents.
I can’t remember the rules of Bantam back then, but it’s safe to say that the vast majority of my hockey has been played without checking. That doesn’t mean no contact. I’m a veteran of quite a bit of jockeying in the slot (uh, that means fighting for position in front of the net, Americans) and along the boards. But my ribs are still in one piece (not so much my right shoulder and left knee, though).
Any of the thousands or even millions of Canadians who have my experience can relate to the hockey of the All-Star game. It’s the same hockey we play every week, only more skilled. I thought the NHLers in this environment would prove much faster than the game I play in now – the best hockey players I’ve ever played with – but while faster, it wasn’t phenomenally so. Where the pros excelled was in acceleration and in the arms, in the passes, the shots, the moves.
We hockey players know what this variety of hockey is like. We experience it every week. It’s what we do for fun and we enjoy watching the pros play that same game on the same rink at a much higher level of skill.
It’s not the feat of endurance and strength that will win you a Stanley Cup, but it’s what we know. For the same reason, women’s hockey holds as much or more appeal for me as the NHL. It forbids checking and also resembles what I do Friday nights – although again at a much higher skill level.
I’m not sure the columnists I’ve linked to above understand that. Maybe they’re jaded by years of watching hard-hitting NHL-grade hockey. Maybe they’ve never played the game at all.
The highlight of the night at the game, judging by fan response, was not a hockey moment at all. The crowd camera picked out two dancing women incredibly hot, even for Montreal, and displayed them on the scoreboard screen. Kudos to whoever cut to the next shot (was that you, Elias?), which was Alex Ovechkin staring up at the scoreboard with wide eyes and unbelieving, pursed lips. Caught in his lascivious act, Ovechkin smiled sheepishly as the crowd roared.
Check it out, from the TV feed, which doesn’t show the women who appeared on the in-house camera.
Stubbs described it:
But the video highlight arguably went to Ovechkin, who was caught on the arena scoreboard with his jaw dropped open one skipped heartbeat after two young women in badly shrunken T-shirts had been shown dancing at their seats. It was the only parental-guidance moment of the night with kids – lots of kids – in the Bell Centre.
I thought the T-shirts fit just fine.