The NHL All Star Weekend is upon us and some of the games best and brightest stars have converged on Canada’s capital city to celebrate the game during a three day event filled extravaganza.
Over the years, the format of the game has changed drastically from initial memorial and benefit games played to support players and their families, to games featuring the defending Cup champs against the rest of the league’s best, East vs. West, Campbell vs. Wales, and North America vs. The World. And of course, most recently, the “player draft” format that began last year and continued last night with “Team Chara” taking on “Team Alfredsson.” Regardless of how you feel as a hockey fan about the current format, there is no denying the fact that the draft does add some intrigue and puts the game on display for an extra evening in late January, which is never a bad thing.
While most NHL players honored with the chance to be an All Star truly enjoy the experience, they aren’t the only athletes living a dream in the events host city. In 2008, while serving as the Manager of Youth Hockey Development with the Atlanta Thrashers, I had the chance to see first hand the extent of the outreach and impact these NHL All Stars and Alumni have on the local community during their 3-4 day stay. Between skills competitions, pre game, skates, and the big game, players spend time making their way around the city and making a memorable impact. That year, there were diversity luncheons, hospital and school visits, and a Jr. NHL All Star Weekend, the first of its kind.
The Jr. NHL All Star Tournament brought in Squirt and Pee Wee teams from throughout the Southeast to compete wearing their NHL colors. In all, 200 youth hockey players from Atlanta, Tampa, Nashville, Carolina, and DC took part in a tournament sponsored by the Atlanta Thrashers and the National League and gained an “all access” pass to an incredible weekend. In addition to their four round robin games hosted at local rinks, participants had access to each of the NHL All Star Weekend festivities hosted at Philips Arena, including the “Red Carpet” where they lined the walkway and collected autographs and photos from their heroes as they entered the building for the big game.
The youth tournament itself was a hit, with each team being assigned an honorary NHL Alumni "coach". Pat Quinn and Tony Esposito stopped by locker rooms and provided encouragement from behind the youth hockey benches, creating a bond between 9-12 year olds just embarking on their hockey careers and players and coaches their parents grew up idolizing.
This weekend in Ottawa will be no different as the NHL pulls out all the stops to promote all of its games stars, young and old, to provide incredible experiences for their current players and potential future stars. Yesterday, two hundred players from the Nepean Minor Hockey Association laced up their skates and took to the storied Rideau Canal to show off some hardware in front of hundreds of adoring fans and family members. It was no doubt the first of many once in a lifetime moments to be experienced by youth hockey players in Ontario this weekend. Congratulations once again to the National Hockey League on promoting their global game and making memories that will not soon be forgotten
And speaking of young talent and the All Star Weekend, Joey the Junior Reporter is an internet veteran, and still manages to make me laugh every time….Check out his latest work from Ottawa.