NHL All-Star weekend in review
The NHL’s All-Star Weekend is a fun little break in the regular hockey season where each team’s best and brightest players get together to team up and fight for their division. The weekend includes a Skills Competition with many fun battles, but the main event is a three-game single elimination showdown to find out if the Metropolitan, Atlantic, Pacific, or Central division is truly superior. This year’s All-Star Weekend was extra special for the fans, because we got to help decide a large portion of the lineups. While the first eight players were picked by the league, hockey enthusiasts were able to vote for the last three players (two skaters and a goalie) for each division’s team, whereas only one player was determined via voting in previous years.
All afternoon Friday, hockey fans gathered in southern Florida to see the many events of the highly beloved Skills Competition. While the competition includes events you might expect, such as Hardest Shot and Fastest Skater, there are also some more wild events thrown in, such as the Tendy Tandem and the Pitch and Puck. Andrei Svechnikov of the Carolina Hurricanes pulled ahead of the pack as Fastest Skater, Brock Nelson of the New York Islanders blew his opponents away with the best Accuracy Shooting, and Elias Pettersson of the Vancouver Canucks took home the coveted title of Hardest Shot. Nick Suzuki of the Montreal Canadiens finished a shot ahead of the rest of the pack in Pitch ‘n’ Puck, a “Happy Gilmore” inspired golf-hockey hybrid challenge. Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar, both of the Colorado Avalanche, dunked on the competition in Splash Shot, in which players had to race to knock down four targets, plus one final target to dunk their opponent’s partner. Juuse Saros of the Nashville Predators and Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets came out on top of all other skater-goalie combos in the Tendy Tandem, in which teams consisting of the two goalies from each division, one skating and one goaltending, faced off in a half-shootout, half-breakaway style competition. In the end, I think the most memorable (and certainly most adorable) moment of the Skills Competition was the Breakaway Challenge. Although Rasmus Dahlin put up a good effort with a stylish behind-the-back shot, he simply couldn’t compete with the winning participants. In an unexpected team-up, rivals Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, captains of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals respectively, teamed up with special guest star Sergei Ovechkin, Alex’s son. In an irresistibly cute moment, Ovechkin and Crosby both assisted Ovi Jr. in scoring on celebrity guest goalie Roberto Luongo. This absolute power play, along with Ovi Jr.’s iconic celly, earned a perfect 40 from the judges, and won them the Breakaway Challenge.
The main event of the 2023 All-Star Weekend came on Saturday, when the four teams finally faced off against each other in FLA Live Arena, home of the Florida Panthers. To determine the true top division, the teams participated in three total games over the course of one evening. Each game was played 3-on-3, with two ten-minute periods. The semifinals saw the Atlantic go up against the Metropolitan team, with the Pacific facing the Coastal. Although the Metropolitan team put up a good fight, they were down 3-4 at the half and couldn’t come back, especially against double hat tricks for the Atlantic from Johnny Gaudreau and Matt Tkachuk, which contributed to the final score of 6-10. This advanced the Atlantic team to the finals. In the Pacific-Central match, the teams traded goals throughout the first half, with Central heading into the second half one point ahead of the Pacific. The Central team took that lead and ran with it to end the game with a win at 4-6. The final 20-minute showdown between the Atlantic and Central teams started off with the Atlantic team pulling ahead right out of the gate with a goal in the 37th second of play, and continuing to grow their lead to end the half at 3-0. Although the Central team was able to score four times in the second half, the Atlantic team scored three more times (with Dylan Larkin completing a hat trick). In the end, the Atlantic division won the whole shebang 7-3, and Matt Tkachuck’s four goals and three assists earned him the title of MVP.
As a native Floridian, I can’t help but be a little bitter that All-Star Weekend happened in Florida while I wasn’t there. However, I was still able to appreciate a lot of exceptional players having a great time in the beautiful Florida weather, as well as bonding with some new teammates in a much less serious environment than the one we expect throughout the regular season. Tune in around the same time next year to see the 2024 All-Star Weekend, set to take place in Toronto, home of the Maple Leafs.