The unofficial halfway point of the NHL season is here: All Star Weekend.
As fans from all across the country flock to Tampa, Florida, for the 2018 NHL All-Star game this weekend, other fans are waiting to watch it from their own homes or bars. Many of them ready to take in the weekend for what it is; a time to embrace the best and brightest the game has to offer and witness the skill and the lighter side of hockey.
Taking a back seat for the next few days are the growing pains of the season and what the rest of the schedule has to offer, and for good reason. Players and coaches alike deserve a weekend like this to not only enjoy themselves but refocus and regroup. For some teams and players that may mean gearing up for a playoff push, for others it may mean looking back at the first half of a season gone wrong and how to take the right steps now so next year at this time they’re the ones gearing up for the playoffs.
Whatever the case, it is a weekend that is good for the sport of hockey, and if you get the chance to tune in, you won’t be disappointed.
If you’re new to NHL All-Star Weekend; you’re in for a treat. The top players from each NHL team are selected to form 4 different teams, each team representing each division in the NHL. For instance, the Metropolitan Division which teams like the Penguins, Capitals, Flyers, and Rangers call home, will have stars Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin on the same line, with Kris Letang on defense and Henrik Lundqvist in net. And that’s just one team. The Atlantic Division is highlighted by Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Andrei Vasilevskiy of the host Tampa Bay Lightning, along with Leafs forward and last years rookie of the year Auston Matthews and Senators captain Erik Karlsson on defense. Arguably the toughest division in the league, the Central, is stacked with the likes of Patrick Kane (Blackhawks), Nathan MacKinnon (Avalanche), Tyler Seguin (Stars), Blake Wheeler (Jets), Alex Pietrangelo (Blues), and PK Subban, Pekka Rinne from the defending Western Conference Champion Nashville Predators. Finally, the Pacific Division, winner of the NHL All-Star 3 on 3 tournament a year ago, is lead by Oilers phenom Conner McDavid along with Flames leading scorer Johnny Gaudreau, league leading rookie goal scorer Brock Boeser of the Canucks, a trio a elite defensemen in Oliver Ekman-Larsson (Coyotes), Brent Burns (Sharks), and Drew Doughty (Kings), and a familiar face in a new place, Marc-Andre Fleury of the Western Conference leading Vegas Golden Knights in net.
Oh, did I mention this is a 3 on 3 tournament? In case you didn’t know or didn’t catch my above clue, this is in fact a 3 0n 3 tournament. How it works is instead of your normal 5 on 5, 60 minute game, these games will be two 10 minute halves with the typical 3 0n 3 overtime format. If the game is tied at the end of 20 minutes, then a shootout will determine the winner. The first game will be between the two Eastern Conference teams, the Metropolitan Division vs the Atlantic Division at 2:30 on Sunday on NBC. The next game, at 3:30, is between the two Western Conference teams; the Central Division and the Pacific Division. The winner of the two games will face off against one another after the conclusion of the Western Conference game to determine the winner of the NHL 3 on 3 All-Star game and a split-between-the-team $1 million dollars. With all the talent and all the open ice, it makes for a highly entertaining tournament with goal scoring a plenty and highlight saves as well.
If that wasn’t enough already, Saturday all of the players will participate in the All-Star Skills Competition. There will be six different events that the players will take place in; Fastest Skater, Passing Challenge, Save Streak, Puck Control Relay, Hardest Shot, and Accuracy Shooting. Without giving away too much on how each works (tune in to NBCSN on Saturday at 6:00), here are some insights. The fastest skater is pretty straight forward. The passing challenge has a new spin on it this year as players will take place in three different, difficult passing drills. Goalies will get there own new challenge this year with the save streak as they attempt to make save after save on the best scorers in the league. If you’re more of a puck handler than a passer, the puck control relay is just that as skaters go through 3 different, difficult, stick-handling stations. While the hardest shot is pretty self explanatory as well, the competition will have a new winner this year as the past winners (Shea Weber of the Canadiens and Zdeno Chara of the Bruins) are not in attendance at the All-Star game. Last but not least is accuracy shooting. This year the drill is a bit different as players will not only have to hit five targets, but their reaction time will also be called upon as they are no longer able to pick which one they want to hit first. Oh, and the winner of each competition will receive $25,000, so don’t expect anyone to really hold back.
The talent and skill will be on full display in Tampa and it will be something you want to watch for yourself. If you have ever questioned the skills hockey players have or just wanted to see all the different things they can do on the ice in not a typical game setting, the All-Star game and Skills Competition is a must watch. It is not only good for the sport of hockey, but a good way for fans to take in things differently and appreciate the “little things” that goes into creating a scoring chance or a highlight goal. This weekend, take a break along with the NHL and treat yourself like an All-Star. Then, tune into what the NHL and their All-Stars have to offer. You won’t regret either decision.