Monday began when I landed, after what felt like 10 flights and 3 days worth of travel (it was only 3 flights, and 6 hours, but it took a toll on my tiny little brain). After landing at Dallas Love Field, I took a taxi to my hotel, where I began the meeting of other out-of-town fans (a theme). I met a couple women from St. Louis, already clad in Blues garb. I caught a ride down to the American Airlines Center in the hotel shuttle with the women, for the first night of the celebration of the league's top players, aptly named "The Celebration of Stars", which was a nice way of saying, "remembering the old guys".
An event containing many great names from recent hockey past (including everyone's favorite hockey player, Cuba Gooding Jr. as the emcee), it sure seemed like an event that was meant to be seen by more than just the few thousand who made it into the Hangar that night. The event wasn't bad, but the mix of Cuba Gooding Jr, dancing people with giant glow-in-the-dark stars on their shirts, those weird looking giant balloon things, and 80 metric tons of streamers dumped on my head, made it seem like the not-All-Star Game happening that it was. There were a few of the great names of the 80's and 90's (Ray Bourque, Al McInnis, Mark Messier), showed a short video history of their careers, and then came out to answer a few questions from Cuba and his assistant "host" Pierre McGuire. But the real highlight of the day for me sprouted roots much earlier in the day.
Flying on three Southwest Airlines flights (San Jose to Las Vegas, change planes, LV to El Paso, TX, same plane, El Paso to Dallas), it probably was naive to think I wouldn't lose my bag, and if I had been expecting it, I wouldn't have been let down. I arrived at Love Field on time, but my bag, containing my two Sharks jerseys, did not. Not having it in my possesion when it was time to head to the first night of events, I figured I'd have to get some form of hockey clothing to wear for the night, since I was kinda at a hockey event. After purchasing a Joe Thornton 97 Western Conference player T-shirt, I went back to my seat. Later on, I went to get food, and was standing in line when I heard words from behind me, "that's a nice name to be wearing". A woman, seemingly in her 50's or 60's, was the owner of the words. After asking her if she was a Sharks fan, I was met with the response, " Yes, well, he's my son". Bam, Joe Thornton's mother, and me talking to her (more on her later).
Tuesday saw the YoungStars game, the SuperSkills Competition, and my mother come to Dallas to take it all in (on a side note, during the day, I went to the Dallas World Aquarium, very very cool place, very worth the $16 price of admission, just don't expect the leopard to be awake [apparently it's thought that he's drugged, because no one has ever seen him awake/ not staggering around his "palace"] ). Tuesday night's events were much better attended, much closer to full capacity, but still a couple thousand away from full. My mother and I rode down to the events with a couple from New York, a Ranger and an Islander fan.
The group that did make it down saw a semi-entertaining YoungStars game (with the Sharks own, Matt Carle, who had one goal, shorthanded no less, came on the only penalty of the game. The game was followed by the SuperSkills, a series of events that focus on key skills and elements that make a great hockey player: speed, shot power, shot accuracy, puck handling skills, tic-tac-toe passing, and ability on the penalty shot. All three Sharks competed, and fared pretty well. Patrick Marleau was beat out by Andy MacDonald by 5/100 of a second in the fastest skater event, Joe Thornton hit 4 targets in 6 shots in the accuracy event, and Jonathan Cheechoo scored during in the shootout event.
The big celebrity run-in for me on Tuesday was meeting a WWF (now WWE) sports entertainer (read professional wrestler) by the name of Edge. Edge, for those who do not know, is a tall, tan, blond haired Canadian man, (referred to by my mom and some other fans as "the hot guy" they showed on the big screen). Note to all, bring three pens to the ASG and all it's events, to ensure that you get stuff signed should you run into a celebrity.
Wednesday was the final day of events, leading up to the big game itself (not the SuperBowl), the 55th NHL All-Star Game. The game was pretty entertaining, as the lead was never stretched to more than 3 goals, as it was when Dion Phaneuf showed off the physics of a rolling puck and how unpredictable it can be, even when shot from behind the net in one's own defensive zone (Phaneuf was simply attempting to clear the puck out of the zone from behind his own net, when the puck hopped on it's edge, took on a life of it's own, and rolled to the promised land about 190 feet down the sheet. The one disappointment for me was the lack of production that came from the All-Shark line (Marleau-Thornton-Cheechoo). Despite having a bunch of great scoring chances, they were only able to record 9 shots between them (Cheechoo 4, Marleau 3, Thornton 2) and just one goal (Marleau [Cheechoo, Nicklas Lidstrom]) while going a -1 collectively on the evening.
The last starstruck moment of the trip came for me right after my mother and I were dropped off by the shuttle (no fans on the shuttle with us) before the game. Walking up the steps of the south plaza, I was tapped on the arm by someone. I turned around to see that it was Mrs. Joe Thornton's Mom (not her name, but it's fun to say that way). She produced, out of her pocket, a signed Joe Thornton card. Not anything too major, but still, it was pretty cool that she remembered me, and I'm guessing she had to ask Joe to sign a card, since she probably doesn't carry around player cards signed by her son.
The All-Star Game is fun for a few reasons.
1) First and foremost, it's for the fans. The players don't care too much because it doesn't lead to a Stanley Cup. Everything is done for the fans, because without them, well, let's just say it would look awfully silly for Rod Brind 'Amour to raise that cup in Raleigh in front of a fully empty RBC Center. Everything is done with the fans in mind, mostly.
2) The mascots. Nothing is cooler than seeing Blades the Bruin (Boston), Carlton the Bear (Toronto), Fin (Vancouver), Gnash (Nashville), Howler (Phoenix), Iceburgh (Pittsburgh),NJ Devil (New Jersey), SJ Sharkie (San Jose), Sabretooth (Buffalo), Sparky (New York Islanders), Sparty [Spartacat] (Ottawa), Stanley C Panther (Florida), Stinger (Columbus), Stormy (Carolina), Thrash (Atlanta), ThunderBug (Tampa Bay), Tommy Hawk (Chicago), Wildwing (Anaheim), or Youppi (Montreal) in the same building at once.
3) Seeing the Celebrities is fun, cause us little people don't get a chance to do it often.
4) It's hockey, and everyone (well, except for the corporates) in attendance is there to celebrate hockey from all over which leads to
5) Meeting fans from other cities. It's great to be able to talk hockey with a friend, it's even better to talk hockey with a stranger.
The All-Star break has ended, and now it's time to really get down to business. The Sharks sit at 32-16, second in the Pacific, 4 points behind the Ducks with two games in hand, and 5th in the West, one point back of the Detroit Red Wings. 34 games to go in the regular season, before "The Tournament". The stretch run begins tonight, in Alberta, against the struggling Edmonton Oilers. The Oil hold a 2-0 season series lead over the Sharks, winning both 3-2 in SJ last month, and 6-4 here in Edmonton in October. They have lost 6 of their last 8 at home, but have won 10 of their last 13 (including playoffs) against the Sharks, with one of those falling tonight. Hopefully, it's the second one.
Go Sharks (Youppi!)
West All-Stars lining up for their picture. Marleau (10) and Selanne (8) discussing how much nicer the weather is in California.
The East All-Stars. I would have gotten this shot off earlier, but my camera was buried in streamers on the ground.
Unbelievable. Just another boring, clutch and grab, all defense, no offense, old NHL style game. Tis a shame really.
Waiting on the announcement of the MVP of the game. (Daniel Briere [0g 4a] was the winner of the tiny trophy and the not so tiny car).