RALEIGH NC - JANUARY 29: Cam Ward #30 of the Carolina Hurricanes and Team Staal arrives at the NHL All-Star red carpet part of 2011 NHL All-Star Weekend on January 29 2011 in Raleigh North Carolina. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
What a weekend! I started out with high hopes of what I was going to try to accomplish this weekend and I ended up being overwhelmed. Sure, I had some technical problems at times and I wasn't feeling well on Saturday, but the bottom line is, I was just overwhelmed.
Let me preface this article by saying that I have never been a lover of All Star games, in any sport. It's hard to get jazzed up about a meaningless game where the players are just going through the motions.
Also, when I first heard about the concept of the All Star Draft, I had negative feelings about it. Surely, this was just going to be another predictable, scripted gimmick for the league to promote Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, right?
I couldn't have been more wrong.
What a brilliant idea by Brendan Shanahan and let's give the NHL brass, like Gary Bettman, some credit for being open minded and for allowing Shanahan the freedom to try something new.
When was the last time there was this much buzz before an All Star Game? Never. For instance, everyone out there was doing mock drafts. (Even Henry and Jordan Staal did one!)
While there could always be a couple of tweaks for improvement, (like allowing more attendees), the draft added an element that no other All Star Game has ever had before.
The media liked it, the players enjoyed it, and the fans loved it. Soon, the All Star Draft will be an annual event that every hockey fan will be looking forward to.
When is the last time a multitude of sportswriters left the same event in total agreement? Again, never. Even "Negative Nancy's" like Damien Cox had positive things to say about the weekend. Cox went so far to say that the success of this weekend might have saved the future of the All Star Game.
It seems ridiculous, but there was actually some previous talk out there of just canceling the event because of lack of interest. But not anymore. Raleigh, North Carolina put an end to that crazy talk.
There was tremendous attendance for the Fan Fair downtown and interest for the other events was off the charts.
But let's start at the beginning.
A couple of months ago, a few NHL execs came down here to start organizing volunteers for the event. One lady from the NHL said that she had been doing this for 10 years, and never saw as much response. While they needed 1,000 volunteers, between 1,200 to 1,400 showed up and for the first time in her career, people had to be turned away.
This same lady said that she had told a co-worker previously, "there is no way we will get 1,000 volunteers down there."
From that moment on, hockey fans in the area did nothing but impress her, and she was not alone.
Everyone had their favorite parts of the weekend, including the players. Claude Giroux mostly enjoyed the skills competition. Mike Green really liked the red carpet. Most of the players said that they enjoyed hanging out with the other players in a more relaxing environment. (Yep, they had multiple parties after each event.)
Some things I thought I would never see:
- More local interest in hockey than an NC State/Carolina basketball game
- A Canadian player throw a dig at Toronto for "not being a hockey market"
- Pierre McGuire say that this was the best All Star event he had ever attended
- See a young hockey player in Raleigh, (Jeff Skinner) instantaneously turn into a rockstar
- Alex Ovechkin and Zdeno Chara get sincere, rousing cheers on the RBC ice
- The All Star Weekend proceeding so successfully without barely a mention of the name, Sidney Crosby
There were too many highlights to even start to list.
The NHL, the Carolina Hurricanes organization, the City of Raleigh, the volunteers, and all the fans deserve a ton of credit for a tremendous and unforgetable weekend. Everyone contributed to the success.
If it's handled properly, the All Star Game is so much more than just a meaningless game. It's an event. It's a party. It's a celebration of a sport and glorification of it's players, past and present. And it's fun.
To those who still say that an All Star Game is a waste.... you were not in Raleigh this weekend.