Very rarely will I say that I am fortunate to live in Atlanta, but its proximity to Nashville and the 2016 NHL All Star Game did me a favor last weekend. As part of the national on-line media conglomerate SB Nation, and since the NHL is actually fairly progressive as a whole about credentialing non-traditional media outlets, I was able to get press credentials along with our league manager, Travis Hughes, as well as Adam Hess of Second City Hockey and the fine gentlemen from On The Forecheck.
Running the Game Time site, much like running the Game Time paper (as Brad can attest), does not pay the bills – it pays the beer money. My job came first, so I had to head to Nashville later in the day than I wanted to, which meant that I missed the morning player press availability. To those of you who wanted me to ask Tarasenko random questions about his dog, I apologize for missing that opportunity.
I had enough time to check into the Doubletree before running down to grab my media credential and poke around the Fan Fair before meeting up with Kris Martel from On The Forecheck. From there, we headed to the media room to kill time before the media reception (three drink tickets? HA! I finished with six – and used them). After the reception we headed to Puck Daddy’s party at Flying Saucer, and then to Beer Sellar (which some of you may or may not remember from #EpicDecember a few years ago), because it’s not like any of us had to be anywhere on Saturday morning. A 4:00 am bedtime is rough for old people like me. The things I sacrifice for hockey.
After finally dragging myself out of bed Saturday "morning," I grabbed my laptop and very slowly walked down to Broadway. Downtown Nashville is usually pretty busy anyway, but with the game? Slammed. I grabbed a few Bloody Marys because hair of the dog and whatnot, and I headed to the Gary Bettman Press Conference Extravaganza. If you ever want to see a smooth operator in action, Bettman is your man. His answers to questions regarding expansion/relocation were expert. For example, as an answer to a question about an expansion timetable, Bettman’s response was: "We could make 17-18, but if we don’t make 17-18, we don’t make 17-18."
It got expertly slick when John Scott’s selection to the All Star Game was tossed out there. "I’m glad you asked that question." Bettman deflected everything on to Scott from the league, denying any hand that the NHL may have had on the trade from Arizona to Montreal, then the burying in the minors. Bettman made short work of any questions regarding the concussion lawsuit as well, calling the release of documents a "distraction."
The whole thing lasted half an hour, tops, and he didn’t answer a thing save for where the next ASG was going to be – by bringing out these guys:
Glad to see at least one team gets a 50th birthday present.
The Skills Competition followed. To be honest, I’ve always enjoyed this event more than the actual All Star Game, because players are allowed to show their personalities (if they have one still). The shootout did not disappoint. Matt Duchene showed that he fit in in Nashvegas, P.K. Subban channeled his inner Jagr to win the event, and Brent Burns pulled out all of the stops, once skating with his kids (who are adorable and who skate better than I do) and once while wearing his Wookiee mask.
To be honest, if he didn’t have to compete with John Scott’s Best Weekend Ever, Brent Burns would’ve been the fan favorite this weekend. From Chewie to his kids to showing up at the fan fair and surprising fans who were trying on his gear, he was everywhere and genuinely having an absolute blast.
Shea Weber’s slapshot is more terrifying in person than it ever could be on TV, and I agree with Jake Allen’s assessment:
Sunday’s All Star Game dwarfed the rest of the weekend. People bitch and moan annually about what a waste of time it is, what puff it is, how it’s just a bunch of rich guys having fun, how it’s meaningless, blah blah blah. Normally, yeah, it is meaningless. This year, it was imbued with so much meaning it might as well’ve been a James Joyce novel. John Scott – he of the "would your children be proud of you" controversy – was the star of the show, and it was just what the sport and the league needed after a, quite frankly, shitty start. The league, by virtue of scheming, behind the scenes machinations, and general underhanded dirty shit, turned John Scott from a punchline into a folk hero. His Paul Bunyan-esque frame towered over everyone else on the ice, and the cheers for him during the introductions were deafening.
The cheers for him during the Pacific Division/Central Division game? They nearly blew the roof off of Bridgstone Arena. He scored during his first shift. No one, NO ONE, expected that. And it wasn’t a puff, gimmie, kind of goal. It was a real genuine honest to God goal. The man who has never had a multi-goal season had a two goal All Star Game, knocked Patrick Kane on his ass ("I didn’t mean to hit him… I knew I was gonna hit him, so I finished him off."), fake-faught Kane, and then led his team to victory with a 1-0 win over the Atlantic Division. Toward the end of the game, the league announced the three MVP options, to be chosen by the fans as a hashtag Twitter vote. Scott was not one of them. The arena absolutely erupted in jeers.
To be honest, I have never seen a visceral reaction like that from hockey fans, teams, media, you name it. Twitter immediately exploded with #MVPJohnScott tweets from every team in the league, and basically every fan. Every time he touched the puck, the crowd chanted "MVP! MVP!" The league couldn’t ignore this, just like they couldn’t make Scott disappear from the game. He was a write-in vote to make it, and he was a write-in MVP winner.
Gary Bettman was forced to present Scott with the million dollar winning check, and everything was right in the world. The guy who had the gall to tell Scott the night before "I’m proud of you" had to, whether he liked it or not, admit to the fans that they’re the ones in charge, if just for a weekend.
And what a weekend. Nashville has always been my second favorite hockey city after St. Louis, and they put it on display to everyone this weekend. If anyone within the hockey media had any doubts that the game can work in the South, they’re gone now. Nashville put on one hell of a show, and threw one hell of a party. The atmosphere was unforgettable, both as a fan and as a credentialed media member(!) – this past weekend was the most fun I’ve had in years. St. Louis hasn’t hosted the All Star Game since 1988. Rob Ramage was the Blues’ representative. Mario Lemieux had six points on the evening. The Arena hosted the game.
Scottrade deserves its chance to do the same. Perhaps, if renovations go through, in a few years we’ll be hosting the league’s best and brightest. Will there be a John Scott that season? Probably not – this weekend’s story could never be replicated, and that’s for the best. But Vladimir Tarasenko deserves a chance to play as an All Star on home ice. St. Louis deserves a chance to throw one hell of a party, to prove to the sport that we are one of the premier hockey markets in the league (consistent attendance would help that goal significantly). Market Street and Ballpark Village need to hum like Broadway did this past Saturday night.
I’m thankful for the opportunity to head to the ASG this year, and provide you guys some fun coverage on @StLouisGameTime and the website. I would be even more honored to be able to do that at home, with the rest of the Game Time crew.