All-Star weekend offers NHLers a chance for memories and memorabilia

0:50 | NHL
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Monday January 30th, 2017

LOS ANGELES – Strip away all the nonpareil talent jammed inside Staples Center’s visiting dressing room late Sunday afternoon, take down those golden nameplates from above the locker stalls, and the scene after the 2017 NHL All-Star Game would’ve instead resembled some kind of sports memorabilia show typically housed across the street at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

PR flacks roamed the carpet, jerseys and permanent markers in hand, handling the task of requesting autographs from—and for—members of the victorious Metropolitan Division. Braden Holtby, who pitched a shutout in his 10 minutes of duty in the final against the Pacific Division, packed the sticks of three fellow goalies—Sergei Bobrosvky, Tuukka Rask, and Carey Price—into an equipment bag.

Still wearing his skates, too swamped with requests to take them off, team captain Sidney Crosby came away with an even more decorated haul; hanging from a nearby hook were the jerseys of Alex Ovechkin, Wayne Gretzky and Connor McDavid. (“Best friends,” Ovechkin quipped.) Across the room, meanwhile, Columbus Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson, the injury replacement whose five points tied for the scoring lead in the 3-on-3 tournament, admired his helmet. Once white, it was now splashed in silver signatures.

“Trying to take as much as I can get,” Atkinson explained. “Why not?”

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Indeed, as the stars scattered and the rhythms of the regular season inched toward returning, this weekend seemed as much an insiders-only celebration among the NHL’s biggest names as an event for the average-Jane-and-Joe fans that flocked downtown. Friday night had brought the glitzy ceremony honoring the league’s 100 greatest players, which left even all-timers like Bobby Orr scrunch-faced with smiles. The glow lingered into Saturday’s skills competition, deejayed by Snoop Dogg, and bloomed anew during Sunday’s pregame introductions, when the players entered to a long line of fist bumps from all those legends in attendance. Forget to grab anyone? Just mosey into the JW Marriott lobby and geek out at your leisure. History had booked damn near every room.

Then, of course, there was the coach who oversaw the winning bench and its accompanying $1 million prize. When Columbus’s John Tortorella bowed out last week to be with his family and their ailing pit bull, commissioner Gary Bettman tabbed Wayne Gretzky to run the show. Not that the Great One needed to exert too much effort, though. Even the overturning of a second-period Pacific Division goal due to offside–“maybe a millimeter,” McDavid said—was initiated by the league’s situation room, and not a coach’s challenge.

Perhaps ironically enough, then, it was three of the Metro’s more under-the-radar charges that carried the load on the ice. Holtby, who professed himself a fan of the D-O-double-G but also too shy to actually say hello, made several dazzling glove saves, none better than in the semifinals against Boston’s Brad Marchand at the backdoor. The diminutive Atkinson, who had hastily canceled vacation plans to New York City in order to attend, tied the final 3-3 after punching back his own breakaway rebound past Coyotes goalie Mike Smith. The winning goal, along with MVP honors and a decal-decorated pickup truck, went to Wayne Simmonds, the scrappy Flyers forward making his first All-Star appearance, whose postgame presser went as follows:

“How does ‘Wayne Simmonds All-Star game MVP’ sound?”

“Weird. They asked me how does being an All-Star sound, and I said weird.”

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When Simmonds had returned to the locker room, he found a single dollar bill at his locker. “Enjoy the money,” he remembered the attached note saying, but even then the cash prize seemed secondary. The autograph assembly line was whirring into motion. The sweaters and Sharpies were coming out. Time to match memories with memorabilia.

“Sid, can you sign?” Atkinson asked Crosby at one point, offering up the blade of his stick.

“You want one?” Crosby replied, counter-proposing a trade of twigs instead. 

Atkinson beamed.

“F---ing right!”

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