26 January 2018

There are a handful of events that every hockey fan should make their best effort to see: an outdoor game (did that), a Stanley Cup Final game (I didn’t want to pay the exorbitant ticket price), and the NHL All-Star Game. The midseason exhibition game has become quite the spectacle, as the league has taken great strides to present several special events throughout the entire weekend. I had planned on going for many years, but it seemed like all of the recent All-Star games were being hosted on the other side of the continent. In addition, the NHL did not hold an All-Star Game during the years in which their players would compete in the Olympics. As a result, Dallas had been the only city west of the Mississippi to play host since the 2005 lockout.

Neither Anaheim nor Arizona has hosted the All-Star Game, and the Los Angeles Kings were the hosts for the 2002 game, so I feared that it might not be near me again anytime soon. But 2017 was a special year - the 100th anniversary of the NHL - and the league was going to honor the 100 best players in its history during the All-Star break, so they needed an ideal venue.  During the 2016 NHL All-Star Weekend in Nashville, the league announced Los Angeles would host the following year - we were in luck!

I had every intention of going to an All-Star Game even if I had to travel, so this was perfect. I wouldn’t need to book a hotel or buy a plane ticket, so I could use the money I had saved to pay the seemingly inflated prices for tickets to the various events surrounding All-Star weekend. And were they ever inflated: once the tickets had sold out due to Kings season-ticket holders and assorted brokers/scalpers buying them all up, we were expected to pay around $500 to see it all.

But when the final weekend of January 2017 rolled around, I didn’t think about the money. No, I was only concerned with seeing the fabulous events. I would be a giddy hockey fan for a couple of days and I couldn’t wait!


The NHL Fan Fair kicked off the peripheral events on Thursday - and even though I wouldn't be attending the fair until Saturday, I was curious to see the setup around Staples Center, so I convinced my girlfriend Charlene to join me downtown on Friday night.  We didn't really know what to expect, but we figured we would just walk around and see the sights: the highlight for me was the pop-up Stan Mikita's Donuts shop that was constructed to promote the 25th anniversary of the theatrical release of Wayne's World.  We arrived as they were screening the film outside:

We stuck around for a bit, and then walked to the other side of Staples Center to see L.A. Live, the entertainment complex whose Microsoft Theater was the host of the NHL100 Gala, honoring the league's greatest players of all time.  The event had just ended, so there were hordes of people outside who had gathered to catch a glimpse of some of the legendary athletes.  At one point, Charlene and I walked along the street behind Al Michaels!  I recognized a few players outside, and so did the autograph seekers who surrounded them, so we tried to stay out of the way for the most part.  

We grabbed dinner and went back to the team store inside of Staples Center to buy my official All-Star Game merchandise - I thought it would be easier to buy all of my souvenirs on this night, so I wouldn't have to carry them around during the following day.  Believe me, they got plenty of my money, as I went home with a variety of memorabilia including a shot glass, keychain, program, puck, and two t-shirts. 

And I knew I couldn't leave without also buying a jersey to commemorate the occasion, so I decided on my favorite player - P.K. Subban of the Nashville Predators.  I figured I would save that for Sunday.


There was a full itinerary of events for the day, so my buddy (and Hockey Road Trip travel companion) Chad and I took the subway downtown fairly early, arriving just before Noon.  Our first stop was the Stan Mikita's Donuts store, which was offering free coffee and donuts for everyone.  Now it was time to finally see the Fan Fair...

Inside the Convention Center, the fair was set up with a variety of booths to test your hockey skills, from shooting to stick handling.  There was also a makeshift rink, in which the mascots were competing against each other in front of a sizable crowd.  As I had chosen to wear my Florida Panthers jersey for the day, I knew which photograph I had to get once all of the mascots approached the crowd after their game:

The rest of the Fan Fair featured displays to commemorate hockey in Los Angeles, as well as a giant section that housed the NHL's assortment of trophies - of course, this included the Stanley Cup.  I've been fortunate enough in my life to have seen (and been photographed with) the Cup on many occasions, and the line was incredibly long, so we simply lingered around for a while before heading out to lunch.

We got done eating in time to head back inside Staples Center for the All-Star Charity Game, in which several actors and players (both active and retired) took part in a fun exhibition for the fans.  I really got a kick out of the fact that Justin Bieber played on a line with Eric Lindros and Connor McDavid - and the Biebs even took some faceoffs:

Being a longtime fan made this game quite special for me, as I got to see several fantastic players from my youth - in addition to Lindros, we got to see a host of legends like Peter Forsberg, Teemu Selanne, Ray Bourque and Joe Sakic take the ice.  It seemed like every player had a smile on his face and it made for a lighthearted affair - Bieber's team, coached by Wayne Gretzky, would leave victorious when all was said and done.

Not long after the celebrity game, the NHL All-Star teams finally took the ice for the Skills Competition.  For this night, we specifically bought tickets in the lower bowl of the arena to get the best possible perspective, and potentially see and hear all of the players interacting with each other.  For me, it was especially a thrill to see P.K. Subban skating in various competitions including the Skills Challenge relay and Four Line Challenge:

The Accuracy Shooting competition would follow, and I was focused on the NHL's newest phenom, Edmonton's Connor McDavid:

McDavid returned shortly thereafter to win the Fastest Skater competition - as you might expect, I couldn't really get a good photograph of him in action, but I did catch him while he was being interviewed later by CBC's Scott Oake.

At this point, there was a break in the action to resurface the ice, so we used the opportunity to wander the concourse and try to get pictures with as many of the mascots as we could find.  Let's just say we were rather successful!

The competition resumed with the Hardest Shot contest - perennial champion Shea Weber of the Montreal Canadiens once again retained his title, narrowly escaping a fierce charge from Winnipeg Jets rookie Patrik Laine, who only lost by a scant 1.1 mph.

At last, the "NHL Shootout" breakaway event concluded the proceedings, with the Atlantic Division declared the ultimate winner for the evening.  As a result, they chose to play in the second of the two divisional matchups on Sunday.

We may have paid a pretty penny for our seats, but it was completely worth it and I cannot stress just how much fun I had.  The funny part is that the night wasn't completely over for us - on our way out of the arena, I stumbled into two hockey personalities that warranted a quick photo op: the first was NHL Hall-of-Famer Marcel Dionne, who was actually posing in front of a statue featuring himself; and then I would meet writer/podcaster Greg Wyshynski, who was recording live footage on his phone for his Yahoo! blog:

It was a very memorable day all around - and we would still get to come back less than 24 hours later...


We were back at Staples Center nice and early on Sunday, and used the extra time to roam around and take in the atmosphere.  We met up with Doug Stolhand and Eddie Garcia, co-hosts of the popular Puck Podcast, who interviewed both of us for a Facebook Live segment.

As were standing idly by, we also noticed actor and noted Kings fan Wil Wheaton, who was nice enough to pose for a picture with us as well:

The doors would soon open and we made our way inside, just in time to catch the final moments of another All-Star Game of sorts - the Mascots Competition.  They would salute the fans at the game's conclusion:

Donning my Subban sweater, there would be chances for me to pay tribute to him both inside and outside the arena:

There was time for one more "hockey celebrity" encounter this morning: retired goalie Ilya Bryzgalov was roaming the premises, covering the game for the Player's Tribune website.  He was being pulled in many directions, trying to cover the game and meet with fans, so I was grateful that he took the time to grab a quick picture with me:

We found our seats in the upper bowl (I could only justify buying the expensive tickets for one of the two days, so I chose Saturday to sit close), and watched as the events commenced with one more tribute to the NHL's 100 Greatest Players.  One by one, the legends in attendance walked out onto the ice and stood opposite their contemporaries from this year's All-Star Game.  It was arguably the greatest collection of hockey talent EVER assembled in one place - and we got to see it all!

Subban scores!!!!
Before we knew it, the semifinal games has begun.  First up was the Central Division, captained by Subban, against the Connor McDavid-led Pacific Division.  Following them would be Sidney Crosby and the Metropolitan Division team facing off with the Atlantic Division stars, led by Montreal goaltender Carey Price.

These two contests would prove to be wide open from the very start, as each winning team - the Pacific and Metropolitan - scored 10 goals to vanquish their opponents.  The "Final" was now set, so we used the intermission between these games to continue our mascot hunt:

The Pacific and Metropolitan teams took the ice for the championship, which turned out to be a much more tight-checking game.  With the $1 million prize on the line, it seemed as though no one wanted to be the one to make a mistake that would change the momentum, so both teams took time to feel each other out.  The Pacific Division would break through, scoring three times to take a 3-2 lead into the intermission.

The second half of the game was even more defensive than the first: ultimately, Cam Atkinson and Wayne Simmonds scored five seconds apart and Braden Holtby didn't allow a goal, to help lead the Metropolitan Division to a 4-3 victory.  Simmonds, still beloved by Kings fans after spending his first three seasons in Los Angeles, would be named the MVP.

All in all, it was a tremendous experience - and I'm so glad I got to see it without even having to travel anywhere.  It goes without saying that if the NHL All-Star Game comes to your town, be sure to check it out!


Chad and I discussed our All-Star Experience on his podcast, Positive Cynicism.  You can listen to it here.

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