Sunday, January 25, 2015

It's a great day for hockey!

Today is the 2015 NHL All-Star Game and watching the weekend events in Columbus so far makes me want to go to another one! In 2011, the All-Star Game was held in Raleigh, NC and as soon as that was announced, I knew I wanted to figure out a way to go. The easiest way for me to secure a spot was by purchasing a 12-game package for the Carolina Hurricanes and while I didn't end up using all of the games personally, I made it to a lot more games that year than I have in all of the years since combined. It was a great experience and it was fun to see how much the city of Raleigh embraced the NHL and all of the fans that came into town. A lot of the businesses downtown near the convention center (where they held the fan fest) had huge signs with the players who were coming in for the game, like this one of Marc-Andre Fleury from the Pittsburgh Penguins.
I headed to the fan fest on Friday and it did not disappoint! You could get your own hockey card made, see all of the trophies on display, check out the hand prints of some of the league's stars and get a free picture taken with the Stanley Cup. This wasn't my first time getting a picture with the Cup, but definitely my first not wearing Penguin gear!
My theory wearing the Hartford Whalers Ron Francis jersey was that it could help me get picked to watch the first ever All-Star Game draft… unfortunately, I didn't get picked, but I still had a lot of people tell me they liked my jersey. One of my favorite parts of the fan fest was the area where you could try on different players equipment. They had 5-6 different players to choose from and, of course, I picked the only Penguin there: Marc-Andre Fleury! I will preface this by saying that Fleury is 6'2" however I am 5'4" so… I looked a little ridiculous, but the family behind me was more than happy to help me out by taking my picture wearing (almost) all of Fleury's equipment.
As you can see behind me, there are several pieces I didn't put on - skates, gloves and shorts - the pads came the whole way up to my mid-thigh, so there was no way to get both the shorts and the pads on at the same time! There's so much padding on the goalie equipment that I couldn't really even move, but with players able to shoot over 100 mph (record for the skills competition is 108.8 mph and the 2015 winner shot it at 108.8 mph) I'm sure it's still painful when they get hit with a shot. 

Saturday brought a really fun event for any hockey fan - the NHL All-Star Game 5k. This was the race that really got me into running because it was such a great atmosphere. All of the NHL mascots were there cheering people on at the start / finish line and Stormy, the Carolina Hurricanes mascot, kicked off the race.
Later Saturday afternoon, I headed back to the arena for the Skills Competition. For this event, they rolled out the red carpet so that as they brought the players in on buses, they could walk the red carpet (like the awards shows) and take pictures / sign autographs for fans. I had decided pretty early that I was going to try to get autographs from players and I wanted to tie it into quilting, so I made squares with the red, black & white themed colors and made my way to the front of the crowd to wait for the players. First up were all of the team mascots, most of which I recognized, but I was surprised by a few of them (Youppi from the Montreal Canadiens, Sparky the Dragon from the New York Islanders), but one of my favorites is Harvey the Hound from the Calgary Flames, whose long tongue has gotten him in trouble in the past.
The mascots started off the entertainment early with S.J. Sharkie from the San Jose Sharks carrying a camera around as he made his way through the crowd and then giving Thrash from the Atlanta Thrashers (who have since become the Winnipeg Jets) a piggyback ride around the red carpet.
After the mascots, players started coming off their buses and made their way around the crowd. I was able to get 42 autographs, though I missed out on getting Fleury's autograph because Mike Haviland was showing off his Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup ring and Fleury ended up skipping my section. A few of the guys brought their kids onto the red carpet and I got to talk a little with Nicklas Lidstrom's kids who said they were having fun so far. Here's a picture of one of the patches that I got signed that day - I've since sewn them together into a top, but I haven't decided what I want to do for the back, so it's sitting in my UFO (UnFinished Objects) box.
Once we got into the arena, the mascots treated us to their own game as we got ready for the Skills Competition - they had all the mascots on the ice at once, so it was more like 11 v 11 hockey, but it was still entertaining. At one point, Stanley C. Panther from the Florida Panthers and Sabretooth from the Buffalo Sabres got into a "fight" and then made up by hugging after it was over. 
The Skills Competition was a lot of fun to watch, but very different than watching it on TV. I had never realized how much downtime there was during the Skills Competition, but it makes sense because they have to set up the different events - hardest shot, fastest skater, accuracy shooting, etc. My favorite part was during the Breakaway Challenge where players are tasked with coming up with the most entertaining penalty shot they can think of, with virtually no rules, so props, spins and anything else the players can think of are encouraged. When Fleury was in goal, he made a few saves and starting playing to the crowd by doing pushups between shots.
Finally, Sunday was the actual All-Star Game, where the night started with all players being introduced and a ceremonial puck drop at center ice. Team Lidstrom ended up beating the home team, Team Staal, 11-10. 
Overall, it was a great weekend and definitely something I hope to do again in the future! 


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