Stars are out in Sunrise, Florida this weekend

By Denis P. Gorman | Posted 1 year ago

Standing inside the Florida Panthers’ dressing room last week and surrounded by reporters, Aleksander Barkov was all smiles.


who could blame him?


Earlier the Panthers’ captain had been told by general manager Bill Zito he had been selected to replace injured Toronto Maple Leafs star center Auston Matthews at the National Hockey League’s All-Star Weekend.


Sure, being an injury replacement might not be as emotionally and mentally satisfying initially, but still to be selected as one of the best in your chosen profession is a distinction worth celebrating.


And that the NHL chose the city of Sunrise, Fla., the Panthers, and FLA Live Arena to play host to the festivities, well, what could be better? 


This will be the second time in franchise history that the Panthers will play host to All-Star Weekend.


“It means a lot,” said Barkov. “It’s at home here in Florida so it means even more. I’m really happy and honored and proud to be here.”


Barkov will join teammate Matthew Tkachuk on the Atlantic Division team, as well as both serving as the unofficial Board of Commerce for South Florida and the team's for the weekend.

Because there won’t be a more opportune time to sell the region and the organization to the best players in the game.  


“This place is vacation and work for me at the same time,” Barkov said. “We’ll show them how we do it here. You go home, see some palm trees and there’s good weather almost every day. Then you come [to work] and it’s all business. I think everyone knows what kind of place this is. It’s good for the fans, good for the players. They get to relax a little bit, come here and do their thing. It’s going to be great, for sure.” 


Essentially a celebration of the game, the weekend will begin Friday with the skills competition–akin to the NBA’s Slam Dunk and 3-Point Shooting contests–and the 67th All-Star Game in league history will be contested Saturday.


Each of the league’s four divisions will be represented in head-to-head competition–for example, the Metropolitan Division could play the Atlantic Division and the winner would meet the winner of the Pacific Division-Central Division matchup in the championship game–with each squad rolling out three-man units as well as a goaltender.


The idea is to showcase the skill and personalities of the NHL’s best players in a relaxed format. Although not everyone in the league is enamored with both the concept and the execution.


Take, for instance, Philadelphia Flyers coach John Tortorella.


During a recent interview session with the reporters who cover his team, Tortorella was asked for his thoughts on Kevin Hayes being named to the Metropolitan Division, and if he thought Travis Konecny should have been the Flyers’ representative.   


The oft-loquacious coach was unequivocal with his something-less-than-glowing review.


“I don’t worry about that s–t,” Tortorella began while waving his hands dismissively. “The whole game, the whole weekend, I don’t even watch it. I think it’s turned into a…I’ll just leave it at that. I really don’t care.” The first-year Flyers coach was then asked whether Konecny deserved to be named to the team, and Tortorella responded by saying, “I really don’t care to talk about All-Star stuff,” and then walking out of the interview room. 


Mark him down as not a fan.


And, yes, the weekend won’t be an ode to dump-and-chase, won’t be an ode to forechecking, won’t be an ode to backchecking, won’t be an ode to checking, won’t be an ode to 45 second shifts of hard skating. Which is the point. It is supposed to be about fun after four months of very serious hockey and another four-months-and-change before the Stanley Cup is awarded.  


It is about the NHL’s best players being able to showcase their abilities and getting to know each other in a stress-free setting.


“It’s an eye-opening thing,” Barkov said. “You see so many good players that you’ve looked up to throughout your career and played against. Then you get to spend time with them and talk to them. Not as rivals but as teammates. I’m really looking forward to that.”


Finally, it is about the NHL’s best having a weekend to be acknowledged by the league.  


“I think it will be fun for me, the family, and the kids,” said New York Islanders center Brock Nelson, who was named an All-Star for the first time in his career. Nelson, 31, leads the Islanders in points (46), is tied with linemate Anders Lee for the team lead in goals (19), and is second in assists (27). The 30th overall selection in the 2010 draft, Nelson has played his entire 10-year career with the Islanders. He scored a career-high 37 goals in 2021-22, and has six seasons of 20 or more goals. 


“It’s something,” Nelson said of being named an All-Star, “I’ll remember. For sure.”


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