While veteran presence is undeniable on this year’s All-Star roster, both teams host multiple first timers. For the East, Jason Spezza, Mike Richards, Evgeni Malkin, Adrei Markov, Marc Savard, Tim Thomas, and Rick DiPietro make their first appearance in the contest. The West boasts Duncan Keith, Shawn Horcoff, Anze Kopitar, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Henrik Sedin, Mike Ribeiro, and Manny Lagace.
In addition to a constant theme of excitement and enjoyment, almost every one of the All-Star “rookies” looked forward to the presence of the legends lacing up around them. It’s a theory not lost on Zdeno Chara, despite his 3rd year status.
“Just being around some players, there are some future Hall of Famers and still you have guys like Bobby Orr, Gordy Howe coming into the locker room and saying “Hi” to the guys; that’s an honor for us,” he said. “I think it’s just an experience to be here, I think you can grow as a person and a hockey player to see these guys and how they act on a day like this. You’ve got to just try to enjoy it as much as you can,” concurred Henrik Sedin, representing Vancouver.
Mike Ribeiro explained “Just to watch [the other] All-Stars, what they do, what they don’t do before a game. You can learn, you always learn. I’m still young and I’ll grab everything I can to make me mature and a better player, better person.” He also added, “I’m not sure what I have to wear, I don’t know where to go so I feel a little bit like a rookie, but I’m just enjoying my self.”
The Dallas forward stated he is most excited to play with 10 time All-Star Nicklas Lidstrom. “I am excited to play with him and see how he moves the puck, how he practices. It looks so easy for him, so I’m trying to get some points to make my game easier.”
When Rick DiPietro was asked who he was most excited to have skating in front of him he joked, “Can I say all of them? It’s crazy, when you go out there and you practice that’s when you get the best sense, when you practice with all these guys, Ovechkin, Kovalchuk, all these guys coming in and shooting on you. It makes for very challenging practices for the goalie.”
When confronted with the eminent high-scoring, low defense match-up the netminder responded, “I was thinking about adding a couple prosthetic arms to help cover some net, I’m going to do whatever I can. It might not be pretty, but whatever I can do to keep the puck out of the net I’m going to try.”
Extra appendages aside, the Islander was sure to consult with goaltending coach, Mike Dunham prior to the event. DiPietro confessed that Dunham, who had a stint with the Thrashers in 2005-06, “said they love the two pad stack, so I’m going to try to do ask many two pad stacks as possible.”
As for nerves among the newbies, Shawn Horcoff admits “I was pretty worried about the skills and which ones I was going into, but now that I’ve found out I’m ‘Fastest Skater’, I’m totally relaxed. I’m confident I can get down the ice in a straight line without falling.”
The Oiler also added “I can’t wait to be out there with everyone. You put that jersey on and I think it’ll strike you a little bit more. I think for me, someone asked when it “struck”, I got a new set of gloves from Easton and I’m like ‘this is kind of cool’. Like I said, I’ve been in the league for eight or nine years now, so I always remember when guys would get ready to go [to the All-Star game]. So, I think that’s probably when it started to hit me that ‘you’re going to be an All-Star’”
As for game strategy Chris Pronger explained, “From my perspective as a defenseman, you’re looking at it purely as offensive opportunity…with a little defense mixed in. With the collection of players up front it is about offence and the team who can find a little bit of chemistry amongst its lines and amongst the team the fastest that can mix in a little bit of defense once in a while is probably going to have the best chance.”
Another man of authority Lidstrom, suggested “keep the tempo up, I think that’s important. Keep the tempo up and a lot of skating, it turns into a more competitive game.”
Although the game is certainly not known for its physical aspects, Kimmo Timonen responded, “I’m sure there will be [offensive opportunity] but, I remember last year, they want us to play hard. You don’t have to hit guys, but play hard, skate hard, and make good passes. People want to see good passing rather than sloppy plays so hopefully we can provide that to the fans.”
Jason Arnott echoed Timonen’s statement and added, “you’ve got to have fun with it. You’re playing with all the best players in the league and, obviously, you don’t want to go out and hurt somebody but you want to go out and play well and perform and give fans a good show.”
Through out the rosters, whether they are appearing in their first or their 10th All-Star the event is an unrivalled experience. To sum up the event Ribeiro confessed, “You always dream about being here one day, it’s a dream come true.”
Tim Thomas humbly added, “you’ve got to take away the enjoyment and the fun and I think you’ve got to realize how lucky you are to be here, while you’re here.” Which, in addition to showing their stuff in front of a national audience, is just what these players plan to do.