All-Star Weekend Wrap-Up

Well the circus has left town. The Stanley Cup headed off to the AHL All-Star game and the players, execs and media folk have all gone back to where they came from. But boy, was it ever a good time while everyone was in town.

Sunday’s final day wound down the hectic weekend, one I spent in the media work area downstairs rather than up on the press gallery. The hot dogs were just as tasty, the sodas as cold and there was the added attraction of TV monitors.

I’m pretty sure no other sports organization has as many living Hall of Famers as the Montreal Canadiens. A panel of them were meeting the media when I arrived at 4PM,

Serge Savard, Dickie Moore, Henri Richard, Jean Beliveau, Guy Lafleur and Yvan Cournoyer have their names a combined 50 times as players on victorious Stanley Cup teams. They also have no small number of All-star game appearances.

They spoke about the days when a season wasn’t considered a successful one unless it ended with a parade. The games had more of an edge to them in the days when they were held before the start of play and featured the best players the five other teams could cobble together facing the defending Stanley Cup champions.

Beliveau, who played his first All-Star game on October 3rd, 1953, the same day he signed with the Habs, fondly remembered another game, when played with Gordie Howe on one wing and Bobby Hull on the other.

Lafleur described Montreal as the best place to play the game, even with the pressure it entails, going on to say that it was a lot easier to deal with on a winning team than one experiencing difficulties.

Both men were asked if they thought Vincent Lecavalier, subject of trade rumors
that have him heading this way, and subjected to a welcome that left no doubt the great majority of Montreal fans would like nothing better than to see him in red, white and blue, could deal with life under the Montreal media microscope. Neither figured it would have a negative impact on his hypothetical performance, with the Habs.

The media work area, while decidedly Spartan in its concrete splendour, was also the best place to be to meet folks and strike up a brief conversation. Conveniently near the dressing rooms it was also just off the corridor where the elevators disgorged all kinds of people with tags around their necks, among them many of the artists who would make sure there would be no shortage of captivating entertainment and no need for the T-shirt cannon.

Among the acts taking their turn in the spotlight, before the puck dropped were Mes Aieux, a local French-language rock band, who all wore hockey sweaters and performed in front of the penalty box. Local songstress Marie-Mae did a few tunes after the first period. I don’t know what she was wearing because I was busy typing or socializing and trying to ignore the bass, which was all I could hear of her band’s efforts.

Top featured musical act were another local act, Simple Plan, who have, it seems, moved over seven million units, pretty good in an age of downloads and disregard for copyright laws, so I guess they’re known elsewhere as well.

Sunday night wasn’t the first time that the Habs home rink played host to a circus – both the Forum and Bell Centre regularly host them, elephants and all. – but it’s a safe bet it’s the first time that big top performers have shared the bill and the ice with hockey players.

Tumblers on the ice, acrobats on long winding sheets cascading down from the rafters and a violinist who spun on a trapeze, sawing away without (to my untrained ear) missing a note, even when 180 degrees off her normal upright position, all courtesy of the Cirque Elioze, (Not Cirque du Soleil) some of whom performed at the NHL/THN soiree I’m still a little ticked about missing on Friday.

Anthems were handled by another local act and had a distinctly warmer, Southern Baptist feel than the sub-zero weather outside as the Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir, some 30 voices strong, took care of O Canada, after one of their soloists gave a rendition of the US anthem that owed more to Otis Redding than Francis Scott Key.

Close to both dressing rooms, the media work area was also near the elevators that regularly disgorged all kinds of people with tags that allowed them the same complete backstage access as I had. Most of them were a lot more interesting than I however.

Dickie Moore won a pair of scoring championships, three All-Star team mentions and six Stanley Cups in the Glory Days of the 1950s, playing at an elite level despite pain from battered knees that would have sidelined most of his peers.

Sergio Momesso, fondly remembered as a rugged forward in both Vancouver and St. Louis, playing for coach Mike Keenan in both cities, like Moore embarked on a successful business career once he was dome with pro hockey.

As much fun putting names to older, but familiar athlete’s faces was putting faces to names. I met several people who until this weekend were only names on the bottoms of emails, usually accepting or politely refusing some pitch or other I’ve subjected them to in an effort to keep the bailiff from my door.

And then there were the few who took the time to answer my emails when I first got into the glamorous and lucrative world of freelance writing, usually with words of advice and encouragement. I still intend to take Roy MacGregor to lunch the next time I get to Ottawa.

The 57th NHL All-Star Game itself, more entertainment than intensity, nonetheless captivated the fans throughout. It wasn’t quite a no-hitter with St. Louis Blues representative Keith Tkachuk throwing the evening’s only check. Mike Komisarek was whistled to the penalty box, the first All-Star to see the sin bin in the present millennium. Everybody seemed to get at least a goal in the first 60 minutes as East and West played to a 12-12 tie.

Nobody managed to find the twine in the five minute overtime before the night ended in the best possible way for local supporters, with Alex Kovalev, who captained the East side, potting two in the game itself and putting things on ice in the shootout that capped the night, earning himself Player of the Game Honors and a new vehicle.

I went home, filed two stories and went to bed for two days. The Habs went to Florida. We’re both back at the Bell Centre on Saturday.

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