Fan Fever Undiminished by Cold

Saturday was another great day down at the All-star festivities. Up and out early with my son in tow we arrived at about the time the tent opened up. Wandering around the circular showcase surrounding the elevated area where former stars relieved each other every hour or so, signing for the long line that formed almost instantly we notice that the NHL has seen fit to display a relic from one of the worst decisions in hockey history.

The Fox network decided, a few years back, to make things easier for their largely American audiences, more used to tracking large objects like footballs and basketballs than tiny hockey pucks. They inserted electronics into regulation pucks so that a tail appeared on viewers’ TV screens wherever the puck did, blue when it was moving relatively slowly and red when the velocity went beyond a certain point.

It did nothing to increase Fox’s viewership and became the butt of all manner of jokes from hockey fans north of the 49th parallel, who had no trouble at all knowing where the puck was, whether they saw it or not. The concept was quickly abandoned but still lives on in the minds of Canadian hockey fans, who often use it in stand-up routines and discussions about our natural superiority in all things puckish.

Well, they had one of those very expensive (several hundred dollars a throw) pieces of hollowed-out vulcanized rubber on display, not too far from someone’s mouthpiece, cut open to show the primitive 20th-century electronic guts of the thing.

Willie O’Ree was sitting in the lobby of the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, chatting amiably with the passers-by who recognized him and more than willing to pose for photos. My son, adding to his collection of photos with people he has met while tagging along while his father pretends to work, which added a shot with Butch Bouchard last weekend now includes one with Mr. O’Ree as well.

Back in the tent, the XM radio broadcast site was in use as Murph and Todd Carroll sat and spoke with Pat Lafontaine, attracting a large crowd of admiring fans, Sharpies at the ready. Another Hall of Famer, Clark Gillies came by to fill the still-warm chair.

Guess it goes to show that you never know what you’re going to see at an All-Star Jamboree. You never know who you’ll see either, although when you head to the Red Carpet, you’ve got a pretty good idea. The list of All-Stars was widely available and had been for quite some time. For those that got there early enough to get a spot along the fence, pickings were much better autograph-wise than standing in line for an hour to get one or two signatures

The All-Stars and their coaches were paraded along a path about 50 yards long in Windsor station. Yes, the carpet was red and the crowd was enthusiastic, if a little short on paparazzi. The large majority of the players took the time to sign at least a few proffered mementos for folks in the crowd.

Carey Price’s appearance started up an enthusiastic chant of Ca—ee, Car—ee, while the braying of Tim Thomas’ last name when he appeared had a decidedly more mocking tone. The Boston netminder, laughing, took it in stride and continued to sign his way along the route.

Watched the skills competitions and YoungStars game from the far reaches of the press gallery, often having a much better view of the guys working the lights than the action on the ice. Also got to see all the folks from Inside Hockey at one time in one place.

It wasn’t really hockey but the capacity crowd enjoyed every minute of the silly pucking stunts. Rookie Andrew Cogliano was the fastest to skate a lap of the rink. Then Alex Ovechkin, playing it more for laughs than for goals, took the Breakaway Challenge, as voted on by viewers with text messaging capabilities.

TheYoungStars game, 3-on3, for three six-minute periods was the kind of up and down hockey I grew up playing on outdoor rinks but on a much higher level than the “sticks in the middle” games of my youth. It finished 9-5 for the West, coached by Kings legend, Luc Robitaille over Pete Mahovlich’s Eastern boys.

Evgeni Malkin won the shooting accuracy and then Zdeno Chara broke Al Iafrate’s longstanding record of 105.2 mph in the hardest shot contest. The big Bruin’s 105.4 mph blast earned him the loudest and longest ovation he’ll ever get in Montreal, short of donning a Habs sweater.

Last up was the elimination shootout, eventually won by Phoenix Coyote, Shane Doan, who would face his cousin, Carey price, the next night.

A merciful lift home from a colleague who lives in the neighborhood got me home, safe and sober, at an almost reasonable hour and by 2:30 AM I had fulfilled the day’s obligations to another employer I was tired, but not too tired to type out my day’s meanderings. A couple minutes stretched out on the couch and I’d get right at it.

When I regained consciousness, it was almost noon and time to head back to the rink.


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