NHL All-Star Weekend links generations of hockey’s best

In a single-file line, the legends of the game walked onto the ice.

Peter Stastny. Luc Robitaille. Wayne freakin’ Gretzky.

They stood side-by-side, 30 or 40 of them in a line. On the other side of the ice stood the NHL All-Stars of today, who would soon skate over, each dropping a ceremonial “first puck” with a former hockey great who made the NHL’s Top 100 list.

That beautiful imagery before the All-Star Game on Sunday captured the essence of All-Star Weekend at Staples Center, which began with the Skills Challenge on Saturday and wrapped up on Sunday with the main event. The common theme? Stars of the present connecting not only with each other, but also with legends of the past.

And while they may be superstar athletes, today’s All-Stars still came away in awe.

Joe Pavelski had a chance to speak with his childhood idol, Brett Hull. Brent Burns ran into Ray Borque coming off an elevator and couldn’t even talk:

“These are guys I watched and pretended to be.”

Cam Fowler, a defenseman for the Anaheim Ducks, said dropping the puck with the legends was his favorite part of the weekend:

“They seemed like they were happy to see us. Those guys are incredible players, and a lot of them over there I looked up to for a long time. That’s something that will stick with me.”

As an added bonus, Gretzky himself played a role in the game, stepping in to coach the Metropolitan Division team in place of John Tortorella. “The Great One” coached in the league in the 2000s, but players were still awestruck at his presence behind the bench.

Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds, who was named MVP of the All-Star Game after scoring the game-winning goal in the final game for the Metropolitan Division, noted how lucky he was:

Wayne Gretzky is the greatest player to ever play this game. To get a chance to play for him was an honor. It was just a great situation to be in, and I’m just really happy right now.”

Simmonds’ goal gave the Metropolitan a 4-3 win over the Pacific Division, which featured four members of the Sharks in Pavelski, Burns, goaltender Martin Jones and head coach Pete DeBoer.

DeBoer joked on Saturday that he would double-shift Edmonton Oilers young phenom Connor McDavid, but recognized the star-power he had at his disposal:

“To be standing there at ice level with that world class talent is amazing.”

It did amaze on Sunday. The Pacific Division worked well together in its 10-3 thrashing of the Central the semifinal game. Pavelski skated on a line with Los Angeles Kings’ stars Jeff Carter and Drew Doughty, while Burns played with McDavid and the Ducks’ Ryan Kesler. Jones split goaltending duties with the Arizona Coyotes’ Mike Smith.

The Sharks and Ducks players received loud boos from the Kings’ supporters at Staples Center, and it certainly looked strange to see Sharks, Kings and Ducks players working together, but it was all in good fun. Pavelski said:

“It’s fun being out there, playing with [rivals], playing against some of the guys. It’s just a nice, fun lax event.”

Pavelski had two goals total, one in each game. His first came on a 2-on-0 breakaway with Carter, who dropped it back to give Pavelski an open net to score on. Burns’ lone goal was a breakaway backhander in the semifinal against the Central.

The format for the All-Star Game featured three 20-minute games, with the winner of the first two games squaring off in the final. And it seemed apparent that the championship matchup between the Pacific and Metropolitan — which pitted California’s hockey stars against the likes of Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin — was the best the NHL had to offer.

The one-goal game felt like an actual game toward the end, with the Pacific scrambling to find an equalizer. That didn’t happen, but it did accomplish something: The pro-Kings crowd cheering on players from their divisional opponents, from Pavelski to Burns. It wasn’t exactly a Kumbaya moment, but it did encapsulate the weekend at Staples, one of coming together — the past with the present, and rivals with each other.

Fowler said:

“At the end of the day, I’m on the same team as the Kings guys. I wanted the same thing that they wanted. As passionate fans here, I expected boos along the way. It’s nice to get some cheers, too.”