SUNRISE, Fla. — Hockey’s biggest stars gathered this weekend in South Florida, and Saturday’s NHL All-Star Game ended a sun-soaked weekend. The skilled, defense-is-always-optional showcase featured young guns and all-time greats who built up the game and drew in generations of fans.
Other all-stars, including Boston’s David Pastrnak and New Jersey’s Jack Hughes, acknowledged multiple times that they were “star-struck” to be in the same place as the illustrious duo.
“It means a lot. … When we were young players coming in, there were older guys that we felt the same way about,” Crosby said. “Even though you have played in the league for a while, you can still appreciate the opportunity to spend some time with guys, and as much as it is tough competition with them, you appreciate the chance to meet them personally and see them up close.”
Ovechkin offered a similar perspective — especially after his son Sergei stole the spotlight Friday night.
“You never know if you’re going to be in All-Star Game one more time or not, but I was trying to get more fun — lots of fun — and try to get memories for me, for my family and for my kids,” he said.
The Atlantic Division — led by Florida Panthers stars Matthew Tkachuk and Aleksander Barkov — beat the Central, 7-5, to claim the championship of the All-Star Game three-on-three tournament Saturday. In the semifinals, the Central edged the Pacific, 6-4, and the Atlantic defeated Ovechkin and Crosby’s Metropolitan, 10-6.
Crosby and Ovechkin teamed up for three goals: Ovechkin fed Crosby twice, and Crosby returned the favor. But playing at home, Tkachuk recorded a hat trick to lead the Atlantic to victory.
Afterward, Ovechkin jokingly blamed the division’s goalies — the New York Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin and the New York Islanders’ Ilya Sorokin — for the loss: “Obviously goalie could play better — but goalies.”
Players and coaches alike praised the game’s location, and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the league estimated $25 million to $30 million in economic impact for the area. Next year, Bettman announced, the All-Star Game will be held in Toronto for the first time since 2000.
“The city is going to be buzzing,” Maple Leafs star Mitch Marner said. “It’s going to be a bit colder than here but nothing a good winter coat can’t solve.”
Sergei Ovechkin was the unquestioned star of this weekend.
The 4-year-old attended Thursday’s media day, Friday’s skills competition and Saturday’s three-on-three tournament. Ovechkin’s younger son, Ilya, and his wife, Nastya, were also in attendance. But Ovechkin said Thursday he was excited for Sergei to be in the dressing room and get the chance to mingle with some of the best in the game.
It’s common for older players to have their kids along for the ride during all-star festivities, and Ovechkin was thrilled to take advantage.
“Great weekend. Lots of fun moments, lots of good memories,” he said. “I enjoy it, boys enjoy it, kids enjoy it, family enjoy it.”
On Friday, Sergei was on the ice for the skills competition, wearing the Capitals’ black “Reverse Retro” jersey with “OVI JR” on the back. (He also sported yellow laces, matching his dad’s signature look.) Before, during and after the skills competition, he remained near his dad but mingled with other Russians on the ice, including Sorokin and the Minnesota Wild’s Kirill Kaprizov.
Ovechkin said Kaprizov was the second-best babysitter — behind Sorokin.
“Sergei was very happy, always smiling, always asking when the hockey’s going to be,” he said.
During Friday night’s breakaway challenge — the NHL’s answer to the NBA’s dunk contest — Ovechkin and Crosby teamed up with young Sergei. The trio executed a give-and-go, and Sergei finished the play by scoring five-hole on Hall of Fame goalie Roberto Luongo. The play got a perfect-10 score from all four celebrity judges.
“We always have fun,” Ovechkin said of teaming up with Crosby. “… It is great for hockey.”