Well, if there's one thing we learned from the All-Star weekend, it's that when All-Star defencemen stop playing defence, the result is scarily similar to a regular Montreal Canadiens game. The number of opponents sailing unmolested into Carey Price's crease and the reluctance of the Ds to move them out of there was familiar stuff for the Habs goalie. On the forward side, the desire to pass instead of shoot by the majority of guys in the NHL's prepackaged version of shinny must mean the Habs are really a bunch of All Stars in disguise.
At the end of All-Star weekend, we can be proud that both Carey Price and P.K.Subban acquitted themselves well. They were gracious in interviews, skilled...and, in Subban's case, funny and endearing...on the ice and seemed to be having fun in the company of the best players in the game. (Or at least the ones without concussions, family concerns or other reasons for skipping the love-in.) Neither player got hurt and Price's workload hopefully wasn't great enough to have much effect on his real games this week.
As for the weekend itself, it, as usual, left something to be desired. While there were certainly highlights, like Subban donning Skinner's sweater, Chara's amazing slapper, Sedin's brilliant accuracy and goalie races(!), the one moment that will stand out for many fans was one that made us squirm. Anything that makes a Habs fan feel sorry for a leaf is not a good thing, and that's what happened when we watched Phil Kessel get picked last in the draft. There had to be a better way to do that, whether by drawing the names out of a hat or, if they really wanted to play pond hockey, by throwing the sticks in a pile and picking them randomly. There was nothing enjoyable for fans in watching a man be embarrassed before his peers at an event that was supposed to be honouring him.
Other little things, like the wires all over the ice, the malfunctioning radar gun and the failure to give players a clear signal when to start their skills events, weren't as serious, but contributed to making the super skills feel a bit disjointed and amateurish.
The biggest problem with this year's edition of the All-Star game, however, is that it was part of a mildly disturbing trend toward creating a hockey myth that doesn't really exist beyond the imaginations of NHL marketers. The idea of young players spending all their spare time playing hockey on a frozen outdoor surface, with every kid on the street entering and leaving the game according to various supper times, is a lovely story. It was true once. The generation of players in the NHL now, however, really never lived that. They were taken to scheduled practices by their parents or neighbours, and they played in scheduled games in intertown tournaments. They grew up in suburbs, with postage-stamp backyards not big enough for a rink, and the ponds didn't freeze until sometime after Christmas and thawed again by March.
The true stories behind these All-Stars are, for the most part, boring. Sure, there are exceptions, like Martin St.Louis' tale of perserverance in the face of naysayers, and Tim Thomas' roundabout route to the NHL. Those stories, though, are about overcoming great personal barriers. They're not about the shared national myth we're being told they're reliving at events like the "pond hockey" All-Star game.
The NHL's desire to play outdoors at the Heritage and Classic games, and to have All-Star captains choose their teams, comes from a plan to steal our fathers' hockey history and sell it back to us in a slick, sentimental package that's meant to convince us NHL players have the same story as we do. They didn't, for the most part, live that story, and neither did we.
This re-branding of the hockey dream doesn't really hurt anyone, of course. It's just a bit off-putting to know that the warm and fuzzy recreations of the game's roots the league is feeding us are really designed to sell us something.
It's good to have the festival of non-contact hockey over with for another year. The Canadiens will hit the ice again this week as the stretch drive draws closer. There will be defensive breakdowns that leave Carey Price hanging, and there will be one too many passes on 2-on-1s, just like the ones that happened in his twenty minutes of All-Star play. It doesn't matter though, because the games, despite their imperfections, will mean something. The players will be trying their asses off to win, and that, NHL, is what hockey is really all about. That's what fans want. The honesty of effort, sweat and giving it all for your team is the real story of hockey. It'll be good to see it again.