By Dan Kamal, CNN
Actually, it will be two days at the beach when the league convenes in Sunrise, Florida, on February 3 and 4 for its annual All-Star extravaganza. Perennial stars and future Hall of Famers Crosby and Ovechkin are expected to skate on the same line again this year for the Metropolitan Division, one of four teams of stars set to vie for a huge pile of cash.
Those superstars are arguably the most recognizable names in the best ice hockey league in the world, and they’ll be joined by plenty of other established and up-and-coming stars heading to the fun and sun in Florida.
Edmonton sensation Connor McDavid, perhaps the best player on the planet right now, will skate for the Pacific Division; Czech forward David Pastrnak, closing in on a career goalscoring year for Boston, will skate for the Atlantic Division, and Colorado’s flashy D-man Cale Makar will compete for the Central Division.
Then there are the rising stars, like Buffalo’s Tage Thompson, also on the Atlantic squad, and rookie Matty Beniers, who’s helping the Seattle Kraken surprise the NHL world this season and will skate for the Pacific, a side that will also feature the “Where did they come from?” young goalie pair of Vegas’ Logan Thompson and Edmonton’s Stuart Skinner.
New, cross-sport competitions
This year’s event comes with a couple of skills competition twists very much in keeping with the ‘beach vibes’ environment. It’s South Florida, after all, so think water and golf.
For the first time ever, the league is presenting the NHL Splash Shot, which will be held at Fort Lauderdale Beach on Friday, February 3, and will feature eight players divided into four teams of two sharpshooters each, trying to dunk their opponents into a water tank. But the shooters will have to hit all of their marks before getting the chance to drop their adversaries into the drink.
The first team to dunk an opponent after hitting all the targets beforehand wins. The “dunkee” gets all wet, but don’t feel too badly; it’ll be about 79 degrees Fahrenheit (26 degrees Celsius) when the water tank floor gives out.
Now to the golf: Six players will participate in the first NHL Pitch ‘n Puck event on a par-4 golf hole featuring an island green. Using a combination of golf clubs and hockey sticks (of course), the player who sinks either the puck or ball in the hole in the fewest shots is the winner. If there’s a tie, a long-drive competition will decide the winner. Long drive as in driver and golf ball, not hockey stick and puck.
And the goalies will also have to bring their talents to — actually, near — South Beach. There’s a brand-new goalie skills contest quirkily titled ‘Tendy Tandem’ that involves one goaltender shooting at targets, with his goalie partner facing one, two or three shooters, depending on how accurate the shooting keeper is. Got it? The easy thing to understand is that the goalie tandem with the most points wins.
Even the attire for this year’s All-Star game will scream, “I love beach sunsets!” with electric blue and pink accents. Not your typical hockey sweater, but not much is typical in this newly imagined beach bash of a weekend.
Still keeping in tradition
However, not everything will be splashy, new and neon in sunny Florida. Some things are best left unchanged, like the Fastest Skater, Hardest Shot, Breakaway Challenge and Accuracy Shooting competitions. All remain intact and will again be popular highlights of the myriad of skills events on Friday.
Joining the NHL stars — who are selected to compete by the NHL Department of Player Safety — will be five women’s hockey players: Alex Carpenter and Hilary Knight from the US and Emily Clark, Rebecca Johnston and Sarah Nurse from Canada. Long-time Florida Panthers goaltending great — and social media maven — Roberto Luongo will appear as a celebrity keeper in the Breakaway Challenge.
The actual games face off at FLA Live Arena, home of the Florida Panthers, at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday, February 4, and will again feature four rosters of nine skaters and two goaltenders, with each team representing one of the NHL’s four divisions. The Central Division will meet the Pacific in the first game, followed by the Metropolitan vs. the Atlantic in the second.
Teams surviving the semifinals will meet for a cool $1 million prize, with gametime for the final expected to be around 5 p.m. ET.
So will it be the obvious stars that shine near South Beach on the first Saturday of February, as in Crosby to Ovechkin for the Metro Division’s game winner? Or will some of the game’s younger phenoms steal the glittering affair?
We’ll soon find out. Grab a blanket and some sunscreen. The NHL’s best is headed to the beach.
How to watch
You can watch the NHL All-Star game on ESPN, ESPN+ and ABC in the United States and on CBC, Sportsnet and TVA Sports in Canada.
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