Cleat Geeks

Columbus did an All-Star performance.

When John H. McConnell, brought the NHL to Central Ohio, the very thought of Columbus hosting an NHL All Star game was a distant fantasy. Fast forward

John H. McConnell was the majority owner, chairman and governor of the Columbus Blue Jackets

John H. McConnell was the majority owner, chairman and governor of the Columbus Blue Jackets he passed away on April 25, 2008 at the age of 84

15 years to 2012, as Columbus began gearing up to host the NHL’s brightest stars, those same stars held out, thus creating the second work stoppage for the league in 8 years.

The 60th All Star game was placed on the back burner again as the teams went back to work, and off to the Olympics in Sochi, Russia. As Team Canada captured gold, an entire city lay in wait, for their turn to shine.

The All Star game was the last thing on my mind as I opened my final gift on Christmas Eve (it was from my Girlfriend whom prides herself in gift-giving). I opened the package, only to become overjoyed as Skills Competition tickets spilled out of their packaging. This was a once in a life opportunity, something that may never come to town again.

Living in Michigan now, we made the trek to Columbus along with the rest of hockey world on a brisk Saturday in January. We would only stay in town one day in order to dodge the snowmageddon that was B-lining towards the buckeye state, but planned to make the most of our time. We arrived in Columbus Saturday afternoon, grabbed our skates and hoofed it down the hill next to gorgeous Nationwide Arena, on our way to the Community Rink at the bottom for some couples skating. The atmosphere was energetic, fans from all 30 teams, wearing their prospective colors enjoying anything from s’mores roasting to live bands playing old Nickelback songs.

Lines, lines, lines… There were lines for everything. I have attended more hockey games than I can count, and this was the craziest I have ever seen. We stood in line for skating, hardest shot competition, and passing drills. The amount of people that crammed into downtown was insane, and probably my biggest complaint for the weekend.

All complaints were quickly silenced as we walked through the concourse of the arena, listening to the starting lineups for both teams. When you hear the names Kane, Ovechkin, and Stamkos, all together under one roof, you would be an absolute fool to complain about anything. The amount of complete talent in the building was extremely hard to take in, I felt like a child looking down at the ice with drool at my feet.

As a typical fan you don’t really realize how normal these players really are. Most have your uncle’s bald spot, all look like your little or big brother, and all have a great sense of humor. The skills competition and the All Star game give fans a rare look into what these players are really like, and I feel as though I received a taste of that Saturday night.

The 2015 NHL Skills Competition.

The 2015 NHL Skills Competition.

A fantasy draft was held the night before at the convention center, Nick Foligno and Jonathan Toews the captains for each team. As you look over the pool of players to choose from, it’s easy to say you could have drafted with your eyes and ears closed. This same path was also chosen by Blues goaltender Brian Elliot, as he was blindfolded while Vladimir Teresenko shot on net in the Breakaway challenge, one of five competitions the All Stars took part in.

The Fastest Skater challenge was first, players racing side by side in heats around the rink. I enjoyed the speed and competitiveness the players showed, it was nice to see the NHL showcasing a talent that is sometimes passed over.NHL ALL-STAR BJP

Next was the Breakaway Challenge, which I was not a fan of.. I understand the players were going for flashiness but after watching Ovechkin miss swinging his stick at the puck 6 or 7 times I had enough. I feel as though the NHL could discontinue this event and look down other fun avenues. Although Ryan Johansen winning the overall challenge has created some controversy, I think it was merited as the hometown boy.

Being a hockey player myself watching the Accuracy Challenge, I was quick to say, “I could do better than that!” although, my girlfriend shushed me very fast. Not much to say about this challenge, I think it’s great to watch and take part in.

My favorite competition of the night had to be the relay, as the players had to shoot, pass, handle the puck, and see how much sauce they could throw at a small net. Watching the players compete against the clock, was truly the best thing I witnessed all weekend. At the end of the relay were the goaltenders lying in wait. They were to shoot a puck from one net to the other at the opposite end of the rink, and were required to make two of them. Awesome, just awesome.

Shea Weber wins the competition with an 108 MPH strike.

Shes Weber wins the competition with an 108 MPH strike.

Speaking of awesome, if you haven’t seen Shea Weber shoot the puck at 108 miles per hour, you owe it to yourself to travel to “Smashville” just for that. The final event was the Hardest Shot, and it did not disappoint. It’s not the speed you can see, it’s the different sound that it makes coming off of the stick. The slap in slap shot is everything its meant to be, simply amazing.

Walking out of Nationwide, listening to the fans conversations, and looking around the city was a lot to take in. Columbus, Ohio felt like a hockey town. It was the place to be for the NHL and everyone that loves hockey for 3 days, and it was an amazing experience. This sort of thing makes you want to go back year after year. A complete celebration of hockey was on display for not only the kids to dream, but us as adults as well.

 

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