COLUMBUS, Ohio — By the time players finished scoring a record 29 goals at the NHL all-star game, they agreed that there was one loud, ear-piercing negative: the cannon at Nationwide Arena.
“I hate the cannon,” Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux said.
Florida Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo added that the cannon wasn’t his favourite part of the weekend either.
The cannon went off more times in one game in the building than ever before, marking goals by the team led by Nick Foligno of the host Columbus Blue Jackets. Team Toews beat Team Foligno 17-12 in the mid-season exhibition featuring many of hockey’s top stars playing shinny with no hitting, no defence and no mercy for goaltenders.
“That’s all we’re really doing out there is having fun and kind of trying to show our skill at the same time,” Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane said. “Kind of feels like summer hockey a little bit where there’s a lot of breakaways, a lot of odd-man rushes.”
And a lot of goals, breaking the record set in 2001 in Denver when North America beat the World 14-12. This one was a wide-open affair in which all but three players registered at least a point. Jakub Voracek of the Philadelphia Flyers had six points on a hat trick and three assists, tying Mario Lemieux’s 1988 record.
“I think it’s a little different, Voracek and Lemieux, right?” said Voracek, the former Blue Jackets winger who also leads the NHL in scoring at the all-star break. “Three secondary assists. I’ll take it, but I wouldn’t make a big deal out of it.”
Despite tying Lemieux, Voracek was not the most valuable player. Hometown star Ryan Johansen received that honour as part of an online fan vote.
“Joey deserved it the way he handled the weekend,” Voracek said. “Him and Nick Foligno were under a lot of spotlight. At the skills yesterday and the game today, they did a great job. It was well deserved.”
John Tavares of the New York Islanders became the sixth player in all-star game history with four goals, joining the elite company of Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Vincent Damphousse, Mike Gartner and Dany Heatley. One of his four also went down as the game-winner.
“It’s pretty cool,” Tavares said. “It’s something you don’t really think about going into a game like this. You get your opportunities and just was happy to put them in.”
Most players left happy, including winning captain Jonathan Toews and fellow Canadian Olympian Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins, who each finished with five points. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins was less than thrilled with the proceedings.
Fleury gave up seven goals on 16 shots in the second period, which was the most scored by one team in that time in the game’s history. He heard that on television at the second intermission.
“It was so long, probably the longest 20 minutes of my career,” Fleury said in French. “We are at this game to have fun, but at one time, it was frustrating. Normally, I’ll be quick out of the game way before giving up seven goals.”
Luongo, who started for Team Toews, said Fleury approached him at the bench early in the second period.
“He was looking for some comfort words or something from me,” Luongo said. “He wasn’t on my team, so I wasn’t going in for him. What are you going to do? It’s an all-star game.”
This was the first all-star game since 2012 in Ottawa, after the lockout forced Columbus to have its opportunity rescheduled and the Sochi Olympics left no room for the festivities. The 2015 all-star weekend might best be remembered for the unveiling of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, but there were plenty of memorable moments from Friday night’s draft and Saturday night’s skills competition.
The game itself featured a handful of new records: most goals by a team in a game (17) and a period (seven), most combined goals in a period (11) and fastest two, three and four goals scored.
“If I was a goalie in this game, I would be … not happy,” Zemgus Girgensons of the Buffalo Sabres said.
Goalie torment aside, it was a showcase of some of the NHL’s best players. The effort wasn’t really there, but most players didn’t expect it.
“I was sitting on the bench getting the shakes a little bit,” Panthers rookie defenceman Aaron Ekblad said. “I was trying not to try too hard. That’s kind of like the thing to do almost. It is hard to do. I got chirped a little bit for trying too hard.”
Players’ trying or lack thereof was measured by chips in their jerseys and the puck as the NHL experimented with tracking in a game for the first time. A prototype program could show players’ shift lengths, top speeds and other things in real time.
It’s something that could be coming to the league at some point in the future but not before analyzing how it went in the all-star game and figuring out the real implications.
“We’re right in the beginning phases of this,” the NHLPA’s Mathieu Schneider said Saturday. “We’ll see what comes out of it. Fans and players are excited about it. We can work together to really enlighten a whole new group of people that haven’t really followed the game.”
For fans who tuned in just for this all-star game, it didn’t enlighten much about real hockey. But ultimately it didn’t have to.
“Not much defence played,” the Ottawa Senators’ Bobby Ryan said. “The talent level out there is incredible. It’s a heck of an experience.”