LAS VEGAS — After the NHL All-Star weekend was canceled last season due to the coronavirus pandemic, the event’s grand return could not have come at a better time or been hosted by a better city.
Not only were players able to take their minds off the grueling season and the stresses of competing amid a pandemic, but they were able to catch up with others around the league that they otherwise wouldn’t have the time to see on the road. Many brought their families, just ask Steven Stamkos’ son, Carter, if he got to see the Zamboni.
It was a weekend of fun. And what place is more fun than Sin City?
Las Vegas became the first city ever to host two all-star games in the same weekend, with the NFL Pro Bowl going on at the same time as the NHL’s events at T-Mobile Arena. In Summerlin, the Las Vegas Ballpark hosted the NFL Pro Bowl Skills Showdown on Wednesday night and then an open Pro Bowl practice on Thursday.
Considering how new the Golden Knights and the Raiders are to Vegas, hosting two major league events already is no small feat. The Raiders relocated to Vegas just two years ago, while the Golden Knights’ inaugural season was 2017-18.
It may be in its early days, but Vegas is a pro sports town. The city provided the getaway that many players said they needed. It even left Golden Knights head coach Peter DeBoer “a little hungover.”
“I think from Day 1 it’s been phenomenal,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said after serving as bench boss of the Metropolitan Division team at the All-Star game Saturday. “The players all love it, obviously. They love it too because of the atmosphere that they’ve created here. It’s just fun to come and play here as a visiting player, coach. It’s a great atmosphere.
“At the end of the day, these guys need that, right? It makes hockey fun when you got a crowd and you got that energy in the building.”
Added Rangers winger Chris Kreider: “They did a terrific job. It was an awesome event. Ton of fun. The fans were great, the building was great. I hope everyone had as much fun as we did.”
The atmosphere was light. Capitals agitator Tom Wilson relished the boos that rained down on him all weekend long, but also responded with the first goal of the All-Star game. One of the skills events was held at the iconic Bellagio Fountains. Machine Gun Kelly and Megan Fox were there. Lots of magic tricks, too.
Flyers captain Claude Giroux used the All-Star game as his own personal showcase as he nears unrestricted free agency, scoring three goals in the tournament and winning the MVP award. Plus, the breakaway challenge was held for the first time since 2016, which allowed a player like Ducks phenom Trevor Zegras to wow and humor fans with his blindfolded Dodgeball-inspired shootout move.
Player’s personalities were really able to come through in the relaxed Vegas environment. That alone was good for the game this weekend.
Sunrise, Florida, the Panthers and the 2023 All-Star weekend have a tough act to follow.