There's so much that could have gone wrong with the new format surrounding this year's rendition of the All-Star Game. Yet, when the lights went out, players exited and the fans finally left the arena to prepare for their own individual trips back to where they reside, the 2016 NHL All-Star Game was a resounding success.
Starting with an Eastern Conference showdown between the Atlantic and Metropolitan divisions and ending with a memorable finale featuring both Atlantic and Pacific divisions, the new league format offered fans, players and coaches alike something for everyone to enjoy.
"I think as it continues here, especially if you make it to that second game, the intensity picks up pretty quick," said New York Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh. "As it got down to the wire, it picked up for sure. We were pulling the goalie, trying to score and trying to tie it up. It’s pretty game-like out there."
Impressively, the Nashville faithful packed full-force inside Bridgestone Arena for the historic event and made their presence known for the four Predators players in attendance -- not to mention whenever Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane found his way to the ice. This, despite the fact that Kane was a pivotal member of the Central division squad.
"I didn’t expect that. Usually when we’re here you don’t hear too many boos when you touch the puck or anything like that," Kane said. "Playing with the Predators and being on the Central Division team, I thought they’d be cheering for us, but I still got booed when I touched the puck. I guess that’s the way it is."
My biggest concern for the event as a whole was if and how the players would be able to handle 20 full minutes of 3-on-3 action, as opposed to the maximum five minutes they're used to. Pair that with having only nine players at each team's disposal -- less than half of a usual roster composition -- and you were left really wondering how quickly each teams combined stamina level would dwindle.
In reality, it didn't seem to phase any of the players as they unanimously agreed -- from the ones I spoke with -- that ice time was evenly distributed and the breaks helped out plenty.
"No, actually it wasn’t too bad," said Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov. "We had one break in the middle there as well as five minutes in between periods. It wasn’t hard at all."
The Atlantic division started things off Sunday afternoon with a 4-3 win over the Metropolitan division, seeing Red Wings forward Dylan Larkin rattle off three assists to help lead the way in points for the Atlantic. With the win, the Atlantic would move on to the championship game pending the result of the Central and Pacific division match-up.
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One of the biggest questions we were left to ponder was whether or not all four of Nashville's invitees would find themselves skating together during that game. And they did. Lindy Ruff started Roman Josi, James Neal, Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne in net to the delight of the crowd.
Overall, the Pacific division captured the 9-6 win over Central during the second go-around, led by Daniel Sedin -- who registered two goals and one assist. Not just that, but the illustrious John Scott found himself with two goals in his first outing of the night.
With the championship match set, it definitely didn't fail to impress. The Pacific came away with the well-earned 1-0 victory over the Atlantic -- splitting a cool million bucks between the 11 players. Most importantly, after all the back and forth from the league and how they treated him, the fans made sure they let Scott know they appreciated him here, as they voted him the MVP of the game -- earning him a brand new Honda Pilot Touring SUV.
"You never know what to expect," Scott noted, marveling at his time this weekend. "I thought I was going to be in the background, kinda just enjoy it from behind the scenes. It just definitely didn't turn out that way. I keep saying it was a whirlwind and it went by so fast, but I loved it. It's probably the coolest thing I've done in hockey, for sure."
It was one of the most beautiful moments of the weekend. Scott's teammates amazingly lifted him on their shoulders before Scott accepted the $1 million check from league commissioner Gary Bettman.
"It still really hasn't sunk in," said Scott in his post-game press conference at the end of the festivities. "It's been a whirlwind up to this point, but probably one of the better weekends of my life I'm not going to lie.
"Without a doubt, I don't think you can top this. This is crazy. If the twins happen when they're due, it's going to be...you can't beat that, right? Two healthy babies coming out after an All-Star win? That's good."
As tiring as it must have been for the entirety of players involved, the rewards were sweet and the time invested made it an enjoyable experience for all of the players involved.
"It was a blast. It was great from the start, you could tell it was going to be a good atmosphere around the city and it certainly was," said McDonagh. "The red carpet event [on Saturday night] was pretty fun and the excitement there was pretty high. A lot of fans showed up for that. The Skills Competition was a good experience to be a part of, and the game too leading up to it. Everything’s been surreal. Great to have my family here and first class hospitality by the whole city of Nashville."
Overall, Nashville made the best of its time as host for this year's All-Star Weekend. Will they earn a repeat performance any time soon? There's a universally long line for teams waiting on their chance to host one of the league's pinnacle events, but the way the entire city shined under the national spotlight makes me believe that the NHL will return to Nashville sooner rather than later.
Current Washington Capitals coach and former Predators coach Barry Trotz may have summed it up best when he, in a classic Trotzian-style long-form quote, gave Nashville the best praise it could have asked for.
"One of the things that I know that happens in Nashville, Tennessee is that they know how to put on events, major events, and they do it right. The city is set up the right way," said Trotz. "They have a beautiful convention center and a beautiful rink. We have something that a lot of cities can’t do. The entertainment portion of it, the music industry, the creative people that are here, the film industry that’s here, all that. You put that altogether, I don’t think you’re going to be able to match this year in and year out.
"For the city of Nashville, for the NHL, I think Nashville set the bar really, really high. Everything from the entertainment outside to the entertainment inside. The way they did things, it’s got a very unique twist and it’s going to be very, very hard for the next cities to try to match what Nashville did here. So they can be very, very proud. I’ve seen it time and time again. The NHL Draft, the CMA’s, you can just go down the list. It’s a city that does a great job"