Editorial: How the NHL made me stop caring about the All Star Game
There was a time that I would genuinely be excited about the All-Star Game. Sadly that time is gone and that’s just how the NHL wants it. When I was a pre-teen, my obsessions were simple, I collected packs of Hockey Cards, do my annual Panini Sticker Book, and prepare my VCR to tape the NHL All Star Weekend.
This lasted into my early 20’s and is something I’ve picked up a little here and there with my son (hockey cards and sticker books). Unfortunately I’ve lost interest in the NHL ASG and now, this year in Nashville, I simply don’t care.
You see, I’m in my early 40’s and when the ASG rolled around it was a great time for younger me. The NHL pitted the two conferences against each other for a battle of supremacy. It was a glorious time in the late 80’s and 90’s to see who was better, the flashy Campbell/Western Conference or the tougher Wales/Eastern Conference.
What a time to be alive. You don’t understand what it was like for me as a kid to see Wayne Gretzky take the opening draw against Mario Lemieux those years. To watch 99 set up Brett Hull for a goal or to see Raymond Bourque and Brian Leetch on the same PP! It was awesome.
To keep it in context for my younger readers, we didn’t have NHL Network, NBCSN doing a rivalry night or YouTube and NHL.com to overload us with info, clips, etc. Hell, some of us were lucky to have cable early on. My first few years of being a Rangers fan was brought to me by WWOR TV, channel 9.
Now, you can watch Ovechkin and Crosby face-off whenever you want. Or you can watch juggernauts from each Conference square off weekly. Yes, it’s cool but the novelty and excitement is watered down, at least for me.
Yet, when I was a kid and the ASG rolled around, especially being a Rangers fan pre 1994, meant that it was a chance to show the West that the East was better. The hope also was that a Ranger, any Ranger could play a key role in knocking off Wayne Gretzky and his Western super-skilled buddies who were taking home the Cup often (Edmonton won 5 times in 7 seasons from 84-90).
Part of my passion for it was because the Rangers weren’t really winners. That would all change once Mark Messier joined the team. However, it was a quieter Ranger that gave me my first true ASG thrill. Mike Gartner won the ’93 fastest skater competition and then lit up the Campbell Conference in Montreal by scoring 4 times to earn MVP honors! That was followed by the ’94 ASG being hosted at MSG and watching 4 Rangers (Adam Graves, Brian Leetch, Mike Richter, Messier) help beat the West (format change from Wales vs. Campbell) with Richter taking MVP home to the Rangers again.
Then it started to change. Sure there was the glowing puck on Fox but the NHL was eager to sell their participation in the Olympics. They created a format that was the beginning of the end for people like me – Traditionalists.
It was 1998 and it became North America vs. the World. This lasted until 2002 and I’ll admit it was intriguing because it did still hold a “who was better” battle. Was the North American style of tough North/South hockey better than the European more skill based style? But this opened the door to really use the ASG as vehicle to push an agenda.
The ASG reverted back to an East vs. West format in 2003 but after labor disputes hurt hockey’s popularity, they decided to try and grab everyone’s attention in 2012. They used the popularity of Fantasy Sports and let the players hold a draft. Again, this was new and interesting, but the NHL was moving once again very far from those “who was better” battles I had grown up to cherish so long ago.
Now here we are and the NHL is pushing another agenda. This time to promote their adoption of the new OT format by holding a 3 on 3 tournament. They wisely decided to break it up into 4 teams that represent their respective division, but they might as well hold a shootout to decide it. To me, that is more a true hockey play than this real life video game version of NHL HITZ.
Alas, I realize that the ASG is marketed for a younger crowd. Yup, kids that have grown up in the digital age of instant gratification. The anticipation of opening up a pack of cards to find your favorite player is gone. Who needs it when you CAN BE your favorite player on Playstation or XBOX. I decided to prove that by conducting a Twitter Poll and the results revealed just that.
Are you going to watch the 3 on 3 ASG? Please select response w/age
— FullTilt Rangers (@NYR_FullTilt) January 28, 2016
So while there was a fair amount of people over 30 that will likely not watch, 41% of people under 30 are really excited for this. Which in part makes me happy that a younger generation is interested about hockey in general, even though the ASG has just become another event on the calendar like the Winter Classic.
Still there is another part of me that feels for them too. Because they’ll never know how big the ASG used to be. It was that one time of the year you could see your favorite superstars in each Conference face-off against one another to battle it out for “who was better”.
For the record, the East/Wales dominated during the span I watched so intently. From 1988 to 2009 they beat their counterpart 9 out of 14 times. Now, I don’t know what they play for? Maybe the NHL can tell me.