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The NHL's All-Star weekend is perfect the way it is

Maybe you complained about the NHL's All-Star events this weekend, or thought the game was bad or that it was all a big money grab. Maybe you're missing the point?

Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- It took me about five hours after Sunday's All-Star Game ended to realize which team won the thing.

I have spent four days in here tasked with the sole job of chronicling the happenings surrounding this game and its ancillary events. I sat inside Nationwide Arena for about six hours Sunday night, listening to cannon blast after cannon blast and goal horn after goal horn. I wandered around the locker rooms of Team Toews and Team Foligno after the game, and even talked to a few players.

And yet, throughout all of it, I really had no idea which team won the hockey game.

Maybe I'm a little stupid, but the fact of the matter is it didn't matter and I just didn't care. The score of the All-Star Game, and which players scored any of its 29 goals, just does not matter in any actual way. Those who do remember the score will quickly forget it no more than 24 hours from now. None of this matters on paper.

Yet if you were to believe the refrain of a huge collection of hockey writers, you'd think this game and its 29 goals -- an All-Star Game record, by the way -- were the most egregious affront to the sport you've ever seen.

There's no reason anybody should be putting so much stock in an All-Star Game. Not the hockey part, at least.

You don't watch the MLB All-Star Game "because it counts" -- in fact, everybody hates that. If you watch anything during baseball's event, it's the Home Run Derby, because it's lighthearted and fun and good lord, did you see how far that ball went? You don't watch the NBA's version for quality basketball. Those teams scored 318 points in their game last year. You watch the Dunk Contest because you get to see creativity and personality.  And you don't watch the Pro Bowl because -- OK, nobody watches the Pro Bowl for any real reason. It's just on because it's the NFL.

The NHL's All-Star Weekend actually does work, but it's not something that's measurable in television ratings or revenue. It's something you see all around you at the Greater Columbus Convention Center, where this week the NHL's FanFair was held.

It's about the long lines of awe-struck kids and their smiling parents, waiting 10 and 20 and 30 and 60 and 100 minutes just for a 20-second interaction with Blue Jackets star Ryan Johansen, or any of the other All-Star players. It's about the lines of adults and kids alike waiting even longer just for a quick picture with the Stanley Cup. It's about the wrestling match I saw between the Ducks and Lightning mascots on the Nationwide Arena concourse Sunday, and the little kid who begged Stinger, the local hero and mascot of the Blue Jackets, to jump in there and show 'em who's boss.

It's about this picture, and the story this kid will tell people for the rest of his life:


It's about hockey fans making the pilgrimage to the event year after year, because they've made it tradition. It's about seeing fans of all 30 NHL teams, decked out in their team's colors, all in the same place for one of just two events on the calendar each year. It's about going to a bar after Friday night's All-Star Draft and seeing your favorite player drinking a Miller Lite, because that can and does happen at every single All-Star weekend in the NHL.

It's about hockey players getting to let loose for a damn minute, because we never get to see who these guys actually are.

We've always looked down on flashiness and personality in this sport. We're told, or it's at least implied, that flamboyance and outspokenness are detrimental to the game. There's a reason Don Cherry still has a platform. It's why boring personalities like Sidney Crosby are propped up as the face of the sport, when in reality hockey and the NHL would be much better served by P.K. Subban -- who wasn't even invited to All-Star Weekend -- or Alex Ovechkin showcased a bit more often. Ovechkin had a chance Friday night at the Draft and he absolutely killed it, simply because he was allowed to let loose -- OK, fine, get hammered --  for a bit.

All-Star Weekend is the only time we have a chance to see this side of the players, and the NHL has done a lot to foster that. There's still a ton of work to do, but they're getting there. The All-Star Draft is a brilliant idea, as are some of the more fun elements to the Skills Competition that have been added in recent years, like the Breakaway Challenge. I mean, the Flying V made an appearance Saturday. Come on.

Coming into the weekend, there was some frustration that the NHL was only going half the distance with these things, picking bland voices to captain the teams and not giving the players enough freedom to take ownership of the event. But Jonathan Toews and Nick Foligno turned out to be hilarious, engaging captains of their teams during the All-Star Draft and throughout the weekend. Maybe the truth is just that we never had a chance to see that side of them before.

The All-Star Game and its co-events will never be a ratings bonanza, nor, frankly, will it be a revenue bonanza. That's not to say it loses money, because I saw enough Honda ads this weekend to pay Gary Bettman's salary, but to expect that of the All-Star Game is missing the point.

Think of the lifelong hockey fans who were made at the FanFair this week. Think of how this event will put hockey on the map for people in Columbus who might not have thought much of the Blue Jackets before, or how it put Columbus on the map for people all around the sport. Think of how much differently we can look at a guy like Toews -- nicknamed Captain Serious in Chicago -- because of what we saw from him this weekend.

Maybe it's all one big "vaudeville" show, as one writer put it. Sure, it'll be nice when we get back to watching real NHL hockey Tuesday. But for a weekend each year, I'm happy with loosening my collar and enjoying the other side of what the game has to offer. I'm looking forward to forgetting the score of next year's All-Star Game already.