The NHL dares to show a little personality on all-star weekend in Vegas, and it works
LAS VEGAS It’s amazing that we ever wondered if this could be a hockey town. But there was plenty of debate on that topic before the Golden Knights were granted an expansion franchise.
The NHL did something unexpected here over the weekend by outshining even the NFL in a city where there is no shortage of entertainment options. That league held its Pro Bowl adjacent to the NHL’s all-star weekend, and yet it was hockey sweaters that dominated the Vegas strip.
Not just gold ones, either.
“There’s a buzz around here,” Winnipeg Jets forward Kyle Connor said.
The NHL even managed to shut down Las Vegas Boulevard to stage a couple events for Friday’s skills competition on the main drag. In a world where every sports league is desperately competing for eyeballs, the NHL found a winner by reviving the breakaway challenge and seeing Trevor Zegras pull off a ridiculous move that set social media alight.
That, more than anything from the Metropolitan Division’s victory in Saturday’s all-star tournament, will be remembered a decade from now.
It also hints at an emerging opportunity for a league that lags behind the NFL, NBA and MLB in reach. There are a ridiculous number of talented young players in today’s NHL, and they’re much more willing to flash personality than those who came before them.
Zegras is 20 and flew in just for the breakaway challenge event. Man, did he ever meet his moment.
An all-star weekend is intended to be a lighthearted showcase for the sport. Vegas delivered on that front as well.
“I’ll be honest, I’m a little hungover today,” said Pacific Division coach Pete DeBoer. “Today’s a little bit foggy for me.”
He was far from the only one. This has quickly become a gold-star destination for the first league to place a pro team here.
Catching up with Andersen
The all-star weekend offered Frederik Andersen the chance for a reunion with former Maple Leafs teammates. He took the opportunity during Friday’s skills competition to pose for a photo on the ice with Auston Matthews and Jack Campbell.
He and Matthews also met up at the Summit Club to play a round of golf. That’s one of many passions the close friends share.
Even though Matthews indicated his game was rusty — “I’ve got a lot of work to do, but it was fun,” he said — the Leafs star came out on top of a match that was cut short by some all-star responsibilities. “He shot a 62 after 14 holes,” Andersen said. “That’s a good final score, I guess.”
Andersen is having a major bounceback season in Carolina after signing there as a free agent in July. He spent five years playing alongside Matthews with the Leafs and had his final campaign interrupted by a knee injury.
Despite the change of address, he and Matthews still text and FaceTime regularly. They’ve spent time living together during the summer, and also waited out the NHL’s COVID pause at Matthews’s home in Scottsdale, Ariz.
“Ever since we both came to the Leafs, we just had a really good connection,” Matthews said. “He’s a really easygoing guy. We just get along really well, and I think we have similar interests.