My top moments from the NHL All-Star Game

January, 25, 2009
MONTREAL -- After 22 goals, we still needed a shootout to decide the 57th NHL All-Star Game. And, fittingly, Alex Ovechkin clinched the game for the Eastern Conference, slipping a short backhand past Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo.

Earlier in the evening, however, the budding love affair between the Caps superstar and the Bell Centre crowd took a funny turn.

During a stoppage late in the second period, a pair of young women were pictured on the arena's monster center-ice video boards (I've never seen that big a scoreboard in an indoor facility). The gals got into their moment of fame and began to dance around. Suddenly, without warning, the picture flashed to Ovechkin, who had a facial expression that clearly indicated he was enjoying the dancing queens. When the crowd erupted in laughter, Ovie quickly changed expressions.

It was very funny stuff. Somebody should do a reality show with this guy. He's one of the most entertaining sports characters we have today. I can't imagine what the buzz around him would be if he played in the NFL. In some ways, he's a Russian version of Brett Favre. He has quickly become hockey's charismatic puck-slinger. It all works for him because he's just being himself.

Sid sighting
As a nice touch, injured Penguins star Sidney Crosby was introduced to the Bell Centre crowd before the game. For the record, Sid the Kid truly wanted to participate in the weekend event, but the risk of further injury to his knee was too great. Crosby did enjoy some pretty good company during the game. Pens owner/legend Mario Lemieux and Canadiens icon Guy Lafleur joined Crosby in one of the arena's luxury boxes.

As I think about Crosby, I remember the time during his junior career when he put on a little show, scoring a lacrosse-style goal when he pulled the puck off the ice onto his stick and flung the biscuit into the basket. Afterward, Crosby was hammered on Canadian television by Don Cherry. I wonder if that firestorm stunted Crosby's desire to be too much of a showman. If that's the case, it's too bad. The game can use a little more flair, and Crosby has the talent to deliver.

Legendary moment
During TV timeouts, the Canadiens introduced some of the legendary players to the home crowd. At stoppages in the first period, Henri Richard and Serge Savard took their bows. In the second period, Yvan Cournoyer and Dickie Moore were welcomed by the crowd. Richard, who carries one of my favorite nicknames ("The Pocket Rocket"), received a prolonged ovation from the crowd. Before the game, Habs legends Jean Beliveau and Bob Gainey (also currently Montreal's GM) dropped the ceremonial first puck. Beliveau, who has had some recent health struggles, seemed well and in good spirits. We definitely like to see that.

Hometown hero
Canadiens star Alexei Kovalev thrilled the home crowd with a pair of breakaway goals in the first and second periods, respectively. Kovalev toasted West starter Jean-Sebastien Giguere with a bit of a changeup over his glove in the opening stanza. Later, the smooth Russian put a nice deke on Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom before roofing the puck off the crossbar and into the net.

Those two moments might have been the most exciting highlights of the game, which, as usual, turned into a goal-a-thon. In overtime, Kovalev had two chances to complete the hat trick with the game winner, but both times, Luongo was there to put a stop to the storybook ending. The Russian sniper got even in the shootout, beating Luongo with a high, rocket shot. For his efforts, Kovalev was awarded the game's MVP honor (and the keys to a 2009 Honda Ridgeline).

Sing it
The Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir belted out an inspired "O, Canada" that followed a soulful version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" by Alan Prater, who stepped out from his spot in the choir to perform the American anthem. I hope the North American networks that covered the event (Versus, CBC, RDS) broadcasted those performances. They were well worth watching.

E.J. Hradek

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
E.J. Hradek is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, joining the staff prior to its launch in 1998. He began covering hockey as a writer/editor for Hockey Illustrated in 1989.




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