The magic is back. After losing the 2021 event to the pandemic, hockey fans were thrilled for this year's All-Star Weekend, held from February 3-6 in Las Vegas. Crowds were out in full force to experience the Skills Competition, All-Star Game, and the Fan Fair. For NHL Chief Marketing Officer Heidi Browning, the return of All-Star weekend “felt incredible since it gave us a chance to reconnect with our fans, players, clubs, and partners to celebrate our sport and have a little fun.”
The Skills Competition, on Friday, had a Vegas flair. With seven events, including the return of the Breakaway Challenge, there were plenty of highlights. The Accuracy Competition reverted to four foam targets, instead of an LED display, and it was satisfying to see Carolina Hurricanes forward Sebastian Aho crush the targets to take home the win. St. Louis's Jordan Kyrou upset favorite Connor McDavid to win the Faster Skater competition in 13.55 seconds with a top speed of 25.84 mph. Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman claimed the Hardest Shot competition with a velocity of 103.2 mph. The Save Streak was a team competition that pitted two goalies from each division against each other. The Atlantic division pair of Jack Campbell and Andrei Vasilevskiy saved nine shots in a row.
The NHL brought back the Breakaway Challenge that allowed the players to show off their personalities and creativity. Earlier in the day, hockey influencers—Always Hockey, Swaggy P, and Pavel Barber—helped the players perfect their signature moves. Celebrity judges, including actor Jon Hamm, hockey legend Mark Messier, and 16-year-old hockey whiz kid, Dayton O’Donoghue, added to the fun by scoring the athletes out of 10, or sometimes 19! In net, the goalies alternated between actor Wyatt Russell, and Manon Rhéaume, the only woman to play in the NHL for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Minnesota Wild Krill Kaprizov’s shot wore Alex Ovechkin's signature yellow laces in a nod to Ovi, who could not attend after testing positive for Covid-19. Jack Hughes of the New Jersey Devils performed a magic trick, bringing a younger version of himself out of a box. After Mini-Jack scored he mimicked Big Jack by throwing his stick into the stand to celebrate. Alex DeBrincat's attempt was assisted by Las Vegas Raiders Quarterback, Derek Carr, who passed a football to the hockey star. Inspired by his favorite movie, Dodgeball, Trevor Zegras of the Anaheim Ducks, trumped these parlor tricks by scoring an incredible blindfolded zorro goal to the deafening cheers of the crowd. Nonetheless, Jon Hamm’s score of 19 pushed hometown hero, Alex Pietrangelo of the Vegas Golden Knights to the top, despite missing a shot that was assisted by the Knight Line drummers.
The Bellagio fountains provided the perfect backdrop for an additional accuracy challenge. The “Fountain Face-Off” required players to sauce a light-up puck into five floating targets. Zack Werenski of the Columbus Blue Jackets took the crown in a competition that included Claude Giroux, Jordan Eberle, Roman Josi, Nick Suzuki, Zack Werenski, Mark Stone, and US women’s gold medalist, Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson. The other special event was “21 in ‘22," for which players had to hit a giant deck of cards to get to 21 without going bust. Joe Pavelski of the Dallas Stars got blackjack when he outshot Nazem Kadri, Auston Matthews, Joe Pavelski, Stephen Stamkos, and Brady Tkachuck.
“Each and every performance at the Skills Competition was so fun to watch as I could see that the NHL put a lot of time and effort into ensuring a phenomenal lineup for the weekend," said Leafs fan Tina Newyen, from Toronto.
The All Star Game itself was held on Saturday with over 17,000 in attendance. The excitement was palpable. To increase inclusivity, the NHL provided Sensory Kits for the first time. To kick things off, Singers Faouzia and Blanco Brown sang the Canadian and U.S. national anthems, respectively, while DJ Zedd spiced up the player introductions. The Metropolitan division came out on top with a 6–4 win over the Pacific division while the Central took an 8–5 win over the Atlantic division. During the intermission, Machine Gun Kelly headlined the entertainment, which included drummers, magicians, impersonators, cheerleaders, and the NHL mascots. The Metropolitan division took the final win over the Central division 5–3 to take home the championship. Flyers mascot Gritty cheered when captain Claude Giroux was awarded MVP of the tournament.
Besides the two games, fans were able to attend a four-day Fan Fair at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Part-museum and part–interactive display, the event provided no shortage of activities. After taking a picture with the Stanley Cup and meeting Phil Pritchard, Keep of the Cup, fans could check out the rest of the trophies from the Hockey Hall of Fame. Fans could also meet retired NHL players and visit the Black History mobile exhibit that showcased current stars and trailblazers in the sport. The Mascot Showdown featured the fuzzy fan-favorites going head-to-head in crazy competitions such as dodge ball and a fashion show. There were also plenty of interactive activities from making your own hockey card, to playing a giant air hockey table, to accuracy shooting, to trying your hand at being a goalie.
This year’s Fan Fair included the premier of the documentary, NHL Bound, which chronicled the journey of two black hockey coaches in the NHL. According to NHL Chief Marketing Officer Heidi Browning, the film is a “great storytelling moment”. The film can now be seen on YouTube. The fair was also the launch of the NHL Street which is the first grassroot street hockey program. Over 300 kids and players participated in the tournament which gives a chance to make hockey more accessible and affordable.
Las Vegas proved that it is very much a hockey city since being chosen as an expansion site for the Golden Knights in 2017. From the Skills Competition, to the All-Star Game, to the Fan Fair, the weekend was pure hockey magic. Vegas will be a tough act to follow when the All-Star Weekend is hosted by the Florida Panthers in 2023.