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Party time in Atlanta!

Friday, 01.25.2008 / 8:50 AM / 2008 NHL All-Star Game

By Dan Rosen - Senior Writer

Sam Gagner was the Oilers' first round choice in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. Gagner on being a YoungStar
It’s party time in the National Hockey League.

Starting today in Atlanta and culminating with the 56th NHL All-Star Game at Philips Arena on Sunday (6 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio), the League will host a 72-hour celebration of both its brilliant present and storied past.

Current greats like Vincent Lecavalier, Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Lidstrom and Jarome Iginla aren’t the only stars of this weekend.

A bevy of the League’s young studs, like Patrick Kane, Sam Gagner, Nicklas Backstrom and Marc Staal, will put their skills on display. Legends such as Tony Esposito, Rod Gilbert, Bobby Hull and Ted Lindsay will be honored guests at All-Star Weekend.

And the NHL will continue celebrating one its foremost pioneers, Willie O’Ree, who 50 years ago broke the League’s color barrier when he suited up for the Boston Bruins on Jan. 18, 1958.

Actually, that’s where we begin.

O’Ree, who was honored last Saturday at the Bruins’ home game against the New York Rangers, will be celebrated again this afternoon at the NHL Diversity Luncheon at the Westin Peachtree Hotel. O’Ree is the Director of Youth Development for NHL Diversity.

The luncheon will also feature the debut of George Fosty’s documentary film, Black Ice: The Lost History of the Colored Hockey League, which chronicles 190 years of blacks in hockey in North America.

Later this afternoon at Philips Arena, the All-Star coaches, John Paddock of the Ottawa Senators and Mike Babcock of the Detroit Red Wings, will meet the media for the first time along with All-Star assistant coaches Brent Sutter of the New Jersey Devils and Ron Wilson of the San Jose Sharks.

TUNE IN: Sunday, Jan. 27, 6 p.m. ET (VERSUS, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio)

2008 All-Star Game Links:

Following that, the 16 rookies slated to participate in the YoungStars Game on Saturday night during the Dodge/NHL SuperSkills competition will meet the media. It’s safe to assume Kane, one of the game’s rising stars, will be the star of that show.

The Thrashers also are sponsoring a youth hockey tournament. The Atlanta Thrashers Junior NHL All-Stars Youth Hockey Tournament will take place in several area rinks during the course of All-Star Weekend.

Tonight at 8 p.m., the party moves to Tabernacle, an entertainment venue in Centennial Olympic Park that should be rocking as Verizon Wireless and the NHL All-Stars present an evening with Wyclef Jean to benefit Usher’s New Look Foundation.

The Philips Arena doors swing open to eager fans early Saturday (9 a.m.) for the Verizon Wireless/NHL Rockin’ Skate 2008 presented by Upper Deck.

On the ice, fans can see the Eastern Conference All-Stars practice at 9:30 a.m., and the Western Conference All-Stars at 10:30. But the entertainment won’t be limited to just hockey.

Platinum recording artists, the Jonas Brothers, will perform during the open practice sessions while both global superstar Usher and Taylor Kitsch, the star of the hit TV show Friday Night Lights, will emcee the festivities.

With a break in the action at Philips Arena from roughly 12:15 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., before the Player Red Carpet Arrivals for the Dodge/NHL SuperSkills competition, star-struck hockey fans can head to the CNN Center for the All-Star Trading Card and Memorabilia Show presented by Upper Deck and McFarlane Toys. That event begins at 8 a.m. and lasts until 7 p.m.

From 4:30 p.m. until roughly 5:30 p.m. back at Philips Arena the players will be arriving and strolling down the red carpet, Oscars-style, as they head inside for the SuperSkills competition, which begins at 7 p.m. and will be televised live on Versus in the United States and CBC and RDS in Canada.

The SuperSkills competition is always a major highlight of All-Star weekend. It encompasses seven events, and every NHL All-Star will likely take part in at least one.

Ilya Kovalchuk

“I’m sure there will be a lot of smiles and jokes around,” Thrashers left wing Ilya Kovalchuk told this week. “We all want to make the fans happy. It’s all about them. I think we’ll try to show them a couple of tricks.”

The events this year include an obstacle course relay, the fastest skater competition, an elimination shootout, a 12-minute, 3-on-3 YoungStars Game, an accuracy shooting competition, a hardest shot competition, and the new breakaway challenge where a panel of celebrity judges will evaluate each breakaway attempt.

Which of your favorite stars will dazzle under the bright lights Saturday night?

“I’ll try to do something fancy, but if it doesn’t work out sometimes you look really stupid,” Thrashers right wing Marian Hossa told “You have to be prepared to embarrass yourself, but on the other hand when it looks good it really looks good. This is all about fun. There is some competition when the points get really tight, but in the beginning it’s all about fun. At the end you look up at the score and say; ‘Let’s beat those guys.’ ”

We’ll let you sleep in on Sunday, but not too late because the Trading Card and Memorabilia Show presented by Upper Deck and McFarlane Toys opens up at noon. At 2 p.m. there is an NHL All-Star Pregame Celebration at the Georgia Aquarium.

Of course, though, all the aforementioned events are preludes to the main event of the entire weekend, the 56th NHL All-Star Game, which begins at 6 p.m. and can be seen live in the U.S. on Versus and in Canada on both CBC and RDS.

In his 10th All-Star appearance, Detroit Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom will be making his eighth start.

It’ll be the first appearance for Eastern Conference starting defenseman Andrei Markov and reserve Mike Richards, plus Western Conference reserves Shawn Horcoff, Ryan Getzlaf, Henrik Sedin, Duncan Keith, and Manny Legace, among others.

Kovalchuk and Hossa are excited to serve as the pseudo hosts since the spectacle will play out on their home ice in front of their home fans.

“Everybody wants to win, but it’s also one of those games that you want to score as many goals as you can because those are the kinds of games that make fans happy,” Kovalchuk said. “It’s exciting. It’s going to be a great time. In the middle of the season, I think we need it.”

So get ready Atlanta, the National Hockey League is coming to town.

It’s party time.

Contact Dan Rosen at

Quote of the Day

Yeah, I guess so. That empty-netter was pretty lucky, but I'll take it.

— Senators forward Mike Hoffman when asked if his two-goal game was a good way to celebrate his 26th birthday
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