At Thursday's media availability at the Fairmount Queen Elizabeth Hotel, the first- and second-year players all raved about the atmosphere here in Montreal.
"Last year's game in Atlanta was great, but with Montreal being the Mecca of hockey, this year's game will certainly be special," said Brandon Dubinsky, a New York Rangers forward who will play for the Sophomore squad in Saturday's YoungStars Game presented by Upper Deck at the Bell Centre. "With all the attention it will get, I'm sure this will be an amazing All-Star weekend."
Florida Panther Michael Frolik, who will play for the Freshmen, has played just two games in Montreal during his 43-game NHL career. Still, he knows this place is far different from any other stop on the NHL circuit.
"There's so much excitement here," he says. "It's going to make the game so much more exciting and fun."
Rangers defenseman Marc Staal, who will play for the Sophomores, says that the players know they will have to put forth their best performance in Saturday's 3-on-3 exhibition, a game that has gotten disjointed in past editions. Because of the passion of the Montreal fan, Staal says there will be no time to coast.
"They won't stand for it," he said. "Last year, the game was really good because it was close and the crowd was excited and that made us excited. I'm sure it will be even more exciting during the game this year."
--Shawn P. Roarke
Versteeg questionable - Chicago rookie forward Kris Versteeg sat at his dais in the Grand Salon with his right hand securely tucked away into his jacket pocket. It's the same hand that Versteeg injured in Wednesday night's 2-0 loss to St. Louis.
Versteeg said he wasn't hiding the hand. He instead had to keep it elevated or it would start to throb. That sounds pretty serious, but Versteeg is still hopeful of playing in the YoungStars Game.
"It's good right now, we're just going to take it day by day," he said. "There are 48 hours until the game and this is a chance of a lifetime so I am really going to try to play."
Versteeg is clearly honored to be here for NHL All-Star Weekend. He said he will do anything to play not only for him, but for his family.
"They want to watch you out there," he said. "I'm going to do everything in my power to play. It hurts a lot right now, but I have 48 hours to take the pain away so I could get out there and play."
-- Dan Rosen
Brotherly Love - Rangers defenseman Marc Staal considers himself lucky to follow in the skate strides of his older brother, Eric, the star center of the Carolina Hurricanes.
This week in Montreal, Eric Staal is playing in his third All-Star Game and Marc is playing in his second YoungStars Game. Last season, Marc played for the victorious Eastern Conference YoungStars. This year, in a new format, he is playing for the Sophomores, who will face off against the Rookies in Saturday's 2009 Honda/NHL All-Star SuperSkills.
"Eric loves coming to these games," Marc said Thursday. "It's hard not to get excited when you talk to him.
Last year, Eric Staal won the MVP Award of the game in Atlanta with a 2-goal, 1-assist performance in the Eastern Conference's 8-7 victory.
"Watching Eric win the MVP was probably the highlight for me last year," Marc Staal said. "You grow up watching the All-Star Game and seeing guys like (Wayne) Gretzky, (Mark) Messier and (Mario) Lemieux winning the MVP award.
"Now, his name is on that list, too. It adds something else to his resume, which is already pretty good."
So, is Marc gunning for the MVP in Saturday's YoungStars Game to try to keep pace with big brother?
"Well, Brandon Dubinsky won the MVP last year, so we might just have to make it a clean sweep," Marc Staal said.
Dubinsky, one of Staal's teammates with the Rangers, is also back for a second YoungStars Game. Dubinsky had 2 goals and 1 assist in the eastern Conference's 7-6 win to earn last year's MVP.
-- Shawn P. Roarke
Star gazing - James Neal, a sixth-round pick by the Dallas Stars in the 2007 Entry Draft, was happy with the 18 goals and 19 assists he had for the Iowa Stars of the American Hockey League last season. But he thought he was a long way from making an impact in the NHL, even after he played so well at the Traverse City, Michigan, prospects tournament this summer. But here he is with 13 goals and contributing with a power forward mentality for the Stars every night.
"At the start of the season, I never thought I'd be in the NHL, much less wearing the Stars jersey and being here at the All-Star Game," Neal said. "It proves the old saying that you can
never dream too high."
-- Larry Wigge
What makes a Young Star? - A look at the 20 first-year and second-year Young Stars shows 13 first-rounders, of which one was first overall (Steven Stamkos, 2008), five were top five (Stamkos, Drew Doughty, Luke Schenn, all from 2008; Carey Price (who is doing double duty after replacing Steve Mason), 2005; Blake Wheeler, 2004) and seven from the top 10 (in addition to Mikkel Boedker, 2008; Michael Frolik, 2006;
Devin Setoguchi, 2005).
The only Young Stars drafted after No. 62 -- the afterthoughts, if you will: Kris Versteeg, No. 134 by Boston in 2004, and Pekka Rinne, who was the 258th pick in the 2004 Entry Draft by Nashville.
-- Larry Wigge