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Fans reception warms hearts of NHL All-Stars

Saturday, 01.24.2009 / 5:45 PM / 2009 NHL All-Star Game

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

MONTREAL -- A blue Sharpie in his hands and a throng of fans screaming his name, reaching over one another just to get to the front of the fence so they could shake his hand and get his autograph.

Luke Schenn never thought he'd live to experience such a moment.

"I can't believe it," Schenn told NHL.com as he signed autographs, posed for pictures, and shook hands with fans on the red carpet Saturday night. "This is unbelievable. I never would have thought this would happen in my life. People actually recognize me. It's still weird to me that people recognize me."

Steven Stamkos and Drew Doughty echoed Schenn's words. Together, the first, second and fifth picks in this past June's Entry Draft stepped off the NHL YoungStars' plush bus to walk the red carpet.

For Stamkos, it wasn't his first red carpet experience. They had one in Tampa earlier this season. For Doughty and Schenn, the experience was brand new.

All three said it ranks up there with getting drafted and playing in their first NHL game. Stamkos called it the equivalent of scoring his first goal.

"First game, first goal, first red carpet," Stamkos told NHL.com.

It was that unique and that special. It was that overwhelming.

"Junior hockey last year, dreaming of being in the NHL," Schenn explained as he continued to scribble his name on jerseys, hats, notebook paper, hockey cards, etc. "Now you're here and people can't get enough of you. It's pretty cool."

If that's not the understatement of the weekend, what is?

All-Star Weekend is reserved for the stars of the game, but the NHL gives its young stars a peak into the extravaganza, too. The players who partook in the YoungStars Game presented by Upper Deck Saturday night have been like sponges all weekend.

Saturday night, the NHL gave them the star treatment, too.

"This is something I've never done before," Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne told NHL.com as he was nearing the end of the red carpet. "It's really amazing."

The YoungStars met in the lobby of their hotel, the Sofitel Montreal, at 3:45 Saturday afternoon with a luxury bus, accompanied by a police escort, waiting outside to take them to the Bell Centre. Fans staked themselves a spot on either side of the velvet ropes outside the hotel to get their fill of the players.

The seven-minute ride over to the Bell Centre was subdued. The players, some of whom walked the red carpet in Atlanta last season as rookies, were talking amongst themselves, but mostly anxious to see what this would be like.

"I don't know how I'll react," St. Louis rookie Patrik Berglund told NHL.com in the hotel lobby. "I'm not used to this at all. It probably will be really cool, but it would be nice to have a hot model on my arm, though. That might make it better."

It read minus-20 Celsius on some digital thermometers around the city Saturday, but St. Louis sophomore David Perron, who walked the carpet in Atlanta last season, expressed little concern about that.

He's from nearby Sherbooke and he understands the passion of the Quebec fans.

"It was pretty packed (in Atlanta last year), but I can't even imagine right now what this will be like," Perron told NHL.com while waiting for the bus. "It's going to be really amazing. I don't think we'll feel the temperature, it will be so warm with everybody breathing on us."

It was obvious how big this red carpet experience was going to be as soon as the bus pulled up. A huge throng of fans awaited the players. You could hear some people screaming at the top of their lungs as the bus door swung open.

Stamkos, Doughty and Schenn were the first to come out.

 
 
"This is really cool," Doughty told NHL.com after completing the first part of the red carpet walk. "This city is the best you could choose for this. It's great. We love the fan support here. It would be unbelievable to be a hockey player here."

"Atlanta was way bigger than what I expected," Rangers defenseman Marc Staal, another second-timer in the YoungStars Game, told NHL.com, "but this one … there are people standing in minus-40 degree weather out there. It's crazy."

The red carpet walk included three parts. The first was a short stroll outside in the cold. Once the players got through that, they entered a long, tented area that was heated. Fans lined the velvet ropes at least 15 deep at each station.

After making it through, the players turned right, stopped for a photo, walked through a passageway and found themselves in the final part of the carpet. This is where the cameras were, and thousands of screaming fans.

They stopped and did interviews with the NHL Network, NHL Radio and XM Radio. Some TV and radio reporters who weren't credentialed to get on the red carpet stood along the ropes and pulled players over for one on ones.

Not one player turned down an interview or an autograph request.

"This is really cool. This city is the best you could choose for this. It's great. We love the fan support here. It would be unbelievable to be a hockey player here." -- Drew Doughty
"Hockey fans here are so passionate about their hockey, and it's fantastic to see this and the excitement you get here for the All-Star Game," Canucks sophomore Mason Raymond told NHL.com. "It is amazing to me. It just goes to show you that people are watching you and looking up to you. They're fans."

The YoungStars weren't alone on the red carpet, either.

All-Star coaches Todd McLellan, Mike Babcock and Claude Julien were on their bus and joined them on the carpet. Rick Nash was already at the Bell Centre for an event with 2K Sports, so he walked it with them, too.

"It doesn't even feel like this is sports, it feels like entertainment, but that's the business we're in," McLellan told NHL.com during his walk. "I don't know if it's this cold in Hollywood, but it's certainly hockey weather. It's nice to see how they have it set up. These are real passionate fans and a lot of smiles when the players walk in. That's the way it should be."

Once Schenn reached the end, he stuffed the blue Sharpie in his pocket and stood on a stage. He was still in a state of shock.

"How cool is the NHL?" Schenn said, nearly yelling now. "Look at what it does for us!"

Unbelievable indeed.

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com