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Avs Embraced All-Star Experience

Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen represented Colorado

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab /

SAN JOSE, Calif.--NHL All-Star Weekend was meant to be fun for fans and players alike, and Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen of the Colorado Avalanche took full advantage of the experience as first-timers at the event.

Landeskog and Rantanen each competed in the All-Star Game for the Central Division on Saturday at SAP Center, one day after showcasing their talents in the skills competition.

"It has been an awesome weekend," said Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog. "It has been a lot of fun. The way they put on this event. The (San Jose) Sharks fans and all the fans that came out and supported all of us, and the way the [NHLPA] and the NHL has organized this is awesome.

"The one thing to take out of this is getting to spend some time with the guys behind the scenes. Getting to know guys that you played against for a long time but not gotten to know."

The Avs' forward duo was also joined in San Jose by fellow linemate and "all-star veteran" Nathan MacKinnon, who was attending his third consecutive mid-season classic but wasn't able to compete. He suffered a foot injury in Colorado's previous game last Wednesday versus the Minnesota Wild, but his hurt foot didn't keep him from enjoying the festivities.

He was on the bench with the players during All-Star Skills on Friday night and was next to Central Division head coach Paul Maurice of the Winnipeg Jets for Saturday's 3-on-3 tournament.

MacKinnon, who is expected to play when the Avalanche returns to action next Saturday against the Vancouver Canucks, was a pseudo-assistant coach during the Central's 10-4 win over the Pacific Division in the semifinals and 10-5 loss to the Metropolitan in the final.

"It was fun. I would have loved to play, but unfortunately coaching was the thing I did," MacKinnon said to following Sunday's games. "It was a good time with Paul; [he] kept it light and [it was] definitely a cool experience. We had eight guys; everybody was playing with everybody, and we all had a lot of fun." 

His Avalanche teammates approved of MacKinnon's coaching, for the most part.

"It was good. He was actually doing good for the first time," Rantanen said.

While MacKinnon couldn't join his linemates on the ice, Rantanen and Landeskog displayed the chemistry they have developed during the two 20-minute contests. The two wings played nearly every shift together and went on to score eight of the Central's 15 goals on the day.

Video: CEN@PAC: Landeskog dazzles with hat trick

Landeskog had seven points (four goals and three assists) after registering the second hat trick in NHL All-Star 3-on-3 history in the first matchup, and Rantanen was close behind with a total six points (four goals, two assists) in the two contests.

"It was awesome. Mikko and I have played together for two years now, and we know what we got with each other," Landeskog said. "He was complaining that I gave him a bad pass on that 2-on-0 (in the final), but he still put it top shelf anyways. He's used to those kind of passes from me."

Rantanen said his favorite part of the weekend was playing in the All-Star Game, but getting to spend a few days with a couple friends who made the trip from his native Finland was also special.

"The skills competition is fun too, but I think the game is the most fun," Rantanen said.

"I had a couple friends here with me, so it was probably nice for them too to see the All-Star Game live for the first time and be part of this group."

This isn't Landeskog's first All-Star Weekend as he took part in the Super Skills Competition in 2012 as a rookie, but that was it as far as his on-ice participation. This time he was fully immersed in the festivities, talking shop and having fun with his peers from the league's other 30 clubs.

"The rest of the guys are really talented hockey players and good people. A lot of fun to take part in this," Landeskog said. "Obviously guys that you go to battle with on a nightly basis and here you are having fun. It's nice to see that guys can hit the off switch and relax for the weekend."

While it was only a few days in late January, getting to spend some time in Northern California with friends and family and some of the world's other elite players is something the Avalanche skaters would gladly do again if the opportunity presents itself.

"It's my first and it would be a lot of fun to be again with these guys," Rantanen said. "It was one of the most fun weekends I've ever had."

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