A memorable weekend came to a close Sunday night at Nationwide Arena with a 17-12 Team Toews victory over Team Foligno in the Honda NHL All-Star Game. The “home team” didn't win the game, but the home fans emerged as clear-cut victors during a fantastic celebration of the sport in Columbus.
Fans got to witness first-hand the all-offense, optional defense style that’s universally expected in the All-Star Game but it was quite enjoyable at times, with both teams trading rapid fire goals and combining for the most goals in All-Star Game history (29), which is to say it’s never a glorious job for the goaltenders in this format. But it’s all in good fun, right?
Blue Jackets All-Star Ryan Johansen scored two first period goals to draw Team Foligno into a 4-4 tie after 20 minutes, but in the second period, Team Toews put the foot on the gas and started to pull away. Jakub Voracek had three goals and three assists, John Tavares scored four goals (tying an All-Star Game record) and captain Jonathan Toews had himself a five-point night, forcing Team Foligno to try and mount a furious rally in the third period that eventually came up short.
Nick Foligno did get himself an All-Star goal - the first of his career - and also added an assist. Johansen’s four point night (two goals, two assists) earned him the Honda NHL All-Star Game MVP Trophy thanks to Blue Jackets fans who voted on Twitter, making it a 3-for-3 week in that regard for the 22-year-old star center.
But while the game was the focus on Sunday, the backdrop was a city that, by all accounts, put on a terrific show for the hockey world and displayed just how much the game is appreciated in Columbus.
“You know, it's meant a lot, us being a part of it,” Johansen said. “That's all we've been talking about over the last few days is seeing the fans and how much they've been enjoying all the festivities and stuff and we did a two-hour signing today at the Convention Center up there, and everybody just seemed to be having a great time, and all the kids were laughing and smiling and having fun. So it's just been a great thing to see these last few days.”
There was a little something for everyone in this game, too — beautiful goals, goals by the hometown players, some fantastic saves by those poor goaltenders, and even a playful scrum after the whistle in front of Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford late in the second period.
As one would expect in an exhibition of the game’s greatest stars, talent and raw skill were on full display despite the game being played at a slower-than-average pace, although that wasn’t a surprise to anyone involved.
“Some of the skills that guys have that maybe people don't pick up on because once you slow the game down guys can do so much more with the puck,” Foligno said. “I was really impressed with some of the plays tonight. You watch a guy like Patrick Kane. It amazes me how smooth he is. We were actually talking on the bench. He did a couple spin-o-ramas, even just the moves he made to score, it just looks effortless to him.
“You don't really pick that up when you're playing full speed. I kind of enjoyed it because when you slow things down you get to really see the guys' skill, and I thought it was great, and I felt like I could keep up, too, so that was good.”
Both Blue Jackets players were first-time All-Star participants (Johansen was a YoungStar in 2012) but right in the middle of everything was Foligno, enjoying a career season and all of a sudden thrust into the spotlight all week long as captain of the home team. He was at the center of a wildly entertaining All-Star Fantasy Draft on Friday night, a fun-filled Skills Competition on Saturday, and as Johansen said, served as “unofficial mayor” of Columbus for the past four days.
It was a unique position and somewhat uncharted waters for Foligno, who said he hadn’t played in an All-Star Game since junior hockey, but he was told weeks ago by Blue Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson to soak up every bit of it, for he'd have a lifetime of stories and memories to tell in the years to come.
And despite being a little timid at the start, Foligno played his role of ambassador with aplomb.
“My first time being an All-Star, first time really around these guys, you just want to, to be honest with you, fly under the radar and just kind of feel it out as you go,” Foligno said. “I enjoyed it, I really do. I thought it was a lot of fun, and then I just decided, you know what, I'm going to embrace this. I'm in my home city. I had Joey to really help me out, too, to get me some normalcy because I'm around him all the time, so it felt good just to have him around.
“I can't tell you how humbled I am and so excited to be around everybody and really had a blast with it all, and it's something I'll never forget, and I'm glad people told me to really soak it in, because it is, it's a great experience, and I'm going to have stories forever from this weekend for sure.”