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Columbus earns high marks for All-Star Weekend

by Brian McCormack / Columbus Blue Jackets

Whether you were on the ice, in the press box, or in the stands, everyone who took part in All-Star Weekend seemed to agree that Columbus was a tremendous host city for the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Game.

18,901 people packed Nationwide Arena for the second straight night to watch the best players in the world go head-to-head in a friendly exhibition. They heaped praise on their heroes, team captain Nick Foligno and All-Star MVP Ryan Johansen, and sold Columbus as a hockey market to the hockey world.

“It was great,” said the Lightning’s Steven Stamkos, who scored two goals in his third All-Star game, the highest scoring All-Star contest in NHL history.

“They’ve been waiting for this for a couple of years and they were prepared. There was a great turnout at all of the events with a packed house the last two nights.” Stamkos was impressed with the Arena District and its offerings for the players and their families to experience.

Panthers rookie sensation Aaron Ekblad was playing in his first All-Star game and didn’t have much of a basis for comparison, but he was impressed with the city’s response to All-Star Weekend none the less.

“It was awesome, just awesome," Ekblad said. "When you see the Fan Fair and the (Snow Slide presented by Huntington) out on the street, the intermission and presentations and concerts, everything has been top-class. I’m happy to be here and I’m pretty proud of this city for being able to do something like this.”

It wasn’t just the festivities surrounding the arena that were special, or the special effects that were on display during the game. If Columbus was going to be seen under the hockey microscope, fans decided they were going to be heard as well.

There was a clear hero-villain dynamic, with the home crowd making no effort to hide their fandom for Team Foligno, which featured both Blue Jackets players. They also had no qualms with getting on a few players during what is always a laid-back, defense-optional game.

Former Blue Jacket Rick Nash got his customary greeting from some of the Columbus fans, while Penguins’ goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury heard some sarcastic cheers during his period of work, a period in which he gave up a record seven goals.

“They know their hockey and they know what’s going on,” said Stamkos with a smirk, referencing the crowd response to Fleury and Nash. “They’re pretty passionate and it’s nice to see.”

There was tremendous dedication to the home town guys. John Tavares tied an All-Star record with four goals, but that wasn’t enough to override Ryan Johansen’s four-point night for the home squad the earned MVP honors.

“I don’t think too many guys were surprised by that,” said Stamkos. “They love their guys here in Columbus and that was nice to see for Ryan playing in front of his fans. I know he was having fun and it was cool to be on this side and have the fan support.”

Without a doubt, these Columbus fans weren’t happy just to have the All-Star Game. They cared about the outcome as well.

“You know what, everyone got booed except for the Columbus guys,” quipped Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo. “There’s a lot of loyalty for their team and it’s nice to see that. Guys take it light-hearted and it’s all for fun. A little ribbing here doesn’t hurt anybody.”

On the contrary, All-Star Weekend in Columbus seemed to help everyone involved.

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