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Final All-Star preparations underway in Columbus

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

It’s time to get this party started, Columbus.

Years of preparation, planning and anticipation culminate this weekend with the 60th Honda NHL All-Star Game and numerous surrounding activities taking place here in Ohio’s capital city. The All-Star Winter Park presented by Worthington Industries, NHL Fan Fair at the Greater Columbus Convention Center…all of the attractions are primed and ready to go, thanks to tireless work by many people involved with the Blue Jackets, their marketing and activation partners, the city of Columbus, Franklin County, the Greater Columbus Sports Commission, and the NHL.

Construction on the park and Scotts Miracle Gro Community Rink began in late December, and despite some weather hurdles (Mother Nature has a way of being unpredictable, doesn’t she?), the NHL-sized sheet of ice was completed on time and opened to the public on Jan. 16. Local media, Blue Jackets corporate partners and local dignitaries were treated to a special sneak peek of the park, including a tour of the Dispatch Media Group Hockey House, fire pits, outdoor rink and Snow Slide.

The rink features 38 total public skating sessions throughout the All-Star celebration with a cost of $5 per person (including skate rental).

Located on Nationwide Blvd. adjacent to the park is the aforementioned Snow Slide presented by Huntington, that giant hulking structure you may have seen just past the intersection of Nationwide and Marconi. Weather hasn’t been too kind to those trying to make snow for the slide, but thanks to Mad River Mountain, a healthy truckload of snow was brought in late Tuesday night to get the base and run-off covered.

The expectation is that more snow will be made late Wednesday into Thursday when temperatures drop below freezing in Columbus. As part of the media sneak preview on Wednesday afternoon, Stinger and Franklin County Commissioner John O'Grady took the first runs down the slide, and we can report that both were very successful.

NHL Fan Fair is getting prepped at the Greater Columbus Convention Center, and hockey fans can expect 200,000 square feet of space dedicated to all things hockey. Trophy displays, autograph sessions, skills challenges and much more – make sure you head down to Fan Fair throughout the weekend and use #NHLFanFair to share your experience.

"It was important for us, the Greater Columbus Sports Commission, the City and the County to allow as many people as possible to take part in the All-Star festivities regardless of whether you are a hockey fan," said J.D. Kershaw, Blue Jackets vice president of marketing. "You don’t have to be a hockey fan to enjoy public skating, cooking s’mores or going down a giant snow slide. It is simply great family fun that allows the community to be a part of the weekend.

"This is a great event for hockey fans but it is an even greater event for the city of Columbus. It is an opportunity to show the entire world what Columbus is all about and that we are quite capable of hosting events of this magnitude."

Also at the Convention Center is the All-Star Fantasy Draft presented by DraftKings, which takes place Friday night at 8 p.m. on NBCSN. All-Star captains Nick Foligno (of your Columbus Blue Jackets) and Jonathan Toews (Chicago Blackhawks) will select the teams for the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Game, with Team Foligno serving as the home team wearing black sweaters.

The full changeover began in earnest late last week after the Blue Jackets played the New York Rangers at Nationwide Arena and a Miranda Lambert concert on the weekend. The NHL began moving in Sunday and into Monday, and fans walking through the Arena District may have noticed a new look to the front of the building early this week (see photo above).

On the inside, the makeover continues. It’s a complete, 100 percent All-Star theme inside the arena and it looks pretty darn cool. Player banners representing all 30 teams, a brand-new #NHLAllStar theme to the ice surface, Media Day podiums, exterior signage…it’s all going down over the next 24 hours as All-Star preparations hit a fever pitch.

“I hope our fans – and all the hockey fans coming to our city – have a wonderful time,” said John Davidson, Blue Jackets president of hockey operations. “You’re going to see the game played at the highest skill level by the most talented players in the world. There’s live music, there are events…always something going on. It’s going to be an absolute blast.

“People that don’t normally come to Columbus will be here because they love the game. They’re going to be very happy that they came here, too; there are great people here, the facilities are world-class and when you think of all the things that come with the All-Star experience, you can get a lot done just by walking. The proximity of everything here is perfect. It’s a heck of a sports town. All of that stuff adds up to what should be a special time."

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