The NHL All Stars may be the ones putting on a show at Enterprise Arena, but it was the U8 youth hockey players who were lighting it up on an outdoor rink with St. Louis' picturesque Gateway Arch in the background at Kiener Plaza on a chilly Saturday morning.
Two lucky seven-year-olds, Chase Tam and Vincent Donohue, who completed the NHL's Learn to Play Program, were selected to represent the Islanders at All-Star Weekend in St. Louis.
Tam and Donohue participated in the Learn to Play Program which provides the whole ensemble of equipment, weekly sessions designed by experts of USA Hockey and Hockey Canada and is led by National Hockey League Alumni. The initiative hopes to grow the game and help expose
Tam and Donohue got to spend the weekend attending All-Star festivities including meeting Mathew Barzal and other NHL All-Stars on the red carpet on Friday evening.
"It was pretty cool," Vincent said with a grin. "He signed my jersey."
On Saturday, the Long Island natives took to compete in their own Eastern versus Western conference matchup on the outdoor rink. Tam and Donahue represented the Eastern Conference along with mites from the Tampa Bay Lightning and Buffalo Sabres while they competed in a three-on-three game against mites from the Chicago Blackhawks, Vegas Golden Knights and St. Louis Blues.
"It's very cool," Vincent said. "I feel like an NHL player and like a celebrity. I feel like I'm like an NHL player signing jerseys."
Tam and Donahue were in elite company as Canadian Women's All-Star goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens and United States Women's All-Star blueliner Lee Stecklein joined in to help run the game. Both Desbiens and Stecklein were pleased to see the NHL's initiative and investment in youth hockey development.
"I think it's really great," Desbiens said. "There's a kid representing NHL game. I know they're trying to grow the game. It must be pretty amazing for those little kids to be here at the All-Star Weekend and getting to skate outdoors."
"It's really exciting to see all of the kids representing their hometowns," Stecklein added. "We want to grow the sport whatever way we can. For the NHL, to do an event like this and to just encourage kids to get into the sport is awesome and will grow the game."
While the jam-packed weekend created memories for a lifetime for Tam and Donohue, the experience was immensely gratifying for their parents to watch them
"My day was better than his just watching him go through it," Joseph Donohue said. "It was great."