|Team Rookie' Drew Doughty, right, of the Los Angeles Kings, congratulates team Rookie goaltender Pekka Rinne, of the Nashville Predators, following the YoungStars game at the NHL All-Star weekend in Montreal, Saturday Jan. 24, 2009. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz) |
Blake Wheeler's rookie season just keeps getting better.
It reached its latest high point Saturday night during Honda/NHL SuperSkills at the Bell Centre when he was named the MVP of the YoungStars Game presented by Upper Deck as Wheeler's Rookie team defeated the Sophomores 9-5.
The Boston rookie had a hat trick and added two assists, making him the obvious choice as MVP, even if he plays for the hated Bruins.
In fact, Wheeler said he fed off the rivalry and the passion of the fans, who somewhat playfully booed Wheeler and the three veteran Bruins -- goalie Tim Thomas, defenseman Zdeno Chara and forward Marc Savard.
"It was such an awesome experience," Wheeler said. "The best part was the atmosphere and just seeing the passion of the Montreal fans. It's a great thing to have that rivalry. It's great for both teams and for the fans to share in that rivalry."
And just to spice up the rivalry even more -- Wheeler scored all three of his goals against Montreal goalie Carey Price, the Sophomore goalie.
He almost had a fourth late in the game, but toppled over Price's stick and tumbled into the corner. The two players shared a laugh as Wheeler gained his feet and headed back up ice, showing that the Original Six rivalry was taking a short respite.
"I probably just fell," Wheeler said of his collision with Price in his usual self-deprecating manner. "I guess that's my great skating ability."
Humility aside, Wheeler is having a season to remember, one that should put him in the conversation about the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year.
Not expected to make the team out of training camp, Wheeler beat the odds and has become a second-line wing on the Eastern Conference-leading Bruins. His 30 points are tied for second in the rookie scoring race behind Chicago's Kris Versteeg, who missed this game because of an injured hand. His 14 goals are second to the 15 by Anaheim rookie Bobby Ryan.
Perhaps Wheeler was motivated by the kindness of an anonymous stranger.
It seems that Wheeler was missing his sticks when he got off the plane in Montreal on Thursday. His four sticks had gone on walkabout and Wheeler had all but written them off, figuring he would have to scrounge some twigs from another player at the All-Star Game.
Instead, they were waiting for him when he showed up at the Bell Centre for Saturday's action.
"It shows there are good people in the world," he laughed.
While Wheeler earned the MVP for his four-point night, Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne almost stole the show. Rinne made 19 saves for the Freshmen, including 12 of 13 in the third period when the Sophomores were desperate to save face.
"He was awesome and made some great saves," Wheeler said. "I enjoyed watching the show he put on."
Rinne, who is 10-7 with a 2.33 goals-against average and .916 save percentage in 21 appearances for the Predators, wasn't disappointed not to earn the MVP. He was happy to escape without being strafed by a Sophomore team that featured big guns like San Jose's Devon Setoguchi, Atlanta's Bryan Little and Pittsburgh's Kris Letang, among others.
New York Rangers defenseman Marc Staal led the Sophomores with two goals, while Vancouver's Mason Raymond had a goal and an assist.
"It was a lot of fun," Rinne said. "It was really open out there. You just had to try to stay patient out there and read plays and expect the unexpected -- things like drop passes."
Author: Shawn P. Roarke | NHL.com Managing Editor