Any other day, the backstage area would be relatively light on people. Not too many. Enough where there's life, but not enough where you have to shove people out of the way like you're at a concert.
This was concert-level proportions. Media everywhere, faces you've seen on television or on the ice. Past legends like Jari Kurri, Jeremy Roenick, Bobby Orr wandering around; celebs like Retta, Snoop Dogg, David Boreanaz mingling in with NHL folk; and current players, like Vladimir Tarasenko, Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, being interviewed, chatting it up with other players.
It was the best kind of pandemonium. Because in that moment, we realized a great truth.
The All-Star Weekend was truly here. And the stars were everywhere.
Our focus turned to finding Luc, his lovely wife Stacia and others, who went to each locker room to thank everyone for coming and give a peptalk. We arrived in time to see him leave Team Lemieux's area, and then head over (with a massive entourage of media) to Team Gretzky's.
Luc thanked everyone for being part of this event, to benefit Echoes of Hope, his charity with Stacia.
Video: Luc Robitaille is mic'd up for the Celebrity Shootout
We squeezed our way in to a corner, because there was just a lot of people around. (Theme of the day.) But in that corner, we were able to see everyone. Watch everyone.
Gretzky, Denis Savard, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lindros, Sakic, Kane, Blake.
Oh yeah, and this guy:
Pep talk done, teams then came out as a unit onto the ice.
As they lined up, we realized something about one of them...
"This is one very tall man," we thought.
Not going to lie, seeing some players in our colors was pretty cool (and tempting) too. Like this one:
Edmonton hates us enough, Rosen.
Intros completed, teams were ready, and the shootout was underway! We thought we'd scurry back to the press box and continue our work from there, but we got curious. What was it like to be on either bench? How was Gretzky's style of coaching? Lemieux's? And how was Justin Bieber going to do out there?
So we went for it, and hopped onto the bench for Gretzky's first.
TEAM GRETZKY (aka Bieberland)
The first thing that happened being on that bench was the fact that we ended up sandwiched between two great legends: Wayne Gretzky and Pat LaFontaine.
At what other point in one's life will you ever stand between two legends in hockey history? Only at the Celebrity Shootout. Only at the All-Star Game.
The two worked together so well. Gretzky in particular was SO happy to be there. He was joking with the boys, calling audibles, chirping like only a veteran of the game can. LaFontaine was referring to plays on his sheet, leaning in to tell the players where to go, what to do, who to watch out for.
Whenever a fan would push up against the wall behind Gretzky and ask for his attention, he gave what he could with a smile, a wave, and more than once, a "thank you" or "I appreciate it" or "you're very sweet to say that, thank you so much." A true gentleman, able to juggle coaching a team, hyping up his players, and making the day of any fan who came to tell him how much he means to them.
The camaraderie on the bench was infectious too. Everyone was ribbing one another. Sharing old stories. At points talking about their families. It felt like a reunion on the bench.
As we muffled our squee's of sheer shock and delight, we focused on the players on the bench.
Two highlight moments from the bench: when Gretzky saw a great save from their goaltender and shouted, "Woah! Who is that guy? Can we draft him?!"
And the other came with Bieber.
"Bieber! Go out there and get 'em!"
Bieber looked over his shoulder with wide eyes and nodded. "Yes sir," we heard through a muffle.
McDavid slapped his back. Lindros watched with a keen eye.
The second he got onto the ice, Chris Pronger was there, shoving him back against the boards and laughing as he skated away.
Turns out, this would not be the only time that happened.
It didn't just happen that one time. Anytime Bieber came onto the ice, or had the puck, Pronger was on him. Forechecking, pushing, butting his hip against him to knock him off balance.
But ever time Bieber came back, he was focused. He centered on the game. Whenever Gretzky told him to do something, he listened in as serious as any other player would.
His teammates ribbed him a few times too. But it had a "little brother" feel to it. "You're one of us tonight," was the sense of joshing. And you could see quite clearly that Bieber was honored, humbled, and so, so very happy.
Justin Bieber clearly respects hockey and the people he was playing with. He listened intently when other players gave him advice, smiled when they ribbed him or encouraged him. It must have been a dream come true for that young Canadian to be among the legends he watched growing up, and now was playing alongside with. And it was really nice to see him fit in so well with everyone.
We noticed the time in the game and realized, "We haven't gone over to Team Lemieux's side and see what's up over there!" So we got over there as fast as possible.
TEAM LEMIEUX (aka Alyssa Milano Feat. Super Mario)
The second we stepped on the bench, there was a lot of yelling. Not at us, but at the ice. And a lot of it came from Alyssa Milano.
She was fire personified. She was calling out moves, hissing, shouting, pulling at her hair, telling the boys try this, do that, why not this. We looked at her and saw every single hockey fan we've ever encountered embodied in one person. She loves hockey. Period. And that passion was 100% infentious that it rubbed off on everyone on the bench.
This was her 90% of the game. Watching over the boys like a hawk alongside Stacia, Luc's wife (who livestreamed every moment from the bench). We loved it.
Just like Gretzky's bench, there was a lot of ribbing between the boys. Piazza cracked many jokes. Some little fans hopped onto the bench and had fun playing around with David Boreanaz.
But if there was anyone who was having the time of his life, it was Chris Pronger. Everyone on that bench looked so happy to be there, also sharing stories, talking about families where they could. But Pronger clearly looked the happiest. He was out on the ice as much as he could. Not at one point did he not smile or laugh or crack jokes. Considering his past injuries, we watched on in awe and joy for him. He deserved this. Hockey is in the man's blood.
Lemieux himself was not as audible as Gretzky. He surveyed his boys and the ice with a calculated eye -- similar to his playing style back in the day. He would tap the shoulders of players he wanted out there, and even when he called back someone, it seemed so quiet. He was the calm captain of the boat, and everyone respected him and his decisions.
In the end, Team Gretzky pulled the upset over Team Lemieux, with Justin Bieber shooting into the open net. Afterwards, everyone piled onto the ice for hugs, congratulations and handshakes. Everyone took photos, wiped sweat from their faces, drank a lot of Gatorade and water. A wonderful way to end a good game between celebrities and NHL legends.
Oh, and Pronger? He patted Bieber on the head at the end of the game. Just like a big brother to a little brother.