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Like most NHL players, Oliver Bjorkstrand had already made plans for the All-Star break this year, but he was happy to change his itinerary when Dave Hakstol told the forward that he would be representing the Kraken at the 2024 weekend that celebrates the top players in the NHL across all 32 teams.

“It's a good milestone to say you're part of an All-Star game,” Bjorkstrand said. “Coming into the League, I don't know if I thought I was going to achieve that. So that's pretty special. I'll definitely bring that with me.”

Bjorkstrand’s All-Star experience began on Wednesday, Jan. 31 as he, his wife Jill, son Otto, and mother-in-law all traveled together to Toronto – the location of this year’s All-Star events. It wasn’t just a special time to celebrate Bjorkstrand’s achievements, it was an opportunity to give his family a bigger window into work life in the NHL without the demands of a game day.

In between All-Star commitments, the Bjorkstrands visited Ripley’s Aquarium in downtown Toronto, enjoyed meals together, relaxed a bit, and just enjoyed time together as a family.

But the purpose of the trip, of course, was the events put on by the NHL.

The formal schedule included the drafting of the four All-Star teams and the game tournament itself. Bjorkstrand was part of Team MacKinnon which included players like Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon and Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby. A player Bjorkstrand had been watching since he was young.

“I think that's special,” Bjorkstrand said. “With him and certain guys that came in (to the NHL), they obviously became great players. When you are around those guys, it's pretty cool.”

These teams didn’t have the formality of a roster going into an NHL matchup – in fact, two teams shared the same locker room! – so there weren’t big strategy sessions or pre-game speeches, but in getting ready for the game and hanging around the rink, there was time to get to know some of the other top talent in the League.

“You chat a little bit,” Bjorkstrand said. It's fun getting to know one another. Most of it is small talk, but it's still fun -- like you play against these guys, you battle against them (in games), but I feel like most guys are nice off the ice. So, it's fun to get to engage with them.”

And as for the game itself, that was Bjorkstrand’s favorite part. In addition to creating a couple of scoring chances, he scored what linemate Yanni Gourde described as a “great goal” – the only score to not come from captain MacKinnon himself.

And while Team MacKinnon would ultimately lose to Team McDavid, Bjorkstrand’s goal was special in another way. The Kraken forward is just the third player from Denmark to have ever participated in an NHL All-Star Game (Frans Nielsen, Frederik Andersen). That goal was the first any of them had ever scored in the best-on-best tournament.

“I don't think about it too much,” Bjorkstrand said. “But I think that yeah, it's a positive thing for Danish hockey to get more players at big events like that.”

There were perks to being an All-Star too. In addition to a post-Draft party and getting the usual player gear that one needs to wear for warming up and playing a hockey game (all branded for 2024 All-Star festivities, of course), one of the game’s biggest fans made sure the NHL players got some extra swag to mark the moment.

“The (All-Star gear) is obviously always special to get,” Bjorkstrand said. “Then in our hotel room, there was some clothing from Drew House, Justin Bieber’s brand, so that was nice to get.”

Another memento? A hockey stick signed by every player participating this year. Bjorkstrand says he’s not really one to collect a lot of memorabilia, but that maybe someday when he builds out a space in his home, he’ll display the stick and his All-Star jersey to remember the weekend.

After everything wrapped up, the Bjorkstrands headed back to the Pacific Northwest on Sunday to enjoy the rest of the bye week. And of course, after you have to cancel your original vacation plans, the question must be asked: “did you go anywhere else over the break, Oliver?”

“I think that would have been more stressful than not,” Bjorkstrand laughed. “But yeah, the whole vacation thing? It’s not a big deal. I'm not sweating it. (Our original plans) were just something for the family to do. Obviously, we have the break and I think you have to take advantage of that, but I'm not losing sleep over it.”