Tuesday started as just another practice day for Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman and right wing Nikita Kucherov.
By the time the training session was over, however, the two were NHL All-Stars.
While the Lightning were completing the first of two practice sessions at AMALIE Arena, the NHL announced both Hedman and Kucherov had been selected to play in the 2017 NHL All-Star Game to be held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on January 29. The honor is a first for both Hedman and Kucherov.
Hedman said he and Kucherov found out about their All-Star selection in the locker room during a short break between the Bolts' first and second session on Tuesday.
"It's a big honor obviously," said Hedman, who becomes just the fourth Bolts defenseman to earn the distinction, joining Roman Hamrlik, Petr Svoboda and Pavel Kubina. "I'll be sure and enjoy when it comes to that, but we've got a lot of games before that. It's not really a focus but, yeah, I was told today so obviously a huge honor to represent this organization. Me and Kuch will hopefully have a good time there."
The Lightning will have multiple representatives at the All-Star Game for the third-consecutive season and ninth time in franchise history.
"Deserving guys for sure, two really big bright spots for us this year and guys that seem to get better and better and want to get better and better," Lightning forward Brian Boyle said. "We follow their lead. That's a big accomplishment for them."
Hedman was a virtual lock to be named to his debut All-Star Game following a first half of the season where he put up career scoring numbers. Hedman currently leads all NHL defensemen for assists (30) and ranks second in scoring (37 points) behind only San Jose's Brent Burns (15-24-39)
Hedman became Tampa Bay's all-time assists leader for a blueliner after notching his 188th career tally on Nov. 10 vs. the New York Islanders, passing Dan Boyle. Also this season, Hedman passed Boyle in points to take over the Bolts' top spot for defenseman scoring on December 17 at Edmonton.
"I'm very excited about getting nominated and go out there and have a good time and have fun with it," Hedman said.
Kucherov was less of a slam dunk All-Star selection, not because of his performance but because he missed six games in December due to a lower-body injury. Prior to getting hurt, Kucherov ranked among the NHL leaders for goals and scoring.
He dropped some in the standings while he was sidelined, but since returning, Kucherov has netted points in five of six games and has gradually started to climb back in the standings to where he was pre-injury.
Kucherov currently leads the Lightning for goals (16) and scoring (39 points) and ranks tied for eighth in the league scoring race.
"You're really happy for what they've done, and they'll be the first ones to tell you we wish we were a little higher in the standings," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "But, ultimately, the All-Star Game is recognition for a job well done and because you've done this and been what I consider to be an elite in this league, everybody gets to be on display for the fans. It's an entertainment game, but it's a celebration of guys that have unreal skill and are really good at the game. Those are two guys that are well deserving of it."
Like last season, the 2017 NHL All-Star Game will be a three-game tournament, played in a 3-on-3 format, featuring teams representing each NHL division.