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All-stars find it 'fun to hang out with' competition

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com

COLUMBUS -- Patrik Elias was surveying the room Friday, watching players mingle and talk with each other behind the stage at the 2015 NHL All-Star Fantasy Draft presented by DraftKings. He recognized almost all of them, but admitted there were a few faces he couldn't place with the name, in particular Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Zemgus Girgensons.

Forgive Elias. At 38, the New Jersey Devils forward is the oldest player participating in the 2015 NHL All-Star Weekend. Florida Panthers rookie Aaron Ekblad wasn't born when Elias made his NHL debut for the New Jersey Devils on Dec. 7, 1995. Ekblad was 4 years old when Elias won the Stanley Cup for the first time.

"There are so many young players here," Elias said. "Good for them."

Good for him too.

Elias took the opportunity to gain perspective on the small fraternity he is part of. There are only so many people in the world who know what it takes and what it's like to play in the NHL. A handful of the best were in the same green room Friday waiting to find out if they'd be part of Team Toews or Team Foligno.

Elias appreciated the moment and the scene.

"There are millions of hockey players in the world, but only 700 or so make it in the NHL," Elias said. "The longer you're in the League you run in to each other, and you realize you're in this together. It's something you can share because you know what it takes."

There were no signs of rivalries or bad blood in the green room for the reasons Elias spoke about.

The Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season and are battling for first place in the Atlantic Division this season, but that didn't stop Carey Price and Steven Stamkos from sitting at the same table with Los Angeles Kings Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar.

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel, New York Islanders captain John Tavares and Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin sat together.

The Central Division is arguably the toughest in the NHL, but it didn't stop Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber, Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, and St. Louis Blues Kevin Shattenkirk and Vladimir Tarasenko from sitting together. Also at that table was Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers.

There was quite a mix at one of the tables with Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk, Lightning center Tyler Johnson and Ekblad. Nobody was talking about the standings, their seasons, or future matchups.

Byfuglien eventually made his way over to joke around with former Chicago Blackhawks teammates Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith and Corey Crawford.

"Hockey is a cool sport like that," Kane said. "You can play and battle and get angry at, mad at, fight with all these guys on the ice, and then forget all of that stuff and be friends off the ice."

Crawford also noticed the fraternity atmosphere among the players. For him, though, it was even better he got to mingle with everybody at an event that not only celebrated the sport but gave the players a chance to be themselves and forget about the competition they engage in daily.

"I had no idea what to expect, but it's been great to meet the guys here and fun to hang out with them," Crawford said. "Our season is so intense and we have to stay so focused and committed, so to be able to let it out a bit without giving much energy is great. Hockey is a close-knit sport. We battle in the playoffs and try to kill each other, but we're all in this together."

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