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Atlanta a hockey hotbed thanks to All-Stars, cool temps

by Phil Coffey /

Western Conference All-Star Jarome Iginla will put his talents on display in today's NHL All-Star Game.
ATLANTA -- If anyone had a doubt that Atlanta could be a terrific host for an NHL All-Star Game, the unseasonably cold temperatures that greeted All-Star Weekend added just the right chill for a sport played on ice.

There was plenty of cool talk Saturday inside Phillips Arena, too, as some of the League's top talents prepared for today's 2008 All-Star Game (6 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio).

Everything was fair game, from All-Star captains Jarome Iginla and Vinny Lecavalier being quizzed about everything from playing an 84-game schedule to why hockey players don't do self promotion especially well to the noted dustup the two dominant players had during the 2004 Stanley Cup Final, a series won by Lecavalier's Tampa Bay Lightning against Iginla's Calgary Flames in seven grueling games.

So, Jarome, how come hockey players are notoriously reticent to grab headlines, even at a fun event like All-Star Weekend?

"It's something that is a little bit different in hockey," Iginla said. "I think you look at some other sports where there's more talking in the media and buildup to games. Some of it can be enjoyable, but for whatever reason in hockey … I think it's slowly changing. … It's starting to change a little bit and people are starting to step out a little bit more, and I think it's good. I think it's good for hockey.

"It's definitely team-first," Iginla said. "There are a lot of different personalities (on a team) and things that we see as a group of guys, but you don't always see it in the media."

What hockey fans will see today from Phillips Arena is a tremendous display of skill. No, there will not be the hitting one expects -- and sees -- in the Stanley Cup Playoffs; but this is the All-Star Game, a different animal, one that celebrates the great finesse skills that are so frequently blended into the physical nature of the game, too.

There is an accent on youth this weekend in Atlanta. Young, emerging players like Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks and Dion Phaneuf of the Calgary Flames have joined Eastern Conference players like Alexander Ovechkin, Jason Spezza and Rick DiPietro in showing off the League's "Generation Next." That development certainly wasn't lost on Lecavalier.

"Last year's (the) second time I came to the All-Star Game," Lecavalier said. "I was surprised how young the players were. I think it's, I guess, a young stars' league. You look at (Sidney) Crosby, Ovechkin, (Evgeni) Malkin. And I think it's great for the League. It's great for marketing. I think the last few years, it's been really going great that way.

"I just think it's exciting," he said. "I think people want to watch young guys, the 20-year-olds, 22-year-olds, show what they can do on the ice."

TUNE IN: Sunday, Jan. 27, 6 p.m. ET (VERSUS, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio)

2008 All-Star Game Links:

The League's cadre of emerging stars was in full view Saturday night during the YoungStars game that was incorporated into the Dodge NHL SuperSkills competition this year. In that mini-game, young players like Chicago's Patrick Kane, Phoenix's Peter Mueller, Edmonton's Sam Gagner, the Rangers' Marc Staal and Pittsburgh's Kris Letang showed the future is indeed a talented one.

"It's nice to be part of the All-Star festivities in any way you can your first year," Kane said. "So just being here as a YoungStar and as a player is part of the whole process."

Kane has been one of the young players who has helped re-energize the Chicago Blackhawks this season and he has proven to be a quick study with 12 goals and 33 assists in 50 games to lead all rookies in scoring.

"It's kind of what you expect coming in," Kane said. "So, I mean, obviously it's the NHL. It's the best league in the world. And there are going to be times when the game might be a little too fast. You're playing against men now, so it's something you're going to have to work with and adjust at times. But I think the biggest thing probably will be adjusting to the speed of the game. The players are still there, but they just happen so much quicker, so it's something I had to adjust to a bit."

Today's game will also celebrate the talents of "old" guys like Lecavalier and Iginla, as well as sublime talents like Detroit Red Wings defenseman Nick Lidstrom and Anaheim's Scott Niedermayer, as well as unsung players like Philadelphia's Kimmo Timonen and Montreal's Andrei Markov, who have risen up to All-Star status.

Certainly Iginla and Lecavalier, the team captains, represent the cream of the crop in the NHL. Both are having strong seasons. Both are prominent names mentioned in possible MVP discussions and both have joined with the Penguins' Sidney Crosby and others as the face of the NHL.

And let's face it, each is the kind of competitor you want leading your team. That fact was readily apparent when the two couldn't escape questioning about their famed battle in the 2004 Final.

"I got a lot of rib shots that kind of hurt," Lecavalier said with a smile. "But I think, obviously, we were both battling to win the Cup, so we did whatever we had to do for our team. Once it's over, it's over. You can tell that after every series, guys shake hands. And a lot of the guys in this League are friends, and I think it's just respect, I think.

"Hockey players have respect for each other. To go through what they do in the playoffs, you know, what both teams went through, our journey to the Stanley Cup Final, it was just a battle. So once it was all over, and it could have went either way, so, yeah, I think it's respect. You respect the other person, your opponent."

"I really enjoyed, … kind of really enjoyed playing against Vinny there in the Stanley Cup Finals," Iginla said. "I know our team, we were trying to be as hard on Vinny and (Marty) St. Louis and (Brad) Richards as we could. And our team was a physical team. We're trying to push them, and we couldn't. We couldn't push them out of the games. And the respect grows and it was seven games. They played great, and they're battlers. Getting a chance to play with him in Team Canada and stuff, our respect just goes up and up."

But who won the fight?

"I don't know," Lecavalier said.

"It was a draw," Iginla said.

"Yeah," Lecavalier laughed.

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