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Melrose: All-Star Game, Columbus are perfect match

by Barry Melrose /

Playing and working in hockey has taken me all over. I grew up in Saskatchewan, of course. I've played in Kamloops, Winnipeg and Toronto and coached in Medicine Hat, Seattle and Los Angeles. But of all the places the sport has taken me in Canada or the United States, Ohio has become my adopted home in the U.S., without a doubt.

I played professionally for the Cincinnati Stings of the World Hockey Association in the late 1970s before I played in the NHL, and I married an Ohio girl and have been back to the state many times. Knowing Ohio as I do, I can tell anyone heading there for the first time this weekend that the Columbus Blue Jackets are going to be a great host for the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Game at Nationwide Arena on Sunday (5 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). The fans in Columbus have really come out and supported the Blue Jackets even as the team has struggled because of injuries this season, and that leads me to believe the venues, the events, all of them will be full of passionate fans. I think we're in for a great celebration of the NHL.

Ohio has shown over and over again that it's a great sports state. I'm not simply talking about LeBron James or the Ohio State Buckeyes, who recently won the NCAA national championship in football. Ohio has a great hockey tradition and I know it firsthand. When I was in Cincinnati we were always well supported. Ohio State has one of the top college hockey programs in the country, producing players like Ryan Kesler and R.J. Umberger. Miami of Ohio has been to the NCAA Tournament in hockey eight of the past nine years and was an overtime goal away from winning a national championship in 2009.

The All-Star Game is always a blast. I've been here as an analyst and as a coach in 1994. I've seen all the festivities several times, and I know Columbus is going to put on as good an experience as we've ever seen. If you're a person that's never been to Columbus before or doesn't know anything about Ohio, you'll see it when you get there. The airport and all the hotels will be decked out. The building will be packed, and you'll see a huge intensity level. There will be tons of cheering, all of the establishments will be full and everyone will be having a great time.

Ohio is a fantastic place to have a major sporting event like this, and when the hockey world leaves Columbus on Monday morning it'll say, "Wow, that was a great city. That was a great event we had there." It'll be an awakening for a lot of people that have never been to Columbus or Ohio. And for those of us that have, well, we know what kind of weekend we're in for.

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