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Nielsen reunited with friends Okposo, Tavares in LA

All three enjoyed meeting members of the NHL 100, including many former Wings

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

LOS ANGELES - For Frans Nielsen, this All-Star experience is also a happy reunion.

Nielsen spent the first 10 years of his career with the New York Islanders and he made lifelong friends on that team.

Two of those friends, Kyle Okposo, now with the Buffalo Sabres, and John Tavares, still with the Islanders, are also in Los Angeles.

"It was awesome," Nielsen said at All-Star Media Day. "We've gone through so much together over the years in New York. I'm really excited to be here together with them. We went to the show together and we went out and had dinner and just caught up on old times and what's going on today. It's two of my best friends so it's so fun that we get to experience this together."

The three players immediately started texting each other when they found out they were all heading to the All-Star Game and would have a chance to catch up.

"Fransy, when I found out that he made the team also, it was great," Okposo said. "Right when we got in yesterday, him and I, we went and just grabbed a drink together, just kind of talked. It was just so much fun that we could share in this experience together and just be with each other again."

Tavares is enjoying his third All-Star Game but said this one is made more special since he gets to see his former teammates again.

"It was great, just picked up where we left off," Tavares said. "Our friendship and to spend some time with our families, hanging out a little bit, it was great to see them, great to see them be here and get rewarded, be recognized because they're great players, had great careers. It's great to see them be All-Stars."

NHL 100: Nielsen, Okposo and Tavares attended the ceremony revealing the remaining 67 top NHL players.

The first 33 were announced during the Centennial Classic in Toronto on New Year's Day.

"It was awesome. Just they're all here, all the greatest players," Nielsen said. "You almost couldn't believe it when you walked around there before the show and you saw all of them, all the players you grew up watching as a kid and just idolizing, suddenly standing right next to all of them and you got to talk to some of them. It was a cool moment for sure, something I will never forget."

Even a player as accomplished as Tavares admitted to being a little nervous meeting some of the NHL 100.

"Looked up to a lot of those players and even some of the guys from the '70s and early '80s, a lot of the guys my dad watched and talked about, which was pretty cool as well," Tavares said. "So it was just amazing to see all of the generations and all the top players. You could see them all, all the camaraderie and stories they have from playing with each other, playing against each other. Even some of the newer guys looked up to some of those other players. Obviously it was an unbelievable collection of talent from some of the best players to ever play."

Tavares is an admirer of several of the players who played in Detroit.

"Brett Hull came up and introduced himself," Tavares said. "I met Mike Modano once, he was a guy I idolized growing up. He had signed me a nice stick my first year in the league, a nice message, got to see him around here again yesterday so to be around some of those guys that you kind of looked up to, it was great. Obviously I've gotten to know Steve Yzerman a little bit through Team Canada. Still, every time I get to see him and just say hello, looked up to him watching the '02 Olympics or how great he was in Detroit. So many players, it was great to be around them all."

Nielsen has a special connection to Hull.

"Actually I was always wearing 16 as a kid and I still remember asking my dad if there's any good players wearing 16," Nielsen said. "And he said Brett Hull, so he kind of became my favorite player because we were wearing the same number. Then of course I grew up finding out that he was a pretty good hockey player too. But I actually walked right in there and he was standing right there and I got to say hi to him and introduce myself. It was cool, the first time I met him but he was one of my favorite players always since I was, I don't remember, probably four years old. It was pretty cool."

Nine of the top 100 players were on the Wings' 2001-02 Stanley Cup championship team, including Dominik Hasek, Brendan Shanahan, Sergei Fedorov, Nick Lidstrom, Yzerman, Hull, Chris Chelios, Luc Robitaille and the youngster of the group, Pavel Datsyuk.

"When you walk by those teams every day at the Joe and you see the names up there, it's almost surprising there weren't more on there," Nielsen said. "But it was cool to see. It just shows what kind of organization Detroit is and what kind of players that's gone through there over the years. It's just one of the things that makes it special to put that sweater over your head. You get to wear the same jersey those guys did. It's cool to see all those Detroit players out there."

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