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NHL 100 a highlight of All-Star Weekend for Okposo

by Chris Ryndak @ChrisRyndak / Sabres.com

LOS ANGELES - As far as on-the-ice events go, Kyle Okposo's first All-Star Game didn't go quite as well as he would have liked. He and the Atlantic Division were eliminated in their semifinal game against the Metropolitan Division by a 10-6 decision at STAPLES Center on Sunday. 

However, it's the memories he made while being part of the NHL's centennial celebration that he'll cherish the most. 

Maybe the biggest highlight for Okposo over the course of the weekend was the ability to see and meet some of the best players to ever lace up a pair of skates. The League named the best 100 players in NHL history at a gala on Friday and those that were still living were invited to Los Angeles for the festivities.

Okposo attended the ceremony on Friday and a good number of those legends were present. Okposo said he enjoyed seeing every generation's reactions to meeting with the great players that they all watched as kids.

"For me, it was just cool to see all those guys I look up to, the guys that I watched playing growing up. In turn, those guys that I watched, they were doing the same thing!" he said. "Everybody was doing the same thing [Friday night], which you don't get to see that very often. That part was really cool."

He had the chance to talk to Peter Forsberg, one of his hockey idols growing up, for a few minutes as well. The scope of every era being represented in one room will stick with him. 

"Before the event, they had everybody downstairs and we were just hanging out. Mingling with all those guys, that's something I'll never forget. I'll always hold that dear to me," he said.

Before the game on Sunday, the NHL 100 were brought out onto the ice for a ceremony. As the current All-Stars were introduced they went down the line and fist bumped each of the NHL 100. The proceedings culminated with the current All-Stars lining up across the greats for a massive ceremonial puck drop. 

"It was really neat that all those guys were here the whole weekend. Celebrating them and having them be out there for it was really special," Okposo said.  

"Every single guy you're saying hi to, giving a fist bump and passing is an NHL legend. I'm never going to do that again probably, so that was really cool."

Florida Panthers forward Jaromir Jagr, one of six active players to be honored, dropped the puck for Okposo. 

 

Game action

Okposo skated primarily with Red Wings forward Frans Nielsen, his former Islanders linemate, and Senators captain Erik Karlsson during the All-Star Game. He finished the semifinal against the Metropolitan Division with an assist on a goal from Karlsson and a minus-6 rating. 

"Was I? Jeez," Okposo said, at first unaware of his final stat line.

He was then asked which teammate would be the first one to give him some friendly ribbing over it.

"Probably everybody. That was not the way I wanted it to happen," Okposo said. "I had a good time. It was a fun experience."

His trio did generate some offense on their third shift to give the Atlantic a 3-2 lead with 2:47 to play in the first of the two-period game. They started with a scoring chance as Okposo snapped a shot on goal from the middle of the ice. Sergei Bobrovsky made a great glove save and kept the play alive.

After that save, the Metropolitan Division took the action back into the Atlantic end, but thanks to an aggressive backcheck, Okposo stripped the puck from Seth Jones and started back the other way. 

Breaking into the offensive end, he sent Karlsson a cross-ice feed from the right faceoff circle that the defenseman buried low stick side with 2:47 to play.

"A lot of open ice, a lot of skating. It was fun. It was good," Okposo said of the overall game experience. "I had a blast out there playing 3-on-3 with those guys. Obviously I wish it would've ended differently, but that's the way it goes."

In the first game of the tournament, the Pacific Division defeated the Central Division 10-3. All nine skaters scored for the Pacific with Johnny Gaudreau potting two. Cam Fowler led the team with four points (1+3). 

The Metropolitan then went on to defeat the Pacific Division 4-3 in the Final. Cam Atkinson and Wayne Simmonds scored five seconds apart midway through the second period to put the Metropolitan Division up for good. 
Simmonds was named the All-Star Game MVP.


Looking ahead to the rest of the regular season

Even though Okposo leads the Sabres in goals with 15 and points with 31, he still sees the opportunity to improve when it comes to on-ice performance. Admittedly a tough critic, he rated the first half of his first season in Buffalo as "OK." 

"I obviously want to produce more. I've had some chances to produce more but you always want to create more chances and play better," he said. "There's definitely room to get better. The transition, it's been good. The guys have been great, but it is playing with a new team and a new system, new players.

"You take for granted sometimes - I played with two centermen my whole career and then you come to a new team and you're still trying to get used to each other. Chemistry's something that, for the most part, isn't instant. I'm still figuring everybody out and we're still going to get better. But there's definitely some room to improve."

The team sits seven points out of a playoff spot after 48 games played. They're in the mix for both the second Wild Card spot and third spot in the Atlantic Division, and Okposo believes that the Sabres have what it takes to make a strong push for the postseason. However, he knows it isn't going to be easy.

"Obviously we're on the outside looking in and we have a tough road ahead. We've probably got to win seven of 10 the next three segments to really try and get in, cement the chance," he said. 

"That's not an easy thing to do, especially in the East. You see how it is in the East. We're at 49 points, we're tied for last in the conference and we're - what? - six points out of a playoff spot or something like that? That's insane. We can do it. I think we can make that push, but we just have to win games. We have to find ways to win games. We did that. 

"We've won three of the last four, but we've got to put a streak together and we've got to find a way to do it."

The Sabres are back in action Tuesday night in Montreal. 

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