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Ribeiro at Home Among the All-Stars

by Larry Wigge / Dallas Stars

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Mike Ribeiro never missed watching the National Hockey League’s All-Star Game when he was a kid growing up in Montreal. But it wasn’t for the many goals scored in the wide-open play in the game. It was for the skills competition.

Now, he’s living a dream being in Atlanta for this year’s All-Star extravaganza.

"What can I say? Where else do you see a player bring down the house like Alexander Ovechkin did tonight?" Ribeiro said after his Western Conference team fell just short in the skills competition at the All-Star weekend in Atlanta Saturday night.

Ovechkin, the Washington winger, won the newest style points shootout event by lifting the puck on his stick, flipping it in the air a few times like Tiger Woods does with a golf ball, and then attempted to spin around and bat the puck into the goal. He missed. But it didn’t matter for entertainment value.

"I can lift the puck in the air, but I don’t think I could do it in front of so many people," Ribeiro laughed.

Ribeiro was a part of the Western Conference All-Stars shootout team, facing Eastern Conference goaltender Rick DiPietro of the New York Islanders. Mike did a quick move in tight from his backhand to his forehand as DiPietro tried to poke-check the puck off Ribeiro’s stick. At the last second, the Stars leading scorer pulled the puck back to his forehand and DiPietro got a small piece of his quick shot.

But Mike’s Western team won that part of the shootout contest.

Ribeiro earned his way into the All-Star Game by leading the Dallas Stars in scoring with 54 points on 22 goals and 32 assists. The 28-year-old center has already beat his career-high of 20 goals while playing for Montreal in 2003-04 and he’s soon to pass the 65 points he had in the same season.

He was named to the All-Star team as Dallas’ representative after Sergei Zubov had to bow out because of a groin injury. But Ribeiro’s breakout season with the Stars is one that everyone in the NHL is talking about.

"Mike has obviously found a home in Dallas," said Detroit Red Wings Coach Mike Babcock, who is coaching the Western Conference in the All-Star Game. "He’s a dynamic player, who, to me, is just going to get better and better."

"Mike has great hands and vision," added Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar, who is going to play on a line of three centers with Ribeiro and Edmonton’s Shawn Horcoff in the All-Star Game. "He’s always been tough to play against, so I’m going to be glad to have him on my side this time."

Ribeiro may be starting out on the wing with Kopitar at center, but Babcock said each of the three centers will get a period in the middle.

Like rookie Matt Niskanen, who was part of the YoungStars in the skills competition Saturday night, Ribeiro said that being named and being at this All-Star Game is further vindication that he ranks among the league’s best players, plus it’s among his career highlights.

"Obviously, being a Montreal kid and being drafted and playing for the Canadiens is still No. 1, but being invited to play in this game is right up there," he said. "You look around the locker room and see all of the players you admire -- and have looked up to for years. It’s really a blast to be here with my family and take this showcase in."

The NHL’s YoungStars game, which previously was three live-on-the-clock periods, was reduced to two six-minute periods of 3-on-3 competition against the veteran goaltenders at the All-Star weekend and the Niskanen helped set up Sam Gagner for a good chance for the West via a feed through David Perron in the first period and then connected on a long home-run pass to Peter Mueller for a goal in the second period. He also had two great scoring chances -- one from a bad angle in tight and then a quick snapshot that whizzed wide of the net as the West rallied to win the second period 4-1 but came up on the short end of a 7-6 decision.

Niskanen was treated by Ribeiro and his wife, Tamara, to a concert in Atlanta on Friday night, featuring Wyclef Jean, the former member of the hot 1990s group The Fugees with Lauren Hill and Pras. Back 1996 that group put together a $1 million video -- most expensive at the time -- called Ready or Not.

"Ribs hasn’t given me any advice this weekend, but his taste in concerts was outstanding," Niskanen said. "Wyclef Jean rocked."

"When I saw that he and his band were in town I knew we had to get tickets," Ribeiro said. "It doesn’t matter what kind of music you like, hip-hop, rap, raggae. He can do it all."

Like the kind of sweet music that Mike Ribeiro has produced for the Stars since he was traded to Dallas from Montreal for defenseman Janne Niinimaa and has completely transformed his career.

Skills competition? For Stars’ fans, it starts with Ribeiro and Niskanen in Atlanta this weekend.

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