The National Hockey League (NHL) announced rosters for the 2019 All-Star tournament starting on January 26. Fans voted for star players from each team to make up four All-Star teams: Pacific, Central, Atlantic, and Metropolitan. They will compete in a three-on-three single-elimination tournament.
Ladies, here is why you should watch the NHL All-Star game this weekend: the players are cute, the pace of the game is fast and exciting, and the players are cute (I know I am repeating myself, but check it out). I initially got into watching hockey because of my husband. I didn’t understand why he spent so much time watching it. Then he told me something profound: sports are soap operas for men. Once I got into the game, I realized he was right.
There are dramas, conflicts, disappointments, heartbreaks, betrayal, possible Russian interference, inspiration, and triumph. All are wrapped in hockey on and off the ice.
A Comeback Story
I will start with my hometown team, the Colorado Avalanche. 2017 was a tough year for the Avs. They were the worst team in the NHL. Our star player and the highest-paid Av, Matt Duchene, wanted to move to a better team that could earn him a Stanley Cup ring.
Rumors swirled for a long time about what was going to happen. The lack of focus and team cohesiveness was obvious on ice. The Avs suffered one humiliating loss after another, and Avs games became painful to watch.
Then on November 5, 2017, General Manager Joe Sakic pulled the trigger. Duchene was pulled from the ice in the middle of a game against the New York Islanders. Avs fans didn’t know what had happened and awaited his return to ice. Avs management waited until intermission to report that they completed a three-way trade with the Nashville Predators and the Ottawa Senators. Duchene was traded to the Senators and a Senator player, Kyle Turris, to the Predators. In return, the Avs got seven new players.
At the time of the trade, the Senators was a much better team than the Avs and the Predators. But what a difference a year makes. These three teams’ fortune turned different ways after the trade. The Avs made a historic comeback in 2018, and played against the Predators in the first round of the playoffs. Now the Avs boast the best line in the NHL: Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog. All three players will appear in the All-Star game.
The Senators, on the other hand, finished the 2018 season as the second-worst team in the league. What contributed to this drastic turnaround in fortune? Drama and conflicts among players off the ice spilled over to lackluster on-ice performance.
Heartbreak and Conflict
Erik Karlsson used to be the Ottawa Senators’ captain, and he is one of the best defensemen in the league. In March 2018, he and his wife Melinda announced that they had lost their son Axel to stillbirth a month shy of his due date.
In a touching tweet, they said, “We feel very lucky to be Axel’s parents. Even though he was a stillborn, we know we will hold him again one day under different circumstances and the joy he gave us will be with us forever.” Fans around the world felt the Karlssons’ heartbreaking loss, expressed condolence, and sent prayers to them all over social media.
Then in early May, Melinda Karlsson filed a restraining order against Monika Caryk, the fiancée of Erik’s teammate, Senators forward Mike Hoffman. Melinda alleged Monika had been cyberbullying her using fake accounts since November 2017.
Melinda Karlsson reportedly wrote in her court filing, “Monika Caryk has uttered numerous statements wishing my unborn child dead. She also uttered that she wished I was dead and that someone should ‘take out’ my husband’s legs to ‘end his career.’” In addition, “Monika Caryk has posted over 1000 negative and derogatory statement[s] about me as a professional.” Hoffman has denied the allegations on behalf of himself and his fiancée.
The dispute hurt the team’s ability to play together. A week after the allegation became public, Hoffman was traded twice in one day—first to the San Jose Sharks, and then the Sharks traded him to the Florida Panthers. Karlsson didn’t stay with the Senators for very long, either. In September 2018, the Senators traded Karlsson to the San Jose Sharks.
So far in the 2019 season, Karlsson is playing his best games ever, and the Sharks have become a serious Stanley Cup contender. Karlsson will represent the Sharks in the All-Star game.
The Russia Conspiracy
Nowadays, pundits in Washington D.C. have yet to get tired of speculation about a Russia conspiracy in Trump’s presidency. Yet there is something really suspicious few want to discuss openly. Alex Ovechkin, the winger and captain of the Washington Capitals of the National Hockey League, is from Russia. Although he has gained riches and fame in the United States, he is a diehard fan of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
It’s fair to say the admiration is mutual. According to a New York Times profile, Ovechkin “has appeared alongside Mr. Putin in a series of Kremlin-promoted scenes of alpha bonding,” including skating together in an exhibition game and participating in a martial arts tournament. And they both like to do things shirtless.
Putin personally called Ovechkin at his wedding. Ovechkin created “#putinteam” to show his support for Putin before Russia’s presidential election. Ovechkin’s open admiration for Putin puts many American fans in an awkward spot: how to reconcile their love and appreciation of a talented and laidback player with someone who is so devoted to a political figure who is responsible for murder and oppression in Russia and causing menace around the world?
Conspiracy theorists have been trying to figure out whether Ovechkin is “a witting font of Kremlin propaganda in the United States’ capital.” After all, Russia is known for using famous athletes to win goodwill for Putin. Someone should tip BuzzFeed or Special Counsel Mueller’s office. Ovechkin snubbed the All-Star game by declining to appear even though he was voted in.
Inspiration and Triumph
If you ever see the greatest hockey movie of all time, “Miracle,” you will know that hockey can be a very inspirational game. I watch Head Coach Herb Brooks’ locker room speech, “You’re born to do this,” whenever I need an extra pickup for the day.
Today’s hockey is still full of triumph and inspiration. Meet Brian Boyle, a center for the New Jersey Devils. Boyle was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia in September 2017. But he played through the 2017-18 season while undergoing treatment. By the end of October 2018, he announced his leukemia was in remission.
Then came November 6. The Devils played against the Pittsburgh Penguins on the Penguins’ home turf. Boyle scored three goals to give the Devils a decisive win. In hockey, scoring three goals in one game is called a hat trick, and it is a very rare occurrence. Prior to November 6, 2018, Boyle had played in 704 games for 12 seasons and scored 109 career goals, but never came close to a hat trick.
But the story gets even better. November 6, 2018 was the Pittsburgh Penguins’ “Hockey Fights Cancer” night. So Boyle, a cancer survivor, notched his first-ever hat trick on cancer awareness night. The hockey gods must have had something to do with it.
In an emotional after-game interview, Boyle acknowledged that fighting cancer is a cause near and dear to his heart, and he’s glad he and fellow hockey players could join forces to “raise funds and awareness, and reorganizing people who are fighting.”
So if you are looking for an event that is full of excitement, drama, and inspiration, plus still appreciates masculinity in its finest form, tune in to the All-Star game this weekend!