Youth gone wild
NHL finally getting it right with its YoungStars game
Posted: Sunday January 27, 2008 10:34AM; Updated: Sunday January 27, 2008 10:34AM
ATLANTA -- Bravo to the NHL for giving a little life to its YoungStars game. Last year, as I wrote from Dallas the game was aggressively boring. Seriously. Worse than early Conan. The teams played 10-minute periods of 4-on-4, a too-organized farce that failed in part because of its proximity to being a real game.
This year, while the cast of characters came from the same pool -- under 25 NHLers not quite sublime enough to make the grown-up game -- the format was nothing resembling a league game, but rather like a frenetic shinny you'd try to cram into a winter evening's last light, before Mom calls you in for Kraft dinner.
It was played 3-on-3, with real goalies (big kids such as Manny Legace and Tomas Vokoun descended from the real All-Star roster to participate) and two six-minute periods of running time. After a goal the other team took possession at its own backline, playground hoops style. What resulted on all that open ice, was a lot of creative skating a lot of long passes and, sure, a lot of goals. A farce, yes, but a farce that, sandwiched between the grown up All-Stars' shootout and shooting accuracy contests, recognized itself for exactly what it was.
There was a neat little subplot -- a mano a mano between two top Calder candidates, the Capitals' Nicklas Backstrom and the Blackhawks' Patrick Kane, each of whom scored a couple of goals. And there was a neat comeback, the West rallying from 7-2 down, only to lose 7-6 after being thwarted in the final seconds.
All in all the game leant further intimacy to the night of Super Skills. The players, in their lawless little matchup -- no penalties, no icing calls -- felt somehow more accessible, closer to home. "That's what I like about this stuff," Western Conference assistant and Sharks head coach Ron Wilson told SI.com after the event. "It helps you see who these players are. You see who's passionate or not passionate, who's loose or who's uptight. Guys become guys and not just somebody on the other team you have to stop."
Listen, this incarnation of the YoungStars game is a long, long way from the lay-it-on-the-line CHL-NHL Top Prospects game, the matchup the league really should bring to All-Star weekend. But it sure was entertaining, which, considering what was foisted upon them in years' past, is all that the fans who plunked down $75 for the evening of Super Skills could hope for.