Rugby World Cup
This Week's Issue
Life of Reilly
SI for Women
CNN/SI - TV
Golf Pro Shop
MLB Gear Store
NFL Gear Store
SI FOR KIDS
NHL preening over All-Star successes, story lines
Posted: Friday April 16, 1999 09:10 AM
TAMPA, Fla. (CNN/SI) -- Everybody left Tampa happy following Sunday's 49th NHL All-Star game.
Wayne Gretzky got a spiffy new sport-utility vehicle. Ken Hitchcock erased an embarrassing O-fer from his personal coaching statistics, and the NHL got some worth-watching competition.
"Competition-wise, it was up there," Buffalo head coach Lindy Ruff said after his World All-Star team lost 8-6 to North America. "I think they competed at the level they want to in this event."
As usual, goals were at the top of Sunday's All-Star menu at the Ice Palace. Gretzky also earned his third career All-Star MVP trophy and the accompanying gratis vehicle with a goal and two assists.
"I loved it," he said. "I got a car. How many people go to Tampa and get a new car? It was a wonderful weekend."
Hitchcock also had a great time, finally coaching an All-Star team to victory. He was on the losing end as head coach of the Western Conference in 1997 and the World All-Stars in 1998.
But perhaps the real winner was the NHL, which has tried to find a format to make the games more competitive and more compelling.
The league wasn't worried about all the goals being scored in the '90s -- in fact, NHL officials felt that more scoring would spark more interest from the casual fan. The NHL just didn't want ho-hum blowouts like the 16-6 victory for the Wales Conference over the Campbell Conference at Montreal in 1993.
With the North America team facing a squad of Europeans, the NHL might have hit on something. Last season, it was a one-goal game as North America beat the World team 8-7. And Sunday night, both coaches thought the game was just as competitive -- even more so, in Hitchcock's mind.
"This year's game was better than last year," Hitchcock said. "If there's a way we can do this, whether it's East, West, whatever, you want the game to be as competitive as it can.
"It's a showcase for our sport. Whatever way we can do it is great. But the players are into this. I saw it World side and now I see it North American side. They're having fun with this format, so why change it?"
The only thing that didn't change was the style of the game, which is considerably more wide open than the defensive-minded regular season.
At the halfway mark, the league was averaging about 5.3 goals a game, reflecting a steady decline in scoring during the '90s. That hasn't been a problem in All-Star games. The previous nine averaged 16.5 goals.
It was business as usual Sunday, with 14 different players scoring and goaltenders anxious the day's end. Except for Phoenix's Nikolai Khabibulin, who took over in the third period and played like something was on the line. Actually, it was -- his pride.
"I think goalies take it more seriously than the players on defense because you don't want to get embarrassed," Khabibulin said. "I mean, you're supposed to take it -- you're supposed to think, well, if they score, it's OK. You don't want to get six goals scored against you."
Khabibulin was the best goaltender on the ice, stopping 14 of 15 shots in the third period as the World outscored North America 2-1 in the final 20 minutes.
The rest of the goaltenders had their problems, including Buffalo's Dominik Hasek, called the best player in the NHL by Gretzky. He faced 19 shots in the first and gave up goals by Mike Modano, Luc Robitaille, Paul Kariya and Mark Recchi.
"Everything went wild," said Modano, who had a goal and three assists. "Guys were scoring when you gave it to them. It was nice to have some fun out there."
Ray Bourque, Rob Blake and Darryl Sydor also scored for North America. Mats Sundin had a goal and three assists for the World team, while Marco Sturm, Teemu Selanne, Pavol Demitra, Mattias Ohlund and Sergei Zubov also scored.
Gretzky's goal extended his All-Star record to 13 in 18 games and his two assists gave him 12, tying him with four other players for the career record.
"It was a nice weekend," Gretzky said. "I think we all had a lot of fun."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Copyright © 1999 CNN/SI. A Time Warner Company.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.