Updated: Thursday February 15, 2001 5:50 PM
DENVER (CNNSI.com) - Who would have thought a year ago that Mario Lemieux and Theo Fleury would have been All-Stars this season?
This time a year ago, Lemieux was finding ways for his Penguins to win - from the owner's box. And Fleury was wondering whether a move to New York was the right thing to do.
Already, this has become a unique All-Star Game.
The 51st version of the midseason showcase features the unlikely return of stars such as Lemieux, who came out of retirement about a month ago, Fleury, and yes, even Dominik Hasek.
Lemieux, of course, is the most surprising addition to the game Sunday. When he said goodbye to the NHL in 1997, a comeback did not appear likely.
That all changed Dec. 27 when the superstar-turned Pittsburgh Penguins owner ended his 3 1/2-year retirement to return to the ice.
An All-Star game appearance became inevitable, and the 35-year-old center will be the captain of the North American team.
"I was a little bit surprised," said Lemieux, not even an assistant captain for the Penguins. "I have not played in that many games. It's truly an honor."
Now that he will be there, don't expect Lemieux to go unnoticed. He has won the game's MVP award three times, scored a record six points in 1988 and is second with 11 career goals and 20 career points in eight games.
Lemieux has 16 goals and 16 assists in his first 16 games, but he will miss a chance to go up against Penguins captain Jagr, who was forced to withdraw Friday because of a head injury.
Jagr, the World team star who led All-Star voting three of the last four years, experienced dizziness and a headache after he was rammed into the boards Wednesday night by Philadelphia's Todd Fedoruk.
When he played in last year's game in Toronto, Hasek was in the middle of an injury-plagued season, which he had announced would be his last.
But the five-time Vezina Trophy winner as the NHL's top goalie was not ready to call it a career that way. So Hasek returned to the Buffalo Sabres and was voted as a World team starter -- the fourth consecutive year he has won the goalie election for his squad.
With retirement close for Hasek, he doesn't want to squander what might be his last All-Star trip.
"I want to win," he said. "I've played two games for the World team, and any time I've played, we've never won."
Last year, the World team beat North America 9-4, the first time it was able to win in the three years the NHL has used this format.
The idea was started in 1998, just before NHL players first appeared in the Olympics.
"I played both formats," said Hasek, who led the Czech Republic to the Olympic gold medal in the 1998 Winter Games. "I liked the old format with the Eastern Conference against Western. I think it is better."
Fleury, six times an All-Star during his Western Conference days, joined the New York Rangers last season, the worst of his career. After scoring only 15 goals, Fleury rebounded with 29 goals and 38 assists in 53 games this season and was voted to start.
"I thought I'd get back there for sure," he said. "I never thought I had 150,000 fans that actually would vote for me."
Fleury, who has four All-Star goals, also will be returning to Denver, where he spent the last half of the 1998-99 season after 10 years with the Calgary Flames.
"It's a great honor to play in the game, especially when people had basically written me off," said Fleury, who scored 51 goals in 1990-91 and had three other 40-goal seasons.
"There is a little bit of satisfaction knowing that I can come back and once again be mentioned and recognized as one of the elite players in the game," he said.
Florida's Pavel Bure will be back to try to defend his MVP performance of a year ago when he scored three goals and assisted on another. He was to join fellow Russians Mogilny, who resurrected his career with New Jersey, and Sergei Fedorov, the Detroit Red Wing playing his first All-Star game since 1996. Mogilny, however, had to pull out because of an injured hip.
The three were linemates on the Soviet team that won the gold medal at the 1989 World Championships.
The host Colorado Avalanche are well represented, with a total of four starters in the game. Peter Forsberg will be the starting center on the World side, opposing center Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy, who will be the first-period goalie for North America.
Defenseman Ray Bourque is no stranger to the contest, but pulling on an Avalanche sweater instead of a Boston jersey will be unusual. Bourque will be making his 19th appearance, second to Gordie Howe's 23, and first since he was dealt to the Avalanche from the Bruins last season.
Bourque, a 40-year-old veteran playing in his 22nd NHL season, spent his entire career in Boston before the March deal.
Anaheim forward Paul Kariya and St. Louis defenseman Pronger round out those voted to start for North America. Pronger, last season's NHL MVP, is unable to play because of knee surgery.
Montreal, Calgary, Nashville, the New York Islanders, and the two expansion clubs, Columbus and Minnesota, did not have a player selected.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.