The 2001 NHL All-Star Game features 21 players from the Western Conference, 21 from the Eastern Conference and one representative of the Empire West Amateur Hockey League.
Dunkirk's Chris Messina, a third-grader at Chautauqua Catholic School, will be the youngest occupant of the North American bench Saturday night. Chris was randomly selected over approximately 10,000 fellow online entrants to win the "NICK GAS/NHL All-Star Kid" sweepstakes, and now he and his family are headed to Denver to talk hockey with Mario Lemieux, Patrick Roy and Ray Bourque.
"He's taking it in stride," Chris' mom, Patricia, said of her son. "We're kind of flipping out, but he's real calm."
Maybe that's because Chris knows the weekend won't be all fun and games. He has two jobs to do while he's in Colorado: serve as the North American team's stick boy, and report about the event on the Nickelodeon cable network.
"I'm going to be on camera the whole time," Chris said. He's already figured out two questions to ask the players during on-screen interviews -- Who is your favorite cartoon character and why?, and What is your favorite pregame snack?
When he's not mingling with the superstars of the NHL, Chris plays left wing for the Hamburg Hawks mite major team. He has scored 14 goals this season, two more than All-Star starting left wing Paul Kariya has netted for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.
Chris said he's excited to meet Lemieux and Pittsburgh Penguins teammate Jaromir Jagr, but as a Philadelphia Flyers fan, he's just as eager to shake hands with rookie goaltender Roman Cechmanek. He'll have the chance to collect all their autographs, since Chris will attend practices, Saturday's SuperSkills competition and Sunday's game.
Chris, his parents and his 5-year-old brother, Andrew, fly to Denver this morning to begin what Patricia Messina called "a dream come true." Chris seemed less star-struck than his mom, but he said his friends already are jealous of the adventure he's about to have.
"Some of them say they want to sneak into my suitcases," he said.