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ALL-STAR GAME MERELY A SIDESHOW

Mario Lemieux scored a goal, so everybody was happy with the 51st NHL All-Star Game on Sunday. At least that's what I heard, because I hardly watched the game.

Don't tell my bosses. They spent a bunch of money shipping me out to the Rocky Mountains because they wanted me to cover the game. They'll find out exactly how much dough they blew when the figures are explained in the good, old expense account.

According to impeccable sources, the North American team beat the World Team, 14-12, before a sellout crowd in the Pepsi Center. The only thing it meant is that the North American team had slightly better cherry pickers than the World team and, believe me, that's saying a ton.

In between drop passes through the legs, dipsy-doodles and various other Stupid Human Tricks, goalies were abused so much that the actions of the adversaries would be felonious in most states. But not Colorado. A record 26 goals in the game say enough and surprised nobody. Ten goals in the second period alone were absurd. The stats showed one hit by Rangers squirt Theoren Fleury, a known goon who won't be invited back.

"There was one time where the puck was going across the slot, across the slot, across the slot, and I was going from post to post to post," goalie Sean Burke said. "Finally, I said, 'For crying out loud, just get it over with and score.' "

What you need to know about the All-Star Game is that it looked very similar to the Heroes of Hockey game I skipped and watched on television Saturday night before the SuperSkills competition. I concluded that the game Sunday would have been more exciting if it were played by the Zeroes of Hockey.

We now move on to the highlights that really matter.

There were two thingamajiggers that shot flames about 25 feet into the air near the Zamboni entrance just before they announced the starting lineups. Not quite sure why they went with flames, but at least Calgary was represented. A camera guy wearing knee pads fell on his fanny while running across the ice to get into position for the introductions. That was pretty funny.

They had this light show that included green laser-like beams shooting around the arena. That was pretty neat. They had a camera placed in the faceoff circle at center ice, so people could see Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg look down on the ice and wrestle for the puck. That was cool -- for a half-second. There was a white dog, sitting in a seat, wearing sunglasses and a cape. Now I hate dogs even more.

I bumped into anything-but-a-dog-model-actress-Lockport native Kim Alexis for the second time in three months, which is a personal high for a season. We exchanged glances at 10:08 p.m. Dec. 8 outside the New York Rangers' dressing room in Madison Square Garden. I'm sure she remembered me the second time around, so I wondered why she didn't wink back at me Sunday.

I was standing in line in the press box, waiting for a free steamed hot dog -- OK, OK, it was two -- when comedic actor Denis Leary rudely brushed across my elbow and kept walking. So I said, "Hey Denis, %@*!&$#@. And your movies $%&*@*&$!" He still kept walking. Max Weinberg, Bruce Springsteen's drummer, was at the game. He didn't recognize me.

Sometime in the second period, I heard a kid yell, "Red Wings suck." I have two kids myself, so I've become accustomed to gauging the ages of children by their voices. The kid who belted out this dastardly comment a few hundred feet from the ice was 6 1/2 . A man with an IQ of 6 1/2 immediately trumped the kid's comment by saying, "So does Dallas." I disagreed with both.

Far more exciting than the All-Star Game was the match played among the NHL mascots after the second period. Sabretooth represented his team admirably by not scoring. The Avalanche mascot, Howler, who looked like a cross between Jerry Garcia and the Cookie Monster, abused the Bruins mascot, Blades, with a backhander, five-hole, for the winner. I was pulling for Blades. He's from the Northeast Division.

The suits sitting in the stands were so immersed in conversations concerning everything but hockey that barely anybody cheered -- or cared -- when Forsberg beat Patrick Roy in a hometeamer-against-hometeamer encounter. That made it 3-3 with 2:34 left in the first period, which is roughly the time I stopped taking notes about a game that didn't matter.

The best moment in the game came when Boston's Bill Guerin scored with 2:02 remaining in the third period to give the North Americans a three-goal lead. The two-goal lead seemed less safe than a blind date but three seemed like enough to avoid overtime. I randomly picked Guerin in a pool to score the winner. He was named the most valuable player after scoring three goals, and he received a Dodge Durango for the effort. He's making $3.1 million this season. He needs a free car the way I need another double-cheeseburger. Anyway, he just missed scoring the winner, so I just missed out on 360 smackers.

My MVP vote went to Lemieux because I thought the voting was rigged and I didn't want to be the one person who didn't vote for Super Mario. And someone told me he scored a breakaway in the second period, so it seemed like a given.

For some reason, I went to both dressing rooms after the game. The thinking was that I wanted to be there just in case Dominik Hasek got traded after giving up three goals in the first period. The elevator from the press box to the dressing rooms stopped on every floor even though it was full. When it reached the third floor, some guy named Wayne Gretzky was standing in the hallway looking for a ride. Sorry, bud, no room.

I have only one request for the game next season.

Can I come back?

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