NASHVILLE – In yet another format change, here’s what you need to know about Sunday’s newfangled NHL All-Star Game.
Three 20-minute periods of 3-on-3 hockey. The first two periods are semifinals with the third a championship game. And the winning team of 11 players splits $1 million. Simple.
The country music has been pounding here all weekend but Sunday’s game in Bridgestone Arena might be a lot more rock ‘n roll with all the scoring chances we should see. But let’s not forget there are All-Star goalies here too.
“I don’t know if you’re going to see the number of actual goals you might anticipate,” said Central Division and Dallas coach Lindy Ruff. “It’s going to depend on the compete level and if guys want to backcheck. Everybody has criticized the level of intensity in the All-Star Game up to this point. The 3-on-3 will hopefully bring some renewed energy to it.”
The players are teamed by divisions and one semifinal matchup will pit the Atlantic, with Sabres center Ryan O’Reilly, against the Metropolitan. In the other semifinal, the host Central Division, featuring four Nashville Predators, will meet the Pacific. The order of the semifinals was to be determined after Saturday night’s skills competition.
The two winning teams advance to the championship game, which is essentially the third period. If any game is tied after 20 minutes, a shootout will be held to determine the winner.
“For us, there’s pride in everything,” said San Jose defenseman Brent Burns. “I play mini-sticks and I’m going to try to win. You’re not going to go out there and lose. You always want to win. It’s always more fun.”
New Jersey goalie Cory Schneider will be wearing specially designed pads with guitars on the front.
“Hopefully I’ll stop some pucks with them, but maybe not,” Schneider said. “In the 3-on-3, it might be nothing.”
All-Star Games are always criticized for their lack of bodychecking and there won’t be any in this one either. But with all the open ice, it would be pretty much impossible to do much anyway.
“In three-on-three you can go a little harder and you know there are not going to be a lot of hits,” said Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux. “And your percentage of getting hurt is not as high.”
Two key players not here are Metropolitan captain Alex Ovechkin of Washington (lower-body injury) and Chicago captain Jonathan Toews (illness). By not attending, they were both given automatic one-game suspensions for their teams’ first game when league play resumes this week.
Pacific Division captain John Scott, the former Sabres enforcer who has been the main discussion point here this weekend, joked Friday that if he scored a goal, he would have a celebration to “pay homage to a tough guy of the past.” You wonder if he’s considering riding his stick as a horse ala former Toronto enforcer Tiger Williams.
Scott revealed in an interview Friday with ESPN.com that he was surprised to receive texts from several players and coaches not in Nashville wishing him well. Among the coaches to reach out to him was Toronto’s Mike Babcock – whom Scott said he has never met.
“That was pretty crazy. Mike Babcock is Mr. Hockey,” Scott said. “Crazy. That was pretty breathtaking to read that.”