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All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles, From One Fan’s Perspective

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(Alternate title: That Time They Let Me Leave the Midwest)

NHL: NHL All Star Game-Skills Competition Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

First, A Story

Me, late January 2016: The All Star Game is in LA! Maybe I’ll go to LA. I’ll think about it. There’s plenty of time to plan a trip.

Repeat train of thought monthly.

Me, late 2016: I don’t know, maybe I’ll go to LA and just hang out, tickets to the ASG are so expensive and hard to get but I could at least see my friends and stuff right?

Me, also late 2016: But I’m going to LA in April, so I should just -- not do this thing.

Me, literal days before the ASG:

Eventually My Friends In LA Are Going To Stop Spending Time With Me Because I Do Things Like This

Here are things I do when I visit LA:

  • Eat brunch
  • Drink mimosas
  • See some hockey
  • Give the Kings more of my money
  • Talk about going to the beach but never actually making it there

I accomplished all of these things and more over All-Star weekend, running on little sleep, not enough caffeine, and an inability to ever actually know what time it was.

Things At The NHL Fan Fair, Ways I Would Make It Better, And Other Stories

The deadly combination of brunch, mimosas, and the inevitable Traffic On The 10 left me with only a little bit of time to spend at the Fan Fair.

Fortunately, aside from a shopping list from friends who couldn’t find the ASG stuff they wanted online, I really only had one goal:

Shooting pucks into a dryer, or at the accuracy targets, sounded fun but embarrassing, given my almost complete inability to lift the puck by any method other than sheer accident. (And despite the fact that my entire pitch for this piece was “ways I embarrassed myself over All Star weekend”, even I have limits.) Mascots playing hockey? Fun, but more for the kids. A picture with the Stanley Cup? Meh, I’ve already got one of those. (Also the wait by the time I got there was almost two hours. I know this because I accidentally stood in the Cup photo line for a while because I thought it was actually the entrance to the store.)

It’s pretty safe to say the Zamboni was my one goal for the Fan Fair, so:

Regardless of your age, hockey skill level, or team affiliation, there’s a little something for everyone at the Fan Fair. While events like this are often geared towards kids -- and a large number of the attendees while I was there skewed towards families with small children -- it certainly wasn’t the case that the only enjoyable things there were for kids.

I would make two small changes to the Fan Fair, though:

  1. Publish a map of the convention space online. Make it a menu in the existing NHL app. Put it on handouts that you’re given once you enter the event. Having one map (that I saw) at the entrance and that’s it leads to a lot of “I wanted to do X thing but I can’t find it”. Maybe I would have gone and tested the strength of my slapshot (spoilers: not great, Bob) if I’d had any idea where it was.
  2. Add more weekend time to the Fair. For people who couldn’t turn All-Star weekend into an extended vacation during the work week, having some time on Sunday — even if it was just Sunday morning before the actual game — would have been a welcome last chance to partake in any of the activities.

Honestly, Who Let Me Out In Public Like This

Did you know that Kings fans love Jeff Carter so much that they will line up to take their picture next to a not-even-life-sized picture of him on a puck? Because they will. And most of them will take normal pictures posing with it. Because they are normal people who do not (1) write for blogs or (2) wear a jersey for the right player, but from the wrong team, simply to be contrary.

Luckily for you, I am not that person.

Anyway, if you’re like me and like to take pictures of yourself doing incredibly awkward things, the All Star Game gives you plenty of opportunity to do so. (And sometimes your aunt sends the pictures that you posted on Twitter to your mother, who does not use the internet, and your mother texts you saying, “Liked the big puck in your pic!” but not commenting on the fact that her daughter is gently caressing a giant piece of plastic. Thanks, mom.)

Oh Yeah, There Was Also Some Hockey

So the weird thing about watching the Skills Competition in person is that you miss out on all the funny, “look at these players displaying a personality” moments that you get in between play. Like Sidney Crosby wearing those Snapchat glasses, or literally anything PK Subban does. So the event in person ends up being a bit odd, because you know you’re missing out on something funny while the crew is trying to set up for the next task.

Awkward pauses or confusion over what was happening didn’t stop Kings fans from doing what they do best: booing Sharks and Ducks players. Aside from a somewhat confused reaction for Martin Jones — we’re still sorting out those feelings; it’s complicated — the continuous boos for the rest of California Hockey were a delight, even if they were on our team for the time being.

One of the highlights of the weekend for me was the chance to get to see players who usually fly under my radar simply because I don’t see them play very often. Bo Horvat was fantastic to watch, possibly a bright spot on whatever this year’s Canucks team is trying to be. The reunion of Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen, and John Tavares was both a delight and a cause for tears for Islanders fans. Late addition Cam Atkinson seized his opportunity to shine on a national stage and did not disappoint. (For a delightful, relevant Cam Atkinson anecdote, read this piece from Alex Prewitt on Jeff Carter.)

Of course, any time Jeff Carter or Drew Doughty did so much as breathe, the hometown crowd went wild. But they didn’t forget a former King -- Wayne Simmonds, the eventual MVP of the game, received a warm welcome. While most Kings fans seemed to don their Carter or Doughty jerseys for the evening, I saw more than my fair share of Simmonds jerseys. He spent only three seasons here and never scored more than 40 points in a season, but he is easily still a fan favorite, and he was wildly cheered the whole game. (His contract’s up in 2019. I’m not saying let’s start a Get Wayne Back To LA movement, but I’m not NOT saying that either.)

In Closing, Here Are Some Feelings About Things

Maybe the greatest part of the weekend -- aside from the Sidney Crosby/Alex Ovechkin bromance -- was sitting in an arena and feeling like every fan was welcome, no matter your team or favorite player. Sure, we booed Ryan Kesler, but I could also bond with the Ducks fan next to me over an admiration of Martin Jones. Everyone was cheering on Connor McDavid to beat the fastest skater record. For the first time in all my years as a hockey fan, I cheered for Mike Smith with his beauty of a goalie goal. (Next year, though, I’m proposing a butt goal competition.)

With hockey, even being a fan is competitive, sometimes far beyond gentle chirping and good-natured teasing. The All Star game brings together not only players who are usually enemies, but fans, too.

Hockey -- real hockey, where the points mean something -- comes back tomorrow. We’ll be back to whole-heartedly hating each other then. But for a couple days, it was nice to remember that this is just a kids’ game, played (in this case) by incredibly tall dudes with knives on their feet.