All-Star Weekend Kicks Off as Gretzky Speaks to Growth of Game in LA

Plus, the Kings help unveil their latest community contribution.

NHL All-Star Weekend 2017 is officially under way in Los Angeles, and given how much the NHL is pushing the “Stars” angle, it makes sense that the league would give a platform to perhaps the three best players ever to play the game. Leading up to tonight’s NHL100 event, Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr, and Mario Lemieux held court and discussed how the game has evolved over the years.

Of interest to us, naturally, is the way the game has expanded to the west and to the south. Is there better evidence of that than the way the NHL has embraced Los Angeles? Gretzky was a huge part of that, of course, but he deferred when asked about his own contributions.

I came at the right time. We had guys like Luc Robitaille and Kelly Hrudey and Marty McSorley and Tony Granato and Rob Blake. Everyone understood their scenario in a sense that we had to do more than just play the game, that we had to push and promote youth hockey and high school hockey. I think in '88 there was four high school teams, and by '95 there was 120 high school teams.

Gretzky also called out Michael Eisner, who brought the sport to Anaheim, and the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey team for creating interest in “non-traditional” locations. Orr and Lemieux shared Gretzky’s unwillingness to speak to their own massive impact, and it was no surprise that when asked if “the greatest player to ever play” was at the podium, all three instead pointed to Gordie Howe.

The evening is going to be dedicated to those four and 96 other great players from the league’s history, but locally, there were other celebrations of positive change.

  • The Women in Sports Business panel on Friday morning showcased five women who have helped pave the way for so many others in their respective fields. Heidi Browning, Helene Elliott, Alyssa Milano, Angela Ruggiero, and Susan Samueli (along with host Kathryn Tappen) discussed their careers in and out of hockey and the obstacles they had to (and still have to) overcome./
  • Jeff Carter and Mike Smith helped cut the ribbon at the Crenshaw YMCA, which was recently renovated with a ton of help from the LA Kings and the NHL. I always knew I liked you, Mike! The two All-Stars were there as part of the NHL All-Star Legacy Event and even played hockey with the kids afterward./

Still to come: the unveiling of the NHL’s 100 greatest players (well, in someone’s opinion), as well as the weekend’s main events at Staples Center.